NEW ORLEANS — With a few ticks more than two minutes to play in the first half Saturday night, Drew Brees gave interim coaches Joe Vitt and Aaron Kromer all they needed to see.
He led the New Orleans Saints on a seven-play, 77-yard drive, hitting tight end Jimmy Graham for an eight-yard touchdown to complete a perfectly managed two-minute drill.
Brees didn’t return in the game, needing to show nothing else to let everyone know he was ready for the regular season.
But in spite of a34-27 win over the Houston Texans, the same can’t be said for everyone else.
The teams combined in the first half to turn the ball over five times, all on fumbles, 29 first downs and 457 total yards of offense. They also combined for eight penalties that slowed the game down to a crawl.
Brees’ only half ended with him going 17 of 25 for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He hit eight different receivers on the night.
The Texans took the opening possession and moved 80 yards in eight plays. A tough pass interference call against linebacker Scott Shanle gave the Texans a first down on third-and-three and two plays later, Houston’s Ben Tate punched the ball in for a 7-0 lead. On the very next series, Saints running back Chris Ivory burst through the middle of the defense for an 11-yard gain on third-and-one. But Houston safety Glover Quinn’s jarring hit forced a fumble by Ivory and Quinn recovered.
Five plays later, Schaub hit receiver Keshawn Martin, who was wide open behind the linebackers for a 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Texans lead.
Immediately after, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gathered the defense on the sideline and chewed them out.
As the Saints have done in the Brees Era, they came right back, using a confidence-inspiring 33-yard kickoff return by Courtney Roby to get going. Brees went 4-for-4 for 57 yards on the drive and hit receiver Lance Moore for a 20-yard touchdown pass over Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson.
Just like that, it was 14-7 and New Orleans had momentum.
And the deficit lasted for only nine seconds. Isa Abdul-Quddus’ hard tackle on Houston return man Trindon Holliday knocked the ball loose. Junior Galette picked it up and rambled in 16 yards for the game-tying touchdown with 3:54 to play in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Houston series, it appeared to show the Texans weren’t going to let the tie stand for long. But rookie cornerback Corey White forced a fumble that the Saints turned into a 22-yard Garrett Hartley field goal and a 17-14 lead.
Houston’s Holliday turned field position in the Texans’ favor with a 64-yard kickoff return. The Saints forced a three-and-out but Houston punter Donnie Jones pinned New Orleans at its own 1. Two plays into the drive, Saints receiver Joe Morgan fumbled and Houston capitalized with a 6-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster.
A fourth-down failure on the next Saints series was turned into a 33-yard field goal by Houston and New Orleans trailed 24-17.
That only set up the Saints for a two-minute test, which Brees and the offense passed with ease. Brees led New Orleans 77 yards in just 1 minute, 53 seconds, making the eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham look easier than it was.
At halftime, the game was tied 24-24 and the teams had combined for 457 yards, 29 first downs and five lost fumbles.
There was still 30 minutes of football to play.
Hartley’s second field goal of the night, this one a 24-yarder, gave the Saints a 27-24 lead after the first possession of the third quarter.