NEW ORLEANS — Nearly 20 months after last coaching an NFL game, Sean Payton’s expectations are as high as ever.
And Friday night, a 17-13 win by his Saints in their preseason opener against Kansas City didn’t come close to satiating his appetite for coaching a quality product.
“I thought there were some things that happened as the game went on that were positive and I didn’t want to come in and be so negative,” Payton said. “But there’s a lot of things that I think we need to clean up and the last game I coached in was a playoff game.
“You have this certain expectation and you know it’s preseason, and yet, you’ve got 10 guys on the field. We can’t get the right personnel out there.”
New Orleans finished with seven penalties for 56 yards, the team fumbled the ball twice and turned the ball over once on an interception. Kansas City’s return teams averaged 17.6 yards per punt return and 45.3 yards per kickoff return.
There were individual performances, however, that stood out, including one by receiver Preston Parker, who finished the night with four catches for 43 yards and two scores. Nick Toon also caught four passes for 66 yards.
And on defense backups Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster and John Jenkins showed some pass-rushing ability the team has been lacking.
But the biggest positive was that the Saints, beat up already in the first two weeks of training camp, didn’t see any major contributors leave the game with injuries.
Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Jonathan Vilma, Seneca Wallace, A.J. Davis, Patrick Robinson, Ray Shipman, Andrew Tiller, Eric Olsen and Tom Johnson didn’t play, resting due to injuries sustained before or during the first two weeks of camp.
Drew Brees finished 7 of 10 for 65 yards and guided the Saints to a field goal. His primary backup in this first preseason game, Luke McCown, went 18 of 28 for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
“The good news is we’re early in camp,” Payton said. “We’re not halfway or close to halfway. We just finished a week-and-a-half barely. That’s encouraging because we’ve got a lot of things that we’re going to need that time to clean up.”
But if fans were looking to glean anything from this preseason opener, they didn’t get much.
The Saints used several different defensive packages, rolling in several different players you’ve likely never heard of and still things felt familiar. Kansas City moved 80 yards in 14 plays and used more than a third of the first-quarter clock to take a 7-0 lead on a Jammal Charles 1-yard plunge.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith went 7-for-8 on the drive, cobbling together 68 yards on mostly underneath routes that did the job. It was his only series of the game.
The Saints’ first offensive series nearly started out big. On the third play, rookie receiver Kenny Stills almost hauled in a long pass from Drew Brees. But he couldn’t hold on and New Orleans was forced to punt.
New Orleans’ first-team defense was much better on its second series of the night, holding the Chiefs to just eight yards, allowing a 42-yard Ryan Succop field goal after Kansas City started at the Saints’ 32.
Garrett Hartley’s 24-yard field goal early in the second cut the Saints’ deficit to 10-3 and the drive ended the night for the first-team offense.
And then the backups came in and the game slowed to a crawl. The first half, in fact, ended with an illegal formation on the Saints on a play when they were just downing the ball.
But New Orleans’ second-team offense got rolling to open the third quarter. Luke McCown went 7 of 9 for 75 yards, hitting Nick Toon and Andy Tanner for a combined 68 yards to lead the Saints into the end zone. McCown hit Preston Parker at the end line for a two-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10.
Parker’s second touchdown came on New Orleans’ second possession of the third quarter, capping another long drive with another two-yard touchdown from McCown. The score gave the Saints a 17-10 lead with just 32 seconds to play in the third.
Succop’s 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter cut New Orleans’ lead to 17-13.