WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. --Probably the most surprising part of the Saints 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Friday, is that much didn't surprise me.
The players who caught my eye during the 11 days of practices at The Greenbrier, did so again last night. What we had seen is what we got both the good and the bad.
As I watched from the cozy confines of the The River House in Ronceverte, W. Va., I found myself repeatedly asking a few of my media cohorts, 'Remember when (insert name here) did that in practice?'
And, I'm sure it comes as no shock, they did.
I wasn't the least bit surprised to see running back Mark Ingram explode for 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Why would I be? He's been running like that every day at camp. He's no longer the over-anxious runner out to prove his worth on every carry ironic, considering he's out to prove he's worthy of more. Ingram is running smarter, not harder, and thus far, it's paying off.
Seeing Drew Brees sans uniform, chewing sunflower seeds on the sideline was no bombshell either. Seeing him in the game would have been. Brees knows a healthy return is more important than a hastened one.
Brees is 'smart enough and we'll be smart with his recovery,' Payton said. 'He's certainly smart enough, too. He understands. Look, it's an area that's affected every time you throw so it's important it's 100 percent.'
What will surprise me is if Brees is out much longer. But I digress.
As Brees' replacement, veteran Luke McCown, 7-of-10 for 49 yards and an interception, was underwhelming. He's been as such as of late. His game of pitch-and-catch with Rams defensive lineman Chris Long on the opening drive probably surprised Long more than it did me. In practice, McCown has been picked off more than any of the team's quarterbacks. He often misses receivers altogether or delivers the ball once it's too late.
Ryan Griffin, meanwhile, has been one of camp's most surprising performers, making last night's effort much less so. He's been poised, efficient and effective, but no more so than on the final snap of his evening, a play that resulted in a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. Sure, Cooks wowed which, likewise, comes as no surprise with his stop-go move and dash towards the end zone. But it was Griffin, who, with a defender barreling down on him, made a throw few quarterbacks could or would have.
Now, as Griffin's confidence grows, so does the likelihood he'll emerge as Brees' No. 2 this season.
'Ryan has turned into (someone who's confident and comfortable in the huddle) quickly. Obviously it's just his second year, but he's a sponge,' Saints starting right tackle Zach Strief said. 'He's absorbed a lot of information. I think he did a really good job of just getting us in the right place tonight. Just watching, knowing what we're supposed to run things into and what we're not. He did a good job of getting us into the right play.
'Obviously he showed a lot of poise on the touchdown pass, standing in, knowing he's going to get drilled and he delivered the ball perfectly and gives (WR) Brandin (Cooks) a chance to make a play.'
Again, bamboozled I'm not. Not by Brees, Ingram, Cooks, Griffin or McCown; not by wide receiver Nick Toon, offensive lineman Jason Weaver, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker or any other Saint for that matter.
Nevertheless, the Saints must still improve.The defense, while at times stout and unblockable, was also porous. Again, something we've seen.
There were too many penalties, and that, of course, upset Saints head coach Sean Payton. But really, I would have been astonished if there weren't, and he wasn't.
You'd be hard-pressed to find an NFL coach who didn't have a similar reaction to the same problem in Week 1 of the preseason. If you find one, heck, surprise me.
And while not much did Friday, what will is if there aren't several yet to come.