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Lyons Yellin / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: lyellin@wwltv.com | Twitter: @wwltvsports

During the New Orleans Saints' three-weeks at the Greenbrier, tight end Jimmy Graham had signaled he was prepared to thumb his nose at the NFL's new rule banning his signature goalpost dunk after a touchdown reception.

Well, he twice told the NFL what he thought about it during the Saints 31-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans (1-1) Friday night, and both times, as promised, the officials flagged him with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

Unfortunately, for the Saints (2-0) and to the dismay of their head coach Sean Payton, the penalties didn't stop there, and by the time the game ended, New Orleans had racked up 22 for 184 yards.

'That was painful to watch,' Payton said. 'I can't recall ever a game with that many penalties. Here's the thing: most of the ones that I saw were good calls. So this isn't about a crew calling a lot of penalties, this is obviously something I've got to do a better job with.'

It wasn't all bad for the Saints' high-flying former basketball-playing tight end, though.

Graham, who missed the entire offseason while he fought for a new four-year, $40 million dollar contract, hauled in touchdowns of 6 and 19 yards.

Nevertheless, after Graham's second goalpost shaker, Payton was none too pleased and let his tight end know about it.

'I'm very upset,' Payton said.

'Would you be upset?' he asked rhetorically.

Then, before moving on to the 'next question,' added, 'I was, particularly.'

Most Saints seemed willing to support Graham while being torn over his blatant antiauthoritarian display.

'I don't know if I am surprised by it,' quarterback Luke McCown said. That's his signature. It's what Jimmy does.

'There's going to have to be a change especially in the regular season about how that goes down. Jimmy's a great player. I've got tremendous respect for him and I am glad he's on my team.'

But the back and forth between good and bad continued all night. And for every step forward, it seemed as if the Saints took a step back.

New Orleans forced five turnovers and had four sacks, yet, as Payton highlighted, led by just seven points with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. It was a situation that gave the coach even more reason for concern despite how little was at stake.

'We'll say that when we get to the regular season it will clean itself up, that's silly,' he said.

Of course, the bad overshadowed the good, but there was still plenty for the Saints to be pleased with.

With Brees nursing an injured oblique and missing his second preseason game, both McCown, who got the start for a second consecutive week, and Ryan Griffin, played well.

McCown opened the game, leading the Saints on a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The start was a far cry from that of a week ago when the opening drive ended with Rams defensive end Chris Long intercepting McCown.

McCown spread the ball around effectively and played most of the first half, going 12 of 20 for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

But when Griffin spelled him with two minutes left in the first half, the offense seemed to finally ramped up. Griffin led the Saints on a quick four-play, 79-yard drive that ended with running back Mark Ingram's 23-yard touchdown reception.

'I thought both Luke (McCown) and Ryan (Griffin) did a lot of really good things,' Payton said. 'I thought they both located the ball well. I think you saw in Luke's series influx and making some plays outside of the pocket.

'With Ryan, I thought you saw him step up and buy a little time and get the ball down the field a little bit. I thought there were a lot of positives to coach off.'

Griffin seemed to zero-in on Joseph Morgan, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. The two connected for completions of 52 and 44 yards.

'It was encouraging that (Morgan) got behind the defense and was able to make a few plays that we've seen him make prior to his injury,' Payton said.

Griffin, meanwhile, finished 13 of 19 for 179 yards and two touchdowns.

In the end, though, former LSU Tiger Zach Mettenberger, 20 of 25 for 269 yards and two touchdowns, nearly helped the Tennessee pull out a victory.

But similarly, the Titans made too many mistakes.

'It was great to be back (in Louisiana),' Mettenberger said. 'We played okay, but we just turned the ball over way too much and ultimately that led to a loss. As a team we've just to have to have better ball security during the game. Offensively, we did a lot of good things, but overall we've got a lot to clean up tomorrow.'

As do the Saints, who return to their Metairie facility Sunday for the remainder of training camp.

Payton assumed the blame for his team's performance and said he'll have to do a better job.

However, right tackle Zach Strief was having none of that and refused to let his coach carry that burden alone.

'Coach can say all day that it's his fault and we'll take that right back off of him,' Strief said. 'Ultimately, we're all professionals and it's our job to go out and play within the confines of the rules and we didn't' do that.

'So, coach Payton is going to put things on his back and that's part of him being the leader of this team and the organization. As players, it's unacceptable. I mean coach can blame it on himself all day, but we're the one's committing the penalties.

'Fortunately, it's something that happened in the second preseason game and not the first regular season game, so we've got some work to do.'

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