August 28, 2008

Deuce, McKenzie Show Off Knees as Palko Struggles

Brunell leads team to 10 points, gives way in second quarter to Tyler Palko in 14-10 loss to Miami

courtesy neworleanssaints.com

The New Orleans Saints dashed out to a 10-0 lead at the Superdome, but the Miami Dolphins scored 14 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead that stood up through the remainder of the game.

“I thought there were some things that were sloppy that bothered me a little bit tonight,” Head Coach Sean Payton said following the game.

“I am excited, though, about the team that we have and am looking forward to the season,” said the head coach when asked about his feelings as the team turns its attention to the regular season and the opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 7 at the Superdome.

New Orleans finished the preseason with a 2-2 record and now will trim their roster to 53 players in the coming days, while also closely monitoring the developments of Hurricane Gustav. The storm may force the Saints to evacuate to Indianapolis in the coming days before returning to New Orleans on Friday, September 5, according to Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis.

Many Saints regulars, on both sides of the ball, didn’t play in the game, including QB Drew Brees and TE Jeremy Shockey, among others.

The Saints’ starting offensive line took the field in front of QB Mark Brunell. RB Deuce McAllister was the starting running back and other regulars included WR Devery Henderson, WR Terrance Copper, TE Mark Campbell and FB Mike Karney.

On defense, first-round draft choice Sedrick Ellis started at a defensive tackle spot along with DE Josh Savage, DT Brian Young and DE Bobby McCray on the defensive line. The linebackers were youngsters William Kershaw, Marvin Mitchell and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, while the starting secondary featured CB Mike McKenzie, rookie CB Tracy Porter, SS Chris Reis and FS Josh Bullocks.

The two teams traded opening possessions to begin the game after the Saints took the opening kickoff. The Dolphins took advantage of good field position when they started their second offensive series at the Saints’ 40 and picked up nine yards on their first two carries. On a third-and-one DE Bobby McCray split a double-team block and dropped RB Ronnie Brown for no gain. Miami K Dan Carpenter then attempted a 50-yard field goal but pushed it wide to the right, which gave the Saints the ball at their own 39 yard-line.

The Saints capitalized by turning the missed field goal into the opening points of the game.

Brunell came out and zipped a 13-yard strike to Copper and followed it up with an eight-yard pass to Henderson. McAllister then bulled his way over left guard for eight yards and then picked up nine more on his next carry with a hard-charging run over the right side of the line. McAllister continued his good fortunes with a three-yard pickup and the first down but was dropped for a one-yard loss by DE Kendall Langford. Two incompletions, including a pass into the corner of the end zone intended for Henderson, stalled the Saints’ drive, but K Martin Gramatica booted a 40-yard field goal through the uprights, which gave the Saints a 3-0.

Rookie Chad Henne took over at quarterback for starter Chad Pennington after Miami’s first two possessions and was very nearly greeted by an interception from McKenzie. But two plays later, it was rookie Sedrick Ellis who shot into the backfield and sacked Henne and stripped him of the football and Brian Young pounced on it at the Miami 20.

“I am encouraged,” said Payton of Ellis’ play. “He’s what we thought he was when we selected him (in the draft). He’s going to play a lot for us. He’s active, he’s strong, he has a nose for the ball and he’s smart.”

McAllister started the drive by taking a swing pass and left a defender reaching for air with a nifty cutback move for a gain of eight yards. He picked up three more yards on the next two carries for a first down as the clock for the first quarter expired, and gave the Saints a first-and-goal from the Miami 8. Brunell then hit Copper for a six-yard gain and McAllister attempted two goal-line runs but was stopped on consecutive carries. True to form for much of the preseason, the Saints went for it on fourth down and goal from the two and Brunell made it pay off by hitting WR Lance Moore in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown on a timing route. Rookie Taylor Melhaff added the extra point and the Saints led 10-0 with 13:23 left in the second quarter.

McAllister finished the night with 11 carries for 30 yards and two receptions for two yards, while Brunell was six-of-nine for 31 yards and the score.

“Obviously I’ll start with the negative and wish I could have punched it in on the goal line. Miami did a good job and showed us a different look,” McAllister said. “I am fine (health-wise). As I continue to get stronger, that’s what I am drawing on and I am looking forward to going out there and making plays.

The New Orleans defense again stepped up and halted the Dolphins on their next possession, taking advantage of stout run defense and a third down sack of Henne by second-year MLB Marvin Mitchell.

Tyler Palko then took over for Brunell at quarterback. After a three-yard gain on a scramble and a short gain by rookie RB Lynell Hamilton, LB Charlie Anderson sacked Palko for a seven-yard loss and the Saints were forced to punt.

Henne completed two impressive passes: a 20-yard crossing route to WR Davone Bess and a 26-yarder to veteran WR Ernest Wilford. Henne also completed a nine-yard pass to Wilford inside the five-yard line, setting up a Ronnie Brown one-yard touchdown run. The 10-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in the Miami touchdown cut the Saints’ lead to 10-7 with 4:09 left in the second quarter. The points allowed were the first allowed by the Saints in the last 89 minutes and thirty six seconds, dating back to the fourth quarter of the Saints’ second preseason game against the Houston Texans.

The Saints were once again stymied in their next possession and forced to punt the ball away the Dolphins, who started at their own 39. Miami moved down the field using short dump off passes underneath, and a 15-yard gain by Ronnie Brown. Miami took their first lead of the night, 14-10, after an eight play, 61-yard drive, culminated by an eight-yard pass from Henne to TE Sean Ryan. In the end, it would be the final margin of the contest, though 30 plus minutes remained to be played.

The Dolphins accepted the opening kickoff of the second half and began at their own 15. The Saints nearly forced their second turnover of the night when rookie S David Roach forced a fumble but the officials ruled that Roach batted the ball back in bounds but in a forward motion, and instead the Saints were flagged for an illegal touching infraction. Three plays later, though, Saints DT Antwan Lake sacked Henne and forced the Dolphins to punt.

The Saints then took over at their own eight yard-line, with Palko again at the helm. Rookie RB Lynell Hamilton picked up four yards with a sweep to the right side of the line and then Palko hit TE Ronnie Ghent for a minimal gain. Palko attempted to connect with WR Robert Meachem on third down but the two couldn’t connect and the Saints were forced to punt, and Steve Weatherford delivered a 50-yarder and CB Jason David stopped return man Jayson Foster for a one-yard loss at the Dolphins’ 37.

Three plays later CB Jason David intercepted Henne on a third-down and returned the ball 16 yards to the Miami 29.

Hamilton then found a hole behind reserve C Andy Alleman for seven yards on first down. The rookie runner from San Diego State then picked up two yards on a third-and-one for the first down. Palko was flushed out of the pocket on first down and his pass to TE Ronnie Ghent was incomplete after a defender was draped all over Ghent’s back. Hamilton was stopped for a short gain on second down and then the Saints were flagged for a delay of game penalty that pushed them back to the 22. Hamilton couldn’t handle a screen pass attempt and Mehlhaff came in to attempt a 40-yard field goal, which he pushed wide to the left.

Following a false start call on Miami, Henne once again tried David’s side of the field but the pass wasn’t completed as David had WR Anthony Armstrong blanketed. Henne completed a 12-yard pass across to the middle and then a five-yard pass for the first down to their own 45 yard-line. RB Lex Hilliard picked up seven yards on two separate carries and then RB Patrick Cobbs ran for six yards on a third-and-three to the New Orleans 41. CB Jason Craft stopped Hilliard for a one-yard loss on a toss play on the final play of the third quarter.

Henne was flushed out of the pocket on second down and picked up two yards on a scramble, and completed a three-yard pass on third down that was sniffed out by S Chris Reis short of the Miami first down sticks and the Dolphins were forced to punt the ball away and the Saints took over at their own 12 after return man Skyler Green fair caught the 25-yard pooch punt.

Hamilton couldn’t find any running room on first down, as he was stacked up at the line of scrimmage. On second down Palko was drilled as he dropped back by former Saint Rob Ninkovich but was able to get rid of the ball before taking the sack. On third-and-ten, Palko found Green over the middle for a gain of 15 yards and a first down at the Saints’ 27.

Hamilton picked up three yards on a run before Palko was hurried into an incompletion on second down and then sacked by Ninkovich on third down for a five-yard loss. Steve Weatherford punted the ball away and the Dolphins took possession at their own 38 yard-line with 11:37 remaining in the contest.

Second-year QB John Beck, a second-round draft choice of Miami’s in 2007, took over the signal-caller duties for the Dolphins. His first play was a fumbled center-quarterback exchange that was recovered by the Dolphins but resulted in a one-yard loss. Hilliard then tried his luck on a delayed handoff by was halted after a gain of one yard by Marvin Mitchell and Jason Craft. Beck then connected on a screen pass for short yardage after defensive tackle Orien Harris tracked down the running back in the open field, forcing another Miami punt that bounded into the end zone for a touchback.

After an incompletion on first down, Palko hit WR Joe West for a 15-yard gain to the Miami 35. Rookie Jermaine Allen picked up two yards on an inside carry and then managed another two yards despite taking a big hit from a Dolphins defender. DE Lionel Dotson then sacked Palko for a 14-yard loss on third down and the Weatherford hit a 46-yard punt with just over seven minutes to play.

Miami picked up four yards on two separate carries and were faced with a third-and-six from their 38 and RB Patrick Cobbs darted over the right side for what appeared to be a first down, but the running back was flagged for a personal foul infraction after grabbing Lance Schulters’ face mask. The Dolphins were then faced with a third-and-long but Jason David stopped WR Anthony Armstrong well short of the first down markers and Miami punted the ball away with a 49-yard effort by Brandon Fields that Skyler Green returned eight yards to the New Orleans 21.

The Saints began their final march of the game but Palko was sacked and fumbled the football and recovered by the Dolphins in Saints’ territory. Miami elected to run the clock out and head home with the victory.

Notes: The following players did not play this evening: QB Drew Brees, TE Jeremy Shockey, WR Marques Colston, LB Mark Simoneau, WR Adrian Arrington, DT Hollis Thomas, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB Scott Fujita, RB Reggie Bush, LB Scott Shanle, NT Kendrick Clancy, DE Charles Grant, DE Will Smith, SS Roman Harper, FS Kevin Kaesviharn and CB Usama Young ... both teams finished the game with a 2.8 rushing average … Terrance Copper lead the Saints in receptions (2) and receiving yards (19) … P Steve Weatherford averaged 48.4 yards punting with a 41.3 net average … Payton said the team came out of the game relatively healthy, mentioning only an ankle injury to reserve LB Troy Evans that Payton said will be further evaluated tomorrow … Payton eluded the next 24-48 hours as being important to the team in two regards, the first being the roster cutdowns and formation of the roster and the second being regarding the possible relocation to Indianapolis for a normal week of practice. The head coach mentioned that the first priority of the Saints’ players and staff will be finding safe accommodations for the families and then getting focused on the game in 10 days … Payton said of his decision to sit Jeremy Shockey: “I want Jeremy to be 100% heading into the season and I think by Monday he will be. The risk-reward for me was the deciding factor. We made that decision yesterday and we’ll have him ready to play next week and that’s the important thing to us.”

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