In the game when the starters played most, the Saints recorded quite a turnaround from last week's miserable showing in the Superdome.
The offense played the first half and dominated the time of possession, forcing the defense back on the field in the third quarter.
A pair of high throws by QB Drew Brees, one at the goal line, resulted in bruised ribs for starting WR Marques Colston, who left the game early to have x-rays. No significant damage found, Colston has two weeks to heal before the season opener.
RB Reggie Bush has what Sean Payton called a charley-horse after the game, a quad contusion. It does not appear to be a re-aggravation of his damaged knee ligament at this time.
Payton called all injuries of the minor, "he'll be fine" sort, adding that backups DE Josh Savage has a right elbow hyperextension and FB Kevin Dudley has a sprained ankle.
TE Jeremy Shockey had a good week of practice and no problems in warmups, Payton said after the game, but it was the head coach's call to sit Shockey out. Shockey may play next week just to get him on the field, even though most of the starters are not expected to play.
The Saints' first play from scrimmage saw Bengals DE Robert Geathers, nephew of Jumpy, have a clear shot at Brees from the right side of the line. Brees ducked and avoided and tossed a shovel pass to Mike Karney. Brees turned the shoulder and avoided the pass rush more than once and appears to be in mid-season form.
The Saints opened and marched down the field behind an aggressive passing attack by Brees, who hit his first four passes to move the team quickly to the Bengal 24. Brees missed his next three, just barely missing David Patten wide open in the end zone, a pass over the middle to Colston that was ruled an incomplete after originally being ruled a catch and fumble, and a high pass toward the goal line that Colston went up but paid the price for.
The Bengals' first play from scrimmage was an end-around to WR Antonio Chatman. Rookie CB Tracy Porter, starting the game across from veteran Mike McKenzie, fought off his block and stabbed his left arm into the ball, knocking it loose. WR Glenn Holt recovered the ball for a three yard loss but Porter's first starting play was a great success. Porter later put himself in fantastic position against Bengal speedster Jerome Simpson on a fly route, and drew an offensive pass interference from the rookie.
Two plays later, McKenzie and his rehabilitated knee would also be test and pass. A deep pass from Palmer found McKenzie instead, but the diving stretched-out interception couldn't be made. McKenzie outran Simpson, though their rookie might have abandoned the route. Both McKenzie and Porter played very well, aided by a consistent pass rush.
On the second Saints drive, WR Robert Meachem committed a false start penalty on first down, but on second down made a fantastic adjustment on a deep ball to catch a 54-yard pass against Bengals safety Marvin White. Late in the game, JT O'Sullivan had to correct Meachem's alignment in a spread formation. Its that inconsistency though that adds up to what Payton referred to earlier in the week, when he said Meachem must earn starting reps. In a sign that the Saints are far from giving up on Meachem, he played throughout the game and Payton said there were packages designed to get him the ball.
Speaking of inconsistent wide outs, WR Devery Henderson couldn't come up with a tough touchdown catch in the first quarter. Henderson had the ball in his arms on a beautifully-thrown pass from Brees, but Bengal defenders Leon Hall and Dexter Jackson combined for hits and the ball came free. Henderson later had a great pickup, getting wide open and streaking down the sideline for 38 yards, but it was called back for holding.
The Saints defense "stayed ahead of the chains" tonight, Payton said, part of a "solid effort" that refused the Bengals passage into Saints territory only once - the Bengals came up short on third and long and punted from the New Orleans 49 yard line.
The one consistent weapon in the Bengals offense was TE Ben Utecht, signed from Indianapolis in the offseason. Utecht had four catches for 49 yards in one half of play. Antonio Chatman beat Randall Gay on a deep crossing route for 19 yards for the Bengals' best gain of the game.
The Bengals ended each of their first half, starting offense possession with punts, though they were without starting wide receivers Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh. Newly re-signed WR Chris Henry also sat out for the Bengals.
At the end of the second quarter, safety Kevin Kaesviharn and end Bobby McCray combined to smother Carson Palmer in the backfield. Palmer emerged from the sack with dark blood from his nose, the Associated Press choice of pictures for the game. Kaesviharn finished with 1.5 sacks against his old team.
On Sunday, Palmer had a minor procedure on his nose, which is broken. Palmer's lip was also lacerated on that hit.
Gary Gibbs was more aggressive on the defensive playcalling, blitzing the free safety Kaesviharn often, a foil to his regular season tactic of blitzing harder-hitting Roman Harper from the strong safety position. Harper collected four sacks last season.
RB Deuce McAllister played again, only very limitedly, and had six carries, each for less than two yards. Two were negated by penalty. McAllister caught one screen pass for a seven yard gain. Reggie Bush had two carries for six yards before leaving the game after a punt return with his thigh bruise. In the second quarter, Mark Brunell entered the game and mostly handed off to RB Aaron Stecker, who finished with six carries for 29 yards and a reception for two yards.
The most impressive receiver for the Saints was WR Lance Moore, who led all receivers with four catches for 79 yards, including deep sideline catches for 29 and 35 yards. Moore appears to have won a spot on the roster, likely at the expense of Skyler Green and rookie WR Adrian Arrington. Green returned the opening kickoff and two other punts and was not the target of a pass, while Arrington continues to sit because of a toe injury. Rookie Tracy Porter, Bush and Green all got a shot at returning punts.
Pierre Thomas and Lynell Hamilton shared the workload in the second half, though it was Thomas who was most exciting on a run inside the red zone. On the opening possession of the third quarter, Thomas found 32 yards rushing on four carries and on his fifth, glided through the Bengals defense to inside the five yard line, where he spun to evade and ended up finding a teammate's arm, which jarred the ball loose. The Bengals recovered at their own five yard line, a disappointing end to a fantastic run.
Safety Lance Schulters played his first game as a Saint, and early on was called for unnecessary roughness for slamming RB Chris Perry backwards. Later on, Schulters snuffed out the final Bengals' final drive by intercepting Carson's little brother, Jordan Palmer.
QB Tyler Palko completed 11 of 16 passes in second half duty, and led the team to a Taylor Melhaff field goal on his first drive, but forced a deep throw into double coverage that was intercepted. Both Thomas and Hamilton had good gains on short passes from Palko, but the young lefty's third drive ended on a fourth down attempt at the Bengal 18.