Third-string quarterback Sean Canfield started and played the entire preseason finale for the Saints, with every offensive starter and most defensive starters not playing.
Even many backups for the Saints offense didn't play, and the offensive line was a patchwork of second and third string players, many of whom won't make the team's cutdown to 53 tomorrow night. The starting lineup of Canfield's line featured, from left to right, Charles Brown, Eric Olsen, Matt Tennant, DeOn'tae Pannell and rookie Marcel Jones.
The Saints led 6-3 at the half but Harper's third-quarter touchdown proved to be the game-winner. The game ended with Canfield leading a 14-play two-minute drill that reached the Titan 36, a drive that overcame a holding call on Pannell and a tripping call on Tennant thanks to a roughing the passer call on DE Scott Solomon on 3rd and 27.
Canfield completed 31 of 45 passes for 288 yards, but tossed two interceptions among several poor throws and lost a fumble.
The Saints' runningback depth decision got tougher - undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet came down to Earth with his performance tonight, which included losing a fumble on the third snap of the game at the Saint 24. Though Cadet would pile up 57 rushing yards on 15 carries, 44 receiving yards on eight catches and 56 kickoff return yards, his fumble doesn't help his competition with Chris Ivory for a potential roster spot. Cadet would also leave the game early after getting the wind knocked out of his late in the game.
Cadet played most of the game, however, including punt coverage teams when he helped deliver some big hits. His shifty cuts in the open field were liquid and had Titan defenders falling down. Chris Ivory, of similar dreadlocks but different running style, pounded his way forward for 24 yards on six carries and one catch for nine yards. The Saints appear to have a difficult decision - are Ivory and Cadet good enough to keep five runningbacks plus a fullback? That Cadet plays on all the special teams could help the case for six backs.
Ivory near broke a big gainer after leaping two defenders with open field in front of him. But an errant hand caught his ankle and he was tackled, slamming the ball to the ground after seeing all that clear turf ahead of him. Ivory started the game but Cadet was in on the third snap.
While Cadet's injury was not significant, two others might be. CB Johnny Patrick, who is set to be the team's third cornerback and often-used nickelback, appeared to suffer a right calf injury. Rookie safety Jose Gumbs appeared to be injured as well in the game, and was seen headed to the locker room during the game. And WR Joe Morgan apparently suffered a right arm injury, either shoulder or hand, and was seen wearing a sling after the game.
Morgan's injury thins out a crew of ungrateful opportunists on the depth chart at receiver. Adrian Arrington and Andy Tanner were injured and did not play. Recently-signed Greg Camarillo (3/43 tonight) and fourth round pick Nick Toon (2/6) have the least playing time and least opportunities for mistakes. While Morgan (4/43) has played significant time in all five preseason games and looked every bit the part of a flashy, inexperienced prospect. His late-preseason injury, like last year, could be just the excuse the Saints need to hide him one more year on injured reserve.
Meanwhile, Courtney Roby has been the steady veteran who has been surprisingly productive in preseason before tonight, appears to have the fourth wide receiver spot locked down. Roby is also one of the league's best gunners on punt coverage, and has been since he did that well in Super Bowl XLIV. But the stable of young receiver stars was supposed to supplant the veteran this year. They clearly haven't earned it with performance in preseason games.
It was backup TE Derek Schouman, who missed the 2011 season and played little in 2010, that was the big surprise of the night. When Canfield got him the ball accurately, Schouman showed decent speed in the open field, and led all receivers with six catches for 74 yards. Fellow backup tight end Michael Higgins, Schouman's primary competition on the depth chart, caught three passes for 35 yards. Schouman at 6'2 is a completely different mold of tight end than the 6'5 Higgins, who earned the start tonight. Veteran TE Daniel Graham did not play tonight, as did the team's top two at the position, Jimmy Graham and David Thomas.
Canfield had some beauties - including a seam laser to Camarillo late in the game for a 24-yard gain. He hit Schouman on a great half-rollout, across the field bomb to Shouman who was wide open in the second quarter, and followed that with some good quick hit strikes in traffic to Joe Morgan, who obliged with good, tough catches. A 20-yard strike picking open the deep zone to Joe Morgan in the late first quarter was textbook. But there was a lot more to dislike about the tall lefty's night.
Canfield stepped into an early sack when he stared down Higgins blanketed in coverage, and didn't look to an alternate options until it was too late. He threw complete to Higgins, but only because Titans S Jordan Babineaux completely whiffed on a pick six. Later in the first quarter, he missed a wide open Nick Toon, who dove for the airmailed pass at the left sideline.
Later on the best drive for Canfield, Toon would drop a touchdown pass in both his hands, though the defender had a hook around the rookie's left arm. On the next play, Canfield continued his habit of quickly checking underneath to the open middle man, getting the receiver (Cadet) hammed by the waiting defenders, and coming up way short of the line to cross.
Early in the third, Canfield threw a pass right to LB Tim Shaw, who was in a simple deep middle drop. In the third, Canfield would hit Camarillo on a very nice comeback route on a rollout left for 13 yards, but followed it with a dropped interception by Titans LB Zach Brown when he telegraphed a throw to Camarillo. Later in the game, Canfield lofted a quacking duck into the air, where it was camped out under and intercepted by DB Tommie Campbell. Canfield would also end the next drive in the fourth quarter when he was sacked for a big 12-yard loss and lost the football.
In what was meant to be Canfield's big audition for his next team, as the Saints will certainly waive him tomorrow, the big lefty from Oregon State struggled with decision making and inconsistent accuracy.
On defense, the Saints did open with a few starters on the field, including DT Brodrick Bunkley, DE Will Smith, SLB Scott Shanle, and WLB Jonathan Casillas. Johnny Patrick and rookie Corey White started, though White fared better than Patrick. The rookie made a touchdown-saving tackle when RB Darius Reynaud reversed field and nearly had the angle for the score. White fought through a block and made the shoestring tackle to trip up Reynaud.
Patrick dropped an easy interception early in the second quarter, letting a scrambling Jake Locker toss a bullet right through his hands. Behind him, Lavelle Hawkins made the catch for a 12-yard gain on 3rd and 2. On the next play, Hawkins blew by Patrick and was wide open in the end zone to get missed by a badly overthrown pass from Locker.
DE Will Smith started, giving the Saints best defensive player some extra snaps before he serves his suspension. Smith had the angle on a rolling Locker, but the second-year quarterback tucked, turned on the jets and zipped across Smith's face up the sideline for a 16-yard gain. No offense to Smith intended, Locker is just that special a player.
Akiem Hicks would get a pass breakup shortly after that when he whipped out a left arm and ended up clotheslining Locker on a third down pass attempt. Locker was blasted backwards when Hick's left wrist caught him upside the left side of the helmet. The play probably would have been flagged by more experienced, safety-conscious refs, but that's not who is on the field in umpire uniforms for the NFL.
The game featured some deep-roster players making their final shot at NFL playing time. Second-year DE Alex Daniels got a clear pass rush at Locker but didn't put his hands up. Second-year Locker completed a pass to the flat right past Daniels' ear. Elbert Mack, challenging Patrick for the nickel-back job, nearly intercepted but did break up a pass at the goal line early in the game, but couldn't stop Jamie Harper on his one-yard touchdown run despite getting position Harper at the line of scrimmage. Mack also recovered a fumble by Jake Locker, forced on a scramble by Isa Abdul-Quddus, the Saints' top backup at safety.
RB Joe Banyard got his bell run and helmet removed in the fourth quarter, but had made a good run (5/21, 1/7). MLB Kadarron Anderson probably won't make the team, but led the Saints defense with four tackles and two assists tonight. DT Tom Johnson got the start at defensive tackle and appears to have won a job in the defensive tackle rotation for a second year. CB Nick Hixson had one tackle, but ate turf when he was stiff-armed into the ground late in the game. S Jose Gumbs had a good showing before going to the locker room with an injury. FB Korey Hall recorded three catches for 27 yards but caught only three of six passes thrown his way.
K John Kasay did not play, with Garrett Hartley attempting both field goals on the night and connecting from 38 and 21 yards out. Hartley appears to have won the placekicking job, but the Saints will likely keep Kasay nearby during the season.