August 17, 2012

Saints Drop Preseason Home Opener, 27-24

The Jacksonville Jaguars started strong on offense and finished with late-game heroics to beat the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Replacement referees should be an embarrassment for the league tonight.  At one point, the lead referee made the international hand sign for "choking" instead of delay of game, a humorous and ironic gaffe among many gaffes during the game which went three hours and thirty-five minutes in regulation.  Missed fumbles, phantom pass interference penalties, blown catch/no catch replay reviews and painfully-long silences were a pattern on the night.  

RB Rashad Jennings tore up the Saint starters in the first half tonight, winning most contact battles and out-physicaling a poorly tackling defense.  He had runs of 5, 17, 3 and 15 on his first four carries, though the Saints stopped him short twice to force 3rd and 8 at the Saint 16 on the Jaguars' opening drive.  That's when Gabbert when to top round pick WR Justin Blackmon showed his physical nature, shrugging off CB Marquis Johnson who went for the pick but bounced off of Blackmon, hitting the ground hard.  Blackmon turned for the end zone and scored from 16 yards out.  

Brees used his runningbacks to move down the field for a response field goal.  On his first pass, a bootleg left, he threw to WR Lance Moore who ran out of turn and made the comeback sideline catch out of bounds.  Brees then hit Pierre Thomas in the left flat for 15 yards, gave to Ingram for four yards and hit Thomas for a classic PT screen, rumbling through tacklers for a 25-yard gain.  Ingram caught a pass in left tackle and made a physical move up the sideline for 13, then carried for a five yard gain to put the Saints inside the 18 yard line.  But two incomplete passes by Brees to Graham in the short seams forced Garrett Hartley's 37-yard field goal.

Hartley is working exclusively with punter Thomas Morstead as his holder, while veteran John Kasay is working exclusively with backup QB Chase Daniel as his holder, ensuring that either kicker would have his familiar holder on the field if he wins the job.

Not used to covering kickoffs apparently, the Saints gave up a 55-yard return after their field goal when one of Morstead's kickoffs was a rare returnable kick.

Starting CB Patrick Robinson returned from his shoulder injury and had a rusty night, making a wait-and-chase tackle on a hard-charging Jennings and then missing a tackle on Blackmon at the sideline.

Robinson and the starting defense did poorly while tackling, though there were some highlights.  The three top defensive ends, Will Smith, Cam Jordan and Junior Gallette all put good pressure on Gabbert after the first drive.  Jordan even made a play dropping into coverage in the first quarter to break up a pass.  Gallette drew a holding flag - and should have drawn a few more - when pressuring Gabbert.  

LB Scott Shanle fought his blocker simultaneously stuck WR Mike Thomas on an end around for a short gain.  CB Elbert Mack played his first game back from injury and missed tackles along with everyone else on the team, but made some good tackles and put himself in good positions.  He's got four years of backup experience with the Bucs and could be in the mix for the Saints at cornerback, where the team has been hit with injury and poor play.

The starter offenses exchanged punts before Gabbert led his Jaguars on another scoring drive, this one featuring impressive man-child Blackmon delivering a devastating, flat-on-his-back stiff arm to MLB Curtis Lofton at the sideline.  Blackmon cut inside and ducked away from Robinson, who slammed his fists on his legs in frustration afterwards behind the play.  A wide-open TE Colin Cloherty on an out route scored from 15 yards out for Gabbert's second scoring pass.  CB Johnny Patrick was backpedaling into the end zone as Cloherty cut underneath and into the open for the easy score.

Following the score, Brees would be sacked and bodyslammed by DE Jeremy Mincey, losing the football and setting Gabbert up again at the Saint 15.  On that play, TE Jimmy Graham somehow drew one-on-one pass blocking and barely deflected Mincey's course to Brees' throwing arm.  An instant replay review confirmed the fumble, though it was a very difficult call with Brees' arm apparently coming forward.  Josh Scobee put the field goal in from 36 yards out to extend Jacksonville's lead to 17-3.

Brees put points on the board by leading a nine play, 85-yard drive in response.  Thomas and Ingram picked up a first down on three carries, then Brees went to his receivers Devery Henderson and Marques Colston for the rest of the way.  Henderson for 13 and 2, then to Colston for 15, Henderson again for 8, Colston for 28 down the middle, then Henderson made a great one-handed falling catch on a fade at the end zone sideline.  Replay review appeared to show the ball moving, but no matter, the refs confirmed the touchdown from eight yards out.  Brees was a perfect 6-6 for 74 yards on that drive when he pulled the backups off the field and came back out for one more drive, not wanting a second straight quiet preseason outing.

A pair of bogus pass interference calls on LB Will Herring and rookie CB Corey White got the Jaguars moving quickly on the next drive, which stalled at the Saint 19 yard line with 4th and 1.  The Jaguars offense stayed on the field and sent Jennings up the middle.  This was one battle the Saints' defense - thought mostly backups now - would win, with rookie DT Akiem Hicks leading the charge to stop Jennings a yard short with :48 left in the second quarter.

Chase Daniel tried to move the Saints in the two minute drill, but an apparent serious left leg injury to WR Andy Tanner took the wind out of the Saints' sails.   

Injuries tonight included LB Chris Chamberlain and WR Andy Tanner, both of whom had their left legs rolled up underneath them in the first half.  Chamberlain was blocked and his left toe caught in the turf, while Tanner was hit from behind finishing a block for Cadet.  Both injuries looked pretty bad, and interim head coach Joe Vitt said that they would be evaluated tomorrow.

Drew Brees told Cox Sports Television about what Tanner means to the team after the game: 
"Tanner embodies everything that we are as a team. It doesn't matter how you got here, with Tanner being a free agent... There's not a guy who makes more plays in practice than Andy Tanner.  We all trust him as quarterbacks... We trust that guy, he's smart, he works his tail off, he'll run routes for you all day long... He's going to be a good player in this league.  I hope the injury is not serious and something he's able to work back from."

The Jaguars opened the second half with an ambush onsides kick, recovered by Jacksonville DB Courtney Greene.  Second-string QB Chad Henne couldn't convert a 3rd and 6 so the Jaguars squandered their momentum with a three-and-out, giving way to Chase Daniel who hit TE Michael Higgins for 15 and 6 yard gains, then handed off to Travaris Cadet for a 10 yard gain.  On the next play, with perfect protection and patience in the pocket, Daniel waited for WR Joe Morgan to get open on a deep crossing route then launched a bomb which found Morgan wide open by 10 yards for the score.  

It was a big highlight play for Morgan, who may be the biggest benefactor of Tanner's injury and Adrian Arrington's continuing injury issues.  Morgan finished with three catches and 68 yards, including the 53-yard score.  But, as he has in previous preseason games, Morgan had a big gaffe, dropping a kickoff in the end zone and scrambling to pick it up.  Tanner has had no such major gaffes, aside from a fumble on a perfectly-placed hit against Arizona in the preseason opener, and has caught nearly everything thrown his way this summer.

Chad Henne's second drive ended when CB Elbert Mack batted up a deep pass intended for WR Brian Robiskie.  S Isa Abdul-Quddus behind in coverage picked off the carom.  

Clones on the field, Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet ripped off good runs on the next drive, starting with 9:20 left in the third quarter.  Both with a hard-fighting physical style, dreadlocks and a jersey number ending in 9, Cadet is shiftier but Ivory still has a bullish running style.  Both appear NFL ready, though Ivory's fumbling issues in practice are a potential danger on this team with five runningbacks ready to contribute.

The Saints would punt from the Jaguar 48, with Elbert Mack making a leaping effort to down the punt inside the five yard line.  But RB Keith Toston ripped off a 42 yard run, breaking multiple tackles along the way,.  Henne hit Robiskie for gains of 11 and 15 but five plays later from the Saint 29 appeared to be intercepted by Corey White.  His errant pass was wide of Robiskie and was caught just off the turf by a diving White, who rolled over the ball and appeared to keep a hand underneath it.  The replacement referees overruled the catch, robbing the rookie's first interception.  Three plays later, Scobee hit a 47-yard field goal to make it 20-17.

The teams exchanged punts through the fourth quarter before Daniel moved the Saints from their own 20, hitting Morgan, Higgins, Roby and Higgins to move to the Jaguar 41, then benefited from a cheap roughing the passer call down to the Jaguar 24.  His next pass was on an option route to Cadet, who beat his coverage linebacker then rushed past DB Isaac Rod to scamper into the end zone for the would-be game-winning score.

QB Jordan Palmer led the Jaguars down the field in the final 1:53, overcoming an offensive holding penalty with a bogus, uncatchable pass interference call on Jerico Nelson, then overcoming a 3rd and 4 with another questionable pass interference call on DB Cord Parks, moving Jacksonville to the Saint 6 with :32 left.  A false start and three incomplete passes brought up 4th and goal from the 11 with :18 left.  Palmer, with LB Ramon Humber in his face, threw high to 6'3 WR Kevin Elliot, who made the catch in front of an out-of-position Cord Parks.

Thankfully, we avoided overtime, but the Jaguars won 27-24 with last-minute heroics by Palmer and the scab officials.

Notables not playing tonight were RB Darren Sproles, receivers Nick Toon and Adrian Arrington, DE Turk McBride, DT Tom Johnson, and cornerbacks Kamaal McIlwain and Jabari Greer.  

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