September 9, 2012

Saints Give Birth to Legend of RG3, Drop Season Opener 40-32

The Saints defense helped launch the career of Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, the second overall pick in April's draft, with surprisingly poor play on defense.  The air of victory surrounding the Saints' temporary defeat of bountygate suspensions was snuffed out by Griffin and former Saints head coach Jim Haslett, the  coordinator of the Redskins defensive that harassed QB Drew Brees all day.

The Redskins roll to a 40-32 victory, with that final score hiding an impressive defensive performance by Haslett's crew that kept Brees' completion percentage at 46.1%.

Griffin completed his first eight passes, including an 88-yard score to WR Pierre Garcon, who would miss time in this game with injury.  On that score, SS Roman Harper was picked on a deep crossing route and Garcon outraced CB Patrick Robinson for the score, the second-longest by a QB making his NFL debut in history.

The Saints had a lead early 7-3 with a touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham from 20 yards away.  Graham would provide most of the Saints' offense in the first half, also picking up the Saints' first third-down conversion with a stunning one-handed rebound with MLB London Fletcher all over him, and two plays later Graham leveled S DeJon Gomes with a vicious stiff-arm to the helmet.

But the Saints offense was stifled in the first half. Brees wrapped the touchdown drive with two three-and-outs, all three plays incompletions.  Though his first quarter touchdown strike to Graham marked his 50th straight game with a touchdown pass, an NFL record, his next touchdowns would come when the Saints were in full panic mode in the second half.

Brees would have found his second touchdown pass of the season in the second quarter, hitting Marques Colston on the deep post, but Colston coughed up the ball into the end zone, where it was batted out of the back line.  That turned a touchdown that would have made it 20-14 going into halftime into a touchback.  Colston, usually calm and collected in all situations, slammed his helmet against a bench on the sideline.

But the Saints would recover Colston's lost touchdown on the next series, when the Redskins lined up for their first punt of the day, and let DE Martez Wilson run unblocked up the middle.  Wilson blocked the punt, and WR Courtney Roby scooped and scored, escorted the short distance into the end zone by S Rafael Bush.

Down 20-14 at half, there was definitely the feeling that the Saints were not hanging with the Redskins' electric rookie.   Griffin was short, poised and with a few hiccups like losing the football on an play action fake to the runningback.  But he recovered with remarkable cool in the pocket and fired to with Brees-like cunning to open receivers.

Meanwhile, the Saints were unpoised in all parts of the game.  Two straight false start penalties turned a 3rd and 10 into a 3rd and 20.  Roman Harper drew a pass interference call in the end zone with a long pass on 4th and 1.  The defense allowed FB Darrel Young to convert a 4th and inches.  12 men on the punt return team gave the Redskins a first down on 4th and 5, part of 12 penalties on the day for the home team.  Brees started the game with two off-target passes and a third that was batted down at the line.

Interim head coach Aaron Kromer pointed out that penalties wrecked offensive rhythm all day.

Injuries were also an issue for the Saints.  Starting LB Scott Shanle spent most of the game absent from the sidelines with an injury.  Will Herring took over at strongside linebacker.  CB Johnny Patrick, who started in the slot, was injured in the second quarter after breaking up a pass.  Newly-signed CB Jerome Murphy had to replace him, with just days on the Saints' roster. WR Devery Henderson got his bell rung by a knee to the helmet after a third quarter reception, throwing Joe Morgan onto the field.

The injury to Patrick was especially painful, since the team was already without CB Jabari Greer, out with a groin injury.  RB Chris Ivory, rookie DT's Akiem Hicks and Tyrunn Walker were also inactive.

Brees finished 24/52 with 339 yards passing, three touchdowns and two interceptions.  His first interception snuffed out any sense of fourth quarter momentum for the Saints.  Down 33-25, Brees had hit WR Lance Moore for a brilliant 33-yard score and the defense had forced a four-snap punt from the Redskins when Brees took the field with 3:39 left in the game.  His pass floated over the middle and was picked by Gomes, who returned it to the Saint 3, and Alfred Morris punched it in for a morale-crushing touchdown that put the Redskins up 40-25.

LB Jonathan Vilma, newly-unsuspended but in street clothes and a member of the roster via a temporary roster exception, led the opening Who Dat chant before the game.

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