August 15, 2009

Brees shakes off thick layer of rust in 17-7 preseason win

Drew Brees was, to say it lightly, rusty in the first half.

By rusty, its meant that his first pass was off target on a quick fade to Marques Colston, and then off target to Robert Meachem who had to collect himself and was stopped.

By rusty, its meant that he was rolling to the left and, throwing across his body, badly missed a wide open Marques Colston standing with an entire left sideline open before him.

The Saints started their first possession of the 2009 season at their opponents' six yard line and after Brees couldn't punch them in, Garrett Hartley, the only placekicker on the roster, missed what was essentially an extra point from the right hash.

For all the improvement that the defense showed (outside of poor Jason David), the offense's first quarter was brutal.

Brees' second possession featured one completion, to Robert Meachem on a comeback route, that resulted in Meachem gaining the first down and then having the wind knocked out of him by Bengals defensive back Chris Crocker.

Meachem had to be helped up, but later returned and played more than half the game.

Brees shook off that rust though, and made it easy to forget a lousy first quarter.

The Saints' third possession was more like it. Bush dashed up the middle for five yards, then Brees found TE Jeremy Shockey behind the defense for a 33 yard gain. Two plays later, he found Colston on the left sideline, who spinned away for 14 yards. On the next play, Brees hit Shockey down the middle in the end zone. He went up high and brought wrestled the pass in between two defenders, capping a '08-like drive for the Saints that covered 80 yards in 2:10 in five plays.

Mark Brunell entered the game for the next possession and looked sharp right away. But it was under his watch that another familiarity of '08 appeared: the lack of a run game. RB Pierre Thomas had an eight yard scamper in the second quarter but otherwise the Saints run game was shut down in the first half. On Brunell's first drive, Heath Evans couldn't convert third and one.

In the third quarter, Lynell Hamilton found some traction, ripping off runs of 8,8, and 9 yards. Hamilton was the third runningback to enter the game and got by far the most carries, but also had two fumbles, including one he lost inside the Bengal one yard line, yet another short-yardage failure for the Saint run game.

That's really unfortunate for Hamilton, who has overcome major collegiate injuries and has had a good offseason to get to this point. Hamilton led all rushes with 15 carries for 48 yards.

Brunell put the Saints ahead for good when he found a wide open Robert Meachem deep downfield. Meachem hauled it in and ran into the end zone, tossing the ball to fans to put the Saints up 14-7. That capped a good night for the former first round pick, which included three catches for 77 yards including that 64-yard bomb from Brunell.

Brunell was intercepted in the end zone on third and three, but a defensive pass interference call set the Saints up at the Bengal 1 before Hamilton lost the ball on the next play.

Joey Harrington entered the game on the next drive. He couldn't advance the ball but thanks to great field position, Hartley redeemed himself by nailing a 54-yard field goal with ease. That score put the Saints up 17-7, the final score.

Harrington attempted only three passes, hitting WR Matt Simon for a 14-yard gain in the final minutes. Simon and Rod Harper, two receivers unlikely to make the team, provided most of the air attack in the second half.

As for injuries, DE Charles Grant's hamstring and TE Darnell Dinkins sprained ankle may be lasting. The Saints were limited at tight end this game; with Billy Miller ruled out and Dinkins injured, the Saints operated with only Buck Ortega in the second half.

How did the defense do?

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