NEW ORLEANS - In just six days, the New Orleans Saints will play a game that, hopefully for their sake, doesn’t come close to resembling anything that happened Thursday night in the Superdome.
Then again, the team coach Sean Payton puts on the field for the regular-season opener against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers won’t resemble the team that dropped a 32-9 decision to the Tennessee Titans in its exhibition finale in the Superdome.
As he usually does for the fourth and final preseason game, Payton kept most of his regulars on both sides of the ball out of harm’s way most of the night - including quarterback Drew Brees, nine others on offense and four on defense.
The only regular to start on offense was Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks, who played just one series because he didn’t get to play in Sunday night’s game with the Oakland Raiders because of a knee injury.
Injuries gave many players an opportunity to start, but several others were trying to solidify roster spots or somehow play their way onto the roster with final cuts coming Saturday.
Few distinguished themselves, however, especially in a ragged first half in which the Titans (3-1) rolled to a 22-0 lead over the Saints and third-string quarterback Sean Canfield, who was filling in for Brees and backup Chase Daniel.
In seven first-half possessions, the Saints (2-2) had a punt, Canfield was sacked for a safety and threw two interceptions, tight end Tory Humphrey fumbled after making a catch, they turned the ball over on downs and kicker John Kasay missed a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
While he knew there was a chance it would get sloppy with so many backups and players who won’t be on the 53-man regular-season roster, Payton wasn’t happy with the outcome.
“It’s the miscues, it’s the sacks, a sack for a safety, it’s the interceptions and fumbles,” he said. “Those things bug you regardless of who’s playing. Those are signs of sloppy play. Considering that, I thought our defense battled and hung in there pretty well.”
The 41-year-old Kasay was signed on Tuesday to replace Garrett Hartley, who injured his hip in Sunday night’s win over the Oakland Raiders.
Like many of his new teammates, Kasay had a rough night as he also missed an extra point after the Saints’ only touchdown of the evening, a 2-yard pass from Canfield to wide receiver Montez Billings with 7:22 left in the game.
Kasay did make a 38-yard field goal with 35 seconds to play.
“It was sloppy,” said Canfield, a first-year pro who was making his first NFL start. “We made some plays, we made a few runs. You’re never going to feel good after a performance like that and you lose like that.
“I was excited and I felt ready. It’s been a long time since I played a whole game. It felt good to be out there.”
Other than Billings’ touchdown and running back Joique Bell, who rushed for 80 yards on 16 attempts and caught six passes for 44 yards, the crowd of about 40,000 didn’t have much to cheer about.
Bell had a long run of 21 yards and was the Saints’ leading rusher and receiver as they finished with 341 total yards. Canfield was 29-of-39 for 249 yards with two interceptions and one TD. He was sacked twice and finished with a passer rating of 77.8.
“It’s going to be easier to put the tape on and see some consistent play from an individual,” Payton said. “I thought we did some good things in the running game. We got some pretty good movement when we ran it.”
Still, the Saints’ offense committed five turnovers - including three fumbles, one on a fumbled snap by Canfield in the third quarter - while the defense gave up 293 total yards.
The special teams didn’t fare much better. In addition to Kasay missing two kicks wide left, Titans wide receiver Damian Williams returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, the Titans made the most of their final dress rehearsal for the regular season as rookie coach Mike Munchak started 10 regulars on offense and five on defense.
Defensive tackle Karl Klug got the Titans off to a good start when he sacked Canfield for a safety on the Saints’ second possession of the game.
After that, Rob Bironas kicked field goals of 32 and 47 yards and rookie quarterback Jake Locker, who replaced starter Matt Hasselbeck after taking just nine snaps, ran 22 yards for a touchdown and tossed a 12-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins.
It didn’t get much better in the second half for the Saints.
Bironas booted a 41-yard field goal and Williams stretched the lead to 32-0 when he streaked down the right sideline with a Thomas Morstead punt.
Locker, the Titans’ top draft pick this spring, completed 15 of 17 passes for 132 yards and was their leading rusher with 39 yards on three attempts. He was sacked twice, but finished with a passer rating of 118.6.