On the surface, it would appear that the New Orleans Saints’ 21-point win over the San Francisco 49ers in their exhibition opener Friday night was a satisfying one.
After finally getting a game under their belts for the first time in seven months, the Saints will tell you it was nice to win. But that’s where all the similarities to a regular-season game would - and should - end.
Nothing the Saints did in a relatively easy 24-3 victory over the 49ers in the Superdome - and there were some good things - will have a bearing on the real opener in 25 days against the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, or any of their 15 games after that.
You think the Packers offensive line is going to be as porous as the 49ers? You think Super Bowl XLV MVP Aaron Rodgers is going to look like Alex Smith? Think the Saints will have a breather on the evening of Sept. 8 like they did Friday night?
In order, the answers are no, no and, uh, no.
The 49ers looked every bit like a team that was playing its first game under a rookie NFL head coach - former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
Then again, it looked a lot like it was a preseason opener for both teams - complete with penalties, turnovers, dropped passes and offensive breakdowns here and there.
The best part of it is no one will remember this game a year from now. Just like we don’t remember the Saints’ preseason opener last year.
“I don’t know if anyone would be able to say that looked uniquely different than last year’s first game,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, one of the few people who probably remembers their 27-24 setback to New England in their first outing.
“As a coach, what I see is a lot of things we have to work on to improve,” he said. “Fortunately, we have some time here and we have a lot of preseason games ahead.”
Indeed, the Saints have another hard work week in front of them in the heat and humidity of Metairie followed by a game against the Houston Texans and then an extended one-week training camp in Oxnard, Calif.
Having an extra week of camp could be a good thing for the Saints, Payton said, particularly with the extended lockout this spring.
“It’s going to be important for all the teams, especially this year, the improvement from these early preseason games to the latter part (of the preseason) prior to the start of the regular season,” he said. “We’re all in a race to correct the mistakes and be ready by the time the regular season starts. We need the work, and we look forward to that.”
The fact that they played with a lot of energy, especially on defense, was encouraging even if the first-team offense had trouble getting on track.
It’s all part of the process, a process that’s still in the early stages.
“We’re really not a team yet,” Payton said, “we’re a roster right now.”