Scurrying down from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s treehouse press box to Sean Payton’s postgame postmortem, I overheard a snippet of a discussion about the Saints in the wake of Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Houston Texans:
“So, you think we’ll win six games this season?”
Summer’s still here and the time is right for panic in the streets, apparently.
There is always way too much stock put in preseason wins and losses.
So the Saints are now 0-3. Is that really an issue? The Washington Redskins are 3-0 and are considering punting Robert Griffin III.
The Saints aren’t exactly gleeful about their preseason results to date. New Orleans finally recorded its first sack more than nine minutes into third quarter, and Sean Payton sarcastically joked that they should have turned the Saints’ sideline into a second line in celebration. And the Saints’ rash of penalties (11 for 148 yards) had the coach hot enough to boil shrimp.
But disheartened? Worried? Bitterly bummed out? Not the Saints. These aren’t the real games. The only things as real as the regular season are ticket prices.
Usually the third preseason game is the closest to reality. This is the game where teams keep their starters in the longest, try the hardest.
This time the Saints deviated from the script. And little was what it seemed.
The offense had trouble finding the end zone, true. But Drew Brees played only one series, which admittedly bogged down and forced the Saints to kick a field goal. By the time this one ended, he was in the drive thru at one of his Jimmy Johns.
Brandin Cooks, the Saints’ rising star receiver, was similarly limited.
“We’re ready to go,” Cooks said. “But we’ve still got some stuff to clean up.”
There was no actual game planning. These teams meet for real in Houston on Thanksgiving weekend. Why show a bunch of tricks and tendencies you may only have to scheme away from come November?
Sunday’s game wasn’t about winning Sunday’s game. It was about winning two Sundays down the road at Arizona and the 15 weeks after that.
All you need to know about how the Saints approached their nationally televised scrimmage with the Texans could be summed up by this quote from Payton, who indicated his team got as much out of their week of workouts at The Greenbrier against New England:
“At the positions where jobs are on the line, you wanted to make sure guys got 20 or 30 snaps,” Payton said, “not eight. That was purposeful.
“It’s trying to be smart, especially when they are veteran players.”
There were certainly glimmers of hope amid the fog.
Marcus Murphy, the seventh-round pick out of Missouri, showed Darren Sproles-like quickness and agility in a concentrated package.
“I can see myself as a playmaker,” he said.
So can Payton, apparently. The rarely bubbly Saints coach proclaimed the kid stays in the Saints regular-season picture with a roster spot.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Willie Snead continues to impress by catching everything thrown his way and shaking off would-be tacklers for extra yards.
Eyebrows were raised in the backup quarterback derby when Ryan Griffin, assumed to be locked in a battle with Luke McCown, didn’t play until the Saints’ final possession.
Griffin will probably play more, a lot more, Thursday at Green Bay. As for Brees, he will be encased in bubble wrap and shipped to Arizona like the fine china. He will play at Green Bay, not.
If anything disappointed Payton as much as the penalties or pass rush it was that the Saints in hindsight didn’t do more to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Though there was no official pronouncement, there seemed little coincidence that the NFL had the Saints play at home on this weekend against this team, which hails from the city where so many thousands of New Orleanians found shelter after the hellish storm.
Compared to that, a football game pales.
A preseason game 10 times more so.