The fourth preseason game is for the dreamers and schemers. It’s typically a time for the starters to rest and for the backups to make one last push to claim a roster spot.
The Saints didn’t completely hand over Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to the backups. Several players, including guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans, cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson and safety Jairus Byrd, received snaps in the 22-13 loss after missing time earlier in the preseason.
But those players have nothing to worry about this weekend, as rosters have to be trimmed down to 53 names by 3 p.m. Saturday. Those fighting for spots showed some urgency Thursday as they fought to make their final case for why they should be spared a meeting in coach Sean Payton’s office this weekend.
“This game matters for somebody every year,” Payton said. “It equals those other snaps and often times you get to this point in the process, and maybe you want a little confirmation or you’re wanting to know for sure.
At the forefront of those roster battles is the one taking place between backup quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin. Griffin is younger, and slightly cheaper, but McCown did nothing to hurt his standing during his one series.
The 33-year-old completed all four of his passes for 29 yards, culminating with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Travaris Cadet. McCown’s other three passes were caught by receiver Joe Morgan, including an 18-yard gain when McCown had to roll out to the right to avoid the pass rush.
McCown picked up 240 yards on 26-of-43 passing with three touchdowns and an interception throughout the preseason. If it is not a situation where it is one quarterback or the other, it’s possible the Saints will carry both McCown and Griffin if McCown is declared the winner.
“We have before,” Payton said when asked whether he was open to carrying all three quarterbacks. “We’ll see.”
Griffin did not make as big of an impact as McCown. He led a three-and-out on his first drive. But as has been his method of operation this preseason, he made good by hooking up with Robert Meachem for a big gain, eventually leading to a field goal.
Griffin was unable to get much going throughout the rest of the first half, leading the Saints to one other field goal. His second half was also uneven as he finished 11-of-21 for 126 yards.
His preseason totals come in at 530 yards on 48-of-77 passing with three touchdowns and one interception. After putting everything on film, Griffin said he felt confident about what he’s done this preseason.
“I’ve done all that I could,” he said. “I worked my butt off. It’s out of my hands now.”
Morgan came out with the starters, left the field temporarily and then came back after Meachem appeared to come up lame following a 52-yard reception from Griffin. He continued to receive snaps with the second-team offense after Meachem returned to the field.
Considering the strength of his preseason and how he was used Thursday night, it appears he is sitting atop the three-way race between him, Meachem and Toon for what is likely to be the final two roster spots at wide receiver.
Morgan began to make his case earlier in the preseason by catching a pair of bombs for 52 and 44 yards in the second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. He showed up Thursday night and showed that he can be more than deep threat by making his living on short and intermediate routes.
It was a good showing for a player who says he is still not 100 percent after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee last training camp.
“I don’t feel 100, but I see progress being made,” Morgan said earlier this week. “Every day I’m coming out and I’m getting better. The knee is feeling better. I’m feeling things I haven’t felt in a year and a half. Quad muscles and stuff firing up. I’m saying strides are being made, and that naturally builds some confidence.”
Toon started the game and saw a heavy amount of snaps, but did not make much of an impact and recorded his first reception with about three minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was the same story the previous two games, as he ran a combined 54 routes in those contests but was targeted only four times.
Meachem was more active. He made his 52-yard reception on a ball that was slightly underthrown and required an adjustment. But it was his first big moment after making only one catch for 14 yards during the first three games.
It’s difficult to know where, exactly, Meachem stands. It appears telling that he did not come on with what passed for the first-team offense on this night, but he lined up with Brandin Cooks opposite him at receiver when he entered the game for the second series. Last week, Meachem was still on the field late in the fourth quarter, long after the starters had exited the contest.
Further down the roster wide receiver Charles Hawkins made his case for consideration by returning three kicks for an average of 35 yards. The return game was previously nonexistent.
Like Griffin, Hawkins said he was not worried about the roster cuts and was hopeful that he impressed someone else if not the Saints.
“I’m playing for all 32 teams now,” he said.
Whatever happened Thursday will be the lasting impression these players make for the coaching staff. There are no more cases to be made.
The Saints will be back at the team facility Friday morning. Those who did not make the team could learn their fate before they head home if the team decides to get a jump on the process, as it did earlier this week in the initial trim to 75 players.