HOUSTON — According to Drew Brees, there was a reason the New Orleans Saints offense started Sunday’s third preseason game against the Houston Texans a little slowly.
“Our first possession was at the 2-yard line,” a grinning Brees said of a quick three-and-out. “So it’s always a challenge to get out from your own end zone.”
Then, after back-to-back first downs at the outset of their second series, that possession also ended prematurely when Brees was sacked for the first time in preseason.
But he was able to smile about it later when the Saints and their deep stable of offensive weapons — led by a passel of competitive young wide receivers — provided the spark for a 31-23 win against the Texans in Reliant Stadium.
The Saints scored three touchdowns and added a field goal on their next four possessions, and, following a punt, tacked on a final touchdown to overcome an early 10-0 deficit for the win.
The four touchdown drives were vintage Saints, which suggested they’re ready for the regular season with only one preseason game left Thursday night at Miami in which few — if any — starters will play.
The Saints efficiently drove 80, 90, 54 and 80 yards with three of those drives lasting two minutes or less.
They ended with a 51-yard scoring pass from Brees to running back Pierre Thomas, who was lined up as a slot receiver on the play, and a 14-yard pass from Luke McCown to Kenny Stills before Andy Tanner had TD catches of 8 and 15 yards from McCown and Ryan Griffin.
The Saints did that even though their first-team offense played less than a half when they would normally play about three quarters in the next-to-last preseason outing.
Brees, who played the first half of last week’s 28-20 win over the Oakland Raiders, left midway though the second quarter Sunday after completing 4 of 6 pass attempts for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Saints coach Sean Payton said he decided to pull his starters because the game was played on a Sunday as opposed to a Friday.
“You know, you’re always thinking about time versus number of plays,” Brees said, “and one might come before the other. We came in with the plan that we were going to play a little less time around in the third game than we have in the past.”
That meant more time for McCown, who was 10 of 14 for 118 yards and two TDs, and Griffin, who hit on 8 of 13 passes for 86 yards and a score.
Combined, they connected on 22 of 33 passes for 308 yards and four TDs and had a passer rating of 136.1.
They made it look easy, especially against Texans’ starting cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph.
Stills out-jumped Jackson to make a spectacular, one-handed catch that gained 40 yards just before the two-minute warning, then capped the drive by turning Joseph around on a 14-yard TD catch that have the Saints a lead for the first time at 17-13 with 1:14 left to play in the half.
“It was a go-route down the field and I was just fighting for, you know, my territory,” said Stills, who caught two passes for 54 yards. “The ball was up in the air and I had to go get it. It was just one of those plays.”
Like the ones the offense usually makes.
Brees’ touchdown to Thomas, who played sparingly last week for the first time in preseason, was also a big play.
Giving the Texans a different look from the slot, Thomas caught a short pass over the middle and quickly eluded linebacker Joe Mays before weaving his way through the Texans’ defense for a 51-yard score.
“I think the one play to Pierre kind of sparked us a little bit, and then all of a sudden we were able to make a few plays,” Payton said. “When Luke came in, I thought he did a good job getting us in and out of the huddle with the tempo we’re used to and the poise we’re used to at that position.
“So that was good.”
Tanner, who is fighting perhaps for a roster spot with Preston Parker, caught three passes for 33 yards and two TDs — the first of his NFL career.
“I thought we made some plays against their man-to-man coverage,” Payton said. “I think it’s a good defense we played, a good team we played, and we were able to come up with some big plays.”
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