Wide receiver Robert Meachem regretted just one thing about his first touchdown grab since re-signing with the New Orleans Saints.
After he scored Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he reverted to old habits and flipped the ball into the crowd.
“I was kind of mad at myself,” said Meachem, whose touchdown reception helped the Saints pummel the Cardinals 31-7 and improve to 3-0 for the first time since they won their only Super Bowl four seasons ago.
“That ball meant a lot to me, but some fan got it.”
However, as the Saints tell it, Meachem can expect other opportunities in the future to stash away a football he hauls in for a score.
On Monday, coach Sean Payton said he told Meachem the night before to the Arizona game, “It’s been a while since you found this end zone. This would be a good game to get you re-acquainted with it.”
Meachem, in his seventh year in the NFL, returned to New Orleans in early September after a humiliating year with the San Diego Chargers. The Saints say they’ve prioritized re-integrating him into the system where he spent his first five fairly productive seasons in the league.
The most public display to date of that commitment came on the eighth play of the Saints’ first possession Sunday.
On second-and-16 from Arizona’s 27, Meachem stood in the slot between tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles, who was lined up as a wide receiver on the right. Sproles cut inside behind Meachem and Graham after the snap, and Brees pump-faked a screen pass to Sproles.
Brees coaxed Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and linebacker Karlos Dansby to step toward Sproles, leaving Meachem one-on-one with cornerback Jerraud Powers and Graham with safety Yeremiah Bell.
Meachem easily sped past Powers. Brees sailed a pass over Graham, Bell and Powers to Meachem, who reeled the ball in at the 1 and stepped over the goal line. As was his ritual in his initial stint with the Saints, Meachem immediately tossed the ball underhand to one of the 73,000 people in the stands.
“The only problem was that I thought (Graham, who ultimately had two touchdowns in the game) was supposed to jump and take it,” Meachem joked afterward. “He said the same thing. If he would have jumped, then he would have had three touchdowns.”
Graham didn’t jump, though, allowing Meachem to score a touchdown for the Saints for the first time since Week 15 of the 2011 season, when New Orleans hosted the Atlanta Falcons and routed them 45-16.
That long-ago touchdown against Atlanta was among 155 receptions for 2,453 yards and 24 scores that Meachem had for New Orleans before accepting a contract guaranteeing him $14 million to join San Diego, in search of a replacement for No. 1 wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who departed for Tampa Bay in 2012.
But with the Chargers, Meachem had only 14 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns — both in Week 5 last year, at the Superdome, against the Saints — before he was released Aug. 31.
The Saints signed him to a one-year deal three days later, and he vowed to make the most of an opportunity to “have the last say-so” about whether he could be of value to an NFL club.
He was inactive in a Week 1 win at home against Atlanta but dressed out for the Week 2 victory on the road against Tampa Bay, when the Saints decided to leave second-year wideout Nick Toon off the game-day roster.
Behind Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Kenny Stills in the pecking order, Meachem didn’t catch a pass in his re-debut with New Orleans, but he showed the hustle that endeared him to Saints fans after Brees threw an interception to Bucs linebacker Mason Foster at the Tampa Bay 15 in the third quarter.
Meachem had run to the 2 when the pick occurred, but then raced 96 yards past Foster’s blockers as well as the Saints in pursuit. Arriving at the Saints’ 2, Meachem squared up to Foster, lowered his right shoulder and tripped up the linebacker.
Foster still managed to score, but it was apparent Meachem had done everything he could to give New Orleans’ defense a chance at a goal-line stand. The effort faintly resembled the time in 2009 he scored a 44-yard touchdown after stripping the ball from Washington safety Kareem Moore, who moments earlier had intercepted Brees.
The Saints didn’t say how much Meachem’s exertion on Foster’s interception influenced their desire to get him in the end zone against the Cardinals. But few will argue he didn’t deserve some kind of reward.
“I could see the smile on his face,” said Brees of Meachem, who finished Sunday with two catches for 34 yards and his touchdown. “It was good to get him back in the fold, and there’s a lot more where that came from.”
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