Rabalais: Saints look confident and talented entering the regular season

The final chapter of the New Orleans Saints preseason schedule was written Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The 22-13 loss to the Ravens was more epilogue than page-turning climax — maybe even just the index. That’s the way of it by the time the blessed final exhibition game rolls round.

By week four of the preseason, the action on the field is important at a micro, not macro level. The individual position battles, desperate ones at times, that determine starting jobs and career paths. The little scenes that decide where you either have to visit the coach with your playbook between now and Saturday or whether you still need it are the issues that can most be swayed by the final 60 minutes of semi-pro action on the field.

“It is (important) every year,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Drew Brees? The Saints super quarterback played about a quarter this entire preseason. He ran out, waved his little hat, er, helmet during pregame introductions, then was off to change diapers for his new baby daughter.

The biggest news of this game was perhaps that there’s finally a name: Rylen Judith Brees.

I guess Jimmy Graham Brees didn’t make the cut.

For the Saints, you knew all you needed to know, or could manage to find out, by the end of last week’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. That was the game when both teams were really trying to establish something. This game was for the boys in the band, not to determine whether the Saints will be able to make sweet jazz music when the games really count.

That was an answer we already had.

Can the 2014 Saints carry a tune?

Does every movie ever set in New Orleans make it seem like it’s always Mardi Gras?

There are quibbles here, improvements to make there, positions that need to be decided, certainly.

At the top of the list is whether to keep one quarterback or two in Brees’ shadow. At this point I’m figuring Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin are both employed, but what do I know? I thought South Carolina would make the CFP semifinals.

Whether to retain five receivers or six, and which ones they will be (my bet is five with Robert Meachem beating out Nick Toon). Who to choose at place-kicker between Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke (who did the kicking Thursday).

Penalties were the biggest blight on this preseason. The Saints dramatically cut down on them Thursday (just one for 5 yards), but in the first three games they drew enough flags that tied together they would have stretched from Metairie to Mandeville on the causeway.

Everyone has issues. Nobody’s perfect. The 1972 Miami Dolphins should already have the champagne on ice for when the last unbeaten falls.

But for the Saints’ part this looks like a talented, confident, mostly healthy team that by most accounts appears to have improved from last year’s 11-5 wild-card playoff squad.

On paper these Saints were hyped as the best in franchise history. Certainly the team to beat in the NFC South. This preseason did little to dispel those notions.

New Orleans has added a nice new laser-guided missile to Brees’ arsenal in the person of rookie receiver Brandin Cooks — he made a tough grab from Griffin to set up a field goal just before halftime — and the running game continues to look like it’s on the upswing. No offense to Darren Sproles, but is anyone still saying the Saints will miss him this season?

The defense is producing more turnovers, as was prescribed before the preseason began. At final count, New Orleans won the exhibition turnover battle 7-3.

Look, preseason results can be mighty misleading. The 1977 Saints went 5-1 in preseason, then won two fewer games in the regular season. The 2006 Saints were 1-3 on exhibition and reached the NFC Championship Game.

You have to look past the wins and losses at the team behind the standings. The plain truth is the Saints as they stand today are as much a Super Bowl contender as anyone else. Look west down I-10 and maybe you can see Glendale, Arizona, from here.

Time to turn the page to Chapter 1 of this season next week against the Saints’ bitter rivals, the Atlanta Falcons.

This story is about to get good.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.