Redskins’ offense outshines Saints in season opener
NEW ORLEANS — Fans of the New Orleans Saints have become accustomed over the past six seasons to seeing a high-powered offense producing yards in bunches and lighting up the scoreboard in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
On Sunday, for one of the few times since 2006, that wasn’t the Saints.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III walked into the Superdome and stole the spotlight from Drew Brees and his teammates in the Washington Redskins’ 40-32 season-opening shocker over the Saints.
Playing their first real game without suspended coach Sean Payton, the offense sputtered for 31/2 quarters against an aggressive Redskins’ defense while Griffin ran roughshod over the Saints’ new-look defensive unit.
The Saints allowed 40 points in a home opener for the first time since 1985 when they dropped a 47-27 decision to the Kansas City Chiefs.
That, coupled with 12 penalties and three turnovers on offense, disappointed interim coach Aaron Kromer and a crowd of 72,180.
“Today was a day that was frustrating because our fans deserve more than what we gave them today,” Kromer said at the outset of his postgame news conference. “When it’s all said and done, they deserve more. They deserve better play by the New Orleans Saints.”
Kromer quickly credited the Redskins, who rolled into the Superdome and quieted the crowd when Griffin directed his team to two field goals and two touchdowns on their first four possessions after the Saints’ first three series ended with three straight incompletions by Brees.
The Redskins’ opening drive resulted in a 37-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, which was offset by an 80-yard drive that was capped by Brees’ 20-yard scoring pass to tight end Jimmy Graham.
But the celebration was short-lived as Griffin, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 320 yards and two TDs and had a passer rating of 139.9 in his NFL debut, needed just one play get the lead back when he teamed up with wide receiver Pierre Garcon for an 88-yard scoring pass and a 10-7 edge.
Griffin, who relied on short passes on the Redskins’ first drive, stayed cool and calm in the face of a Saints’ blitz and went back to Garcon, his primary receiver, after his second option was taken away.
“I was looking to throw it to my hot receiver,” Griffin said. “But he was covered, so I had enough time to look back to Pierre and throw it to him.”
Garcon caught the 16-yard pass in stride over the middle and outraced the secondary to the end zone.
That quick strike excited the Redskins’ offense and defense as they jumped on the Saints and held a 245-140 edge in total yards in the first half with the defense keeping Brees from completing a pass on three of their first four series.
That was just the start of it for the Saints’ offense, which had seven of the team’s dozen penalties and converted 2 of 11 third-down opportunities after leading the NFL at 56.7 percent a year ago.
“What it all comes down to is doing all the things that prevent you from winning football games,” said Brees, who was 24-of-52 for 339 yards and three TDs with two interceptions. “It’s turnovers, it’s penalties that cost you drives and keep your defense out there entirely too long. In the end, our third-down percentage was probably as bad as it has ever been.”
The Redskins kept applying the pressure on both sides of the ball and built the lead to 20-7 on a 5-yard scoring pass from Griffin to Aldrick Robinson and a 41-yard field goal by Cundiff.
The Saints, meanwhile, gave away a scoring chance when Marques Colston caught a pass at the Redskins’ 5 and was stripped by cornerback Cedric Griffin with the ball rolling out of the end zone for a touchback.
The Saints got a touchdown, anyway, a little later after stopping the Redskins.
Defensive end Martez Wilson came up the middle to block a Sav Rocca punt and Courtney Roby scooped it up and returned it 4 yards for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 20-14 with 40 seconds to play in the half — cranking up the crowd and the Saints as they headed to the locker room.
“I think it was definitely a spark,” said Roby. “That’s the role of special teams. You’re always trying to find a way to get and edge for the offense or defense.”
But it didn’t work this time.
The Redskins got the ball to start the second half and drove to a 1-yard TD run by rookie Alfred Morris on a play that was set up on a 32-yard pass interference call in the end zone by Saints strong safety Roman Harper against Robinson on a fourth-and-1 play.
Then, after three straight incompletions by Brees, Griffin teamed up with Robinson again for a 29-yard gain that led to a 37-yard Cundiff field goal and a 30-14 advantage with 7:10 to play in the third period.
The two teams traded field goals before the Saints, who had just 194 total yards when they got the ball back with 7:23 remaining in the game, tried to rally.
Brees fired a 33-yard TD pass to Lance Moore and got a two-point conversion run from Darren Sproles to cut a 16-point deficit in half with 6:19 left.
After a rare stop by the defense, however, Brees was intercepted by safety DeJon Gomes, whose 49-yard return set up Morris’ 3-yard TD run to make it 40-25.
The touchdown by Morris, who rushed for 96 yards on 28 carries, all but secured the victory even though Brees threw a 2-yard TD to Sproles with 2:25 remaining.
While the Saints finished with a flourish and had 358 yards, the Redskins did them one better with 464.
“Most of the big plays they got were off bootlegs,” said Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins. “That aspect is always tough to defend and (Griffin) made us pay for it. He took the throws that were open — the play-action passes.”
Despite the shaky defensive performance, the Saints still had a chance at the end. But Brees said their sloppiness on offense was too much to overcome.
“You add all those things up and you gave them way too many opportunities,” he said. “Despite what happened, we had a chance to tie it and extend the game. We’ve done that plenty of times. How we got down was the disappointing thing.”