Reserve defenders second to none in Saints’ win

A banged-up New Orleans Saints defense went into Friday night’s exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders without three of its four starting linebackers and a projected starter at defensive end.

But you would’ve never known by looking at the first-half stats.

With linebackers Ramon Humber and David Hawthorne filling in on the inside and Jay Richardson working outside, the Saints defense pitched a shutout for the first 29-plus minutes, while the first-team offense did its part in a 28-20 win in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Humber, a five-year veteran who replaced Curtis Lofton in the starting lineup, recorded a team-high nine tackles and had one of the Saints’ five first-half sacks of former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn.

One of Humber’s tackles ended the Raiders’ first possession. After Flynn quickly marched his team to the Saints 43, the Raiders faced fourth-and-one when coach Dennis Allen decided to go for a first down.

But running back Darren McFadden was stopped at the line of scrimmage by Humber with help from Hawthorne, who started in place of Jonathan Vilma.

“The fourth-and-one was a great call by (defensive coordinator) Rob Ryan,” Humber said. “He knew what they were going to do. We just had to get to the point of attack. He had a blitz call on from something they saw (in the coach’s booth), and we executed it.”

That big play turned the ball over to Drew Brees and the offense, which scored on all five of its first-half possessions to take a 23-0 lead before the Raiders got a touchdown with 31 seconds left in the half.

“Early on, we played with the emotion we talked about this week,” coach Sean Payton said. “I was pleased with the first two, two-and-a-half quarters. I thought we played hard as a team.”

After Humber and Hawthorne teamed up to put an end to the Raiders’ first drive, the Saints offense got in gear.

Brees directed his team to two touchdowns and three field goals, and the Saints (2-0) led 23-0 with 3:03 to play in the first half before things got sloppy in the second.

Garrett Hartley booted a 53-yard field goal to start the run before Brees went deep down the left sideline for a a 56-yard pass to receiver Nick Toon to set up Ingram’s short touchdown run to make it 10-0.

Toon got behind Raiders cornerback Tracy Porter, one of the Saints’ heroes of Super Bowl XLIV, to bring in the long pass. Porter, a Port Allen native, left in the second quarter with a groin injury and did not return.

“I definitely think my speed has been overlooked in my career for whatever reason,” said Toon, who started the game with rookie Kenny Stills. “This was a great opportunity to go out and show everybody I can run.”

Brees was sharp in playing most of the first half.

On the Saints’ next possession, he connected on all six of his attempts for 67 yards and capped it with a 16-yard touchdown to Stills to extend the lead to 17-0 with 14 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

Brees drifted to his left to escape pressure and then found Stills, who caught the ball and managed to tap both feet down for the touchdown before falling out of bounds.

Meanwhile, the Saints defense was doing a number on the Raiders offense.

After Oakland (1-1) picked up 37 yards on its initial possession, which was highlighted by Flynn’s 24-yard pass over the middle to tight end David Ausberry, the Raiders managed just 11 yards on their next four series and never got past their 22-yard line.

Flynn was sacked on two of three plays on one possession, with Humber and defensive end Cameron Jordan getting to him, and then was sacked on back-to-back plays two series later by defensive end Akiem Hicks and strong safety Roman Harper.

The Saints got two more field goals from Hartley — from 31 and 30 yards — to make it 23-0 before the Raiders finally got on the scoreboard.

Undaunted by the early adversity, Flynn drove his team 82 yards in 11 plays to an 18-yard TD pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore with 31 seconds to play in the first half.

Even though he was sacked five times for 28 yards, Flynn’s numbers weren’t all bad. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 124 yards with one touchdown and finished with a passer rating of 117.7.

On the other side, Brees left late in the first half after hitting on 14 of 18 pass attempts for 202 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 131.9 in leading his offense to 240 total yards.

Stills caught four passes for 64 yards, while Toon had the one catch for 56.

Thanks to three turnovers by the Saints in the second half, the Raiders were able to make the final score respectable.

Oakland turned an interception and fumble by Seneca Wallace into 10 quick points late in the third quarter and running back Travaris Cadet fumbled twice — losing one.

Wallace’s fumble was scooped up by defensive end Ryan Robinson, who returned it 1 yard for a touchdown.

On the next series, the Raiders turned an interception by Omar Gaither into a 46-yard field goal by Eddy Carmona to cut the deficit to 23-17.

The Raiders added a 50-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 23-20 before the Saints’ second- and third-string defenses hung on.

They picked up a safety in the fourth quarter when running back Jamize Olawale was tackled in the end zone, and Hartley added a 28-yard field goal to make it 28-20 with 2:53 to play.

Safety Jim Leonhard sealed the victory with an interception in the final two minutes for the Saints, who had seven sacks for 42 yards with one takeaway and a safety.

“I thought we saw a lot of different things tonight,” Payton said. “It was really a tale of two halves for us on offense, but I told the team there’s a lot of good things to build on.

“I know it was a preseason game, but we did a lot of things in the second half with three turnovers and nine penalties (total) that can hurt you. There are a lot of things to correct off this tape, but it’s another good tape in the evaluation process.”