Yes, I know it’s only preseason, but Sunday was a very assuring day for New Orleans Saints fans.
My biggest takeaways from the Saints’ 26-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs were: (1) They scored on the opening possession, going up against the Chiefs’ starting defense, and (2) They showed some much-needed grit at the end of the game, scoring when it mattered and securing a victory over the defending champs.
The former of the two takeaways showed me that the Saints are working with a competent offense going into the regular season. Newly signed quarterback Derek Carr was able to march the unit 80 yards down the field and finish the drive off with a touchdown pass to Keith Kirkwood. The ease of it all actually gave me a sigh of relief that I haven’t experienced since Drew Brees was on the field.
“It may look weird, but it felt right,” Carr said afterward when asked about suiting up for a new team after nine seasons with the Raiders. “I just feel refreshed. I feel rejuvenated. And to put that uniform on and come out and be a Saint, it felt really good.”
For the rest of the first half, New Orleans continued to take control – even though Carr was sent to the sidelines after the opening series (once again, this is preseason). In reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes’ only offensive series, the Saints’ defense stopped Mahomes and company on fourth down at midfield.
Former starting quarterback Jameis Winston then stepped in and tossed a 29-yard touchdown to rookie receiver A.T. Perry with 4:59 left in the first quarter. Almost exactly one quarter later, Wil Lutz hit a 36-yard field goal to make it 17-0 with 4:33 to go in the half.
The Chiefs were able to get on the scoreboard right before heading to the locker room, with Blaine Gabbert finding Richie James in the end zone to make it 17-7.
Despite neither team having many – if any – first-team players out there in the second half, the Saints quickly fell behind with Chiefs backups scoring consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter. Harrison Butker then hit a 36-yard field goal with 5:58 left in the fourth quarter, and this is when the second of the two takeaways comes in.
New Orleans rookie quarterback Jake Haener out of Fresno State led the offense on a quick, seven-play drive capping it off with a touchdown pass to Ellis Merriweather. Instead of kicking for the tie, head coach Dennis Allen decided to experiment and go for two. Unfortunately, the experiment resulted in a botched play and a failure to convert.
The Saints did not give up, though. After the kickoff, Allen burned a few timeouts as the defense stood strong. On third down and deep in Chiefs’ territory, defensive end Kyle Phillips tipped Chris Oladokun’s third-down pass and caught the deflection on the 22-yard-line to set up the winning kick.
Newcomer Blake Grupe was called in to kick the 31-yard field goal, with the Arkansas State product knocking it straight through the uprights for the 26-24 victory.
The second preseason game will be Sunday, Aug. 20, against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.