by Doug Miller, NewOrleansSaints.com
Thursday, August 07, 2008 – 10:45 PM
Glendale, Ariz.– The New Orleans Saints opened their 2008 pre-season in impressive fashion, as they traveled on the road and defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 24-10.
The Saints commenced their 2008 season in impressive fashion, taking the opening kickoff and then proceeding on a flawless eight-play drive that gave them a 7-0 lead.
David Patten pulls in a TD catch
The Cardinals tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter after RB Tim Hightower scored on a one-yard run and added a 30-yard field goal midway through the second quarter by Neil Rackers to stake a 10-7 lead but the Saints responded with a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half to regain the lead at 14-10, and then added a late third quarter field goal by rookie Taylor Mehlhaff to widen the margin to 17-10. WR Robert Meachem then caught a pass across the middle of the field and broke three tackles en route to a 60-yard TD that gave the Saints a 24-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Saints began their 2008 pre-season by accepting the opening kickoff and starting at their own 20 were crisp on their initial drive, as Drew Brees went a perfect six-for-seven passing on the drive for 35 yards, including a perfectly thrown pass on third-and-goal from the Cardinals’ 7 yard-line to David Patten.
The drive covered 80 yards in 13 plays and wiped off 6:45 in time of possession. The Saints were beneficiaries of three Cardinals penalties, including a 15-yard facemask call on Darnell Dockett when he tackled Lance Moore by the facemask on the Saints’ first play from scrimmage. On the drive the Saints passed seven times and ran it six times and were only confronted with two third down opportunities, both of which they converted.
“We were efficient, and we took what they gave us. Our guys made plays when they were there, and we handled their pressure. There were no big plays, we just ground it out, but it felt sharp, a 12-play drive. That’s what you look for on the first drive of the preseason. You want to be sharp, move the ball, make completions and score points. We accomplished those things.”
“You can’t ask for more than how the offense did the first time we had the ball considering it was the first drive of the preseason,” said Reggie Bush. “The Cardinals were doing a good job stopping the run early, but we moved the ball, and later I felt like things were starting to open up. We were starting to get better looks for the run, it felt like if we had kept going the whole game we would have gotten the running game going. That first drive gives us something to build on.”
Brees keeps his eye on the ball
The Cardinals converted their third down, as well, as Matt Leinart connected with WR Jamaica Rector for a 23-yard gain on a third-and-eight on the Cardinals’ opening series. Two plays later, LB Mark Simoneau sacked Leinart for a four-yard loss on a second down and the Saints’ held the home team to a short completion on third down and forced the Cardinals to punt. The third down pass was completed to TE Jerheme Urban, but Simoneau and S Roman Harper stopped him three-yards shy of the first down.
“The good news, I thought that came out of tonight’s game was that we were able to get everyone in the game and work against someone other than ourselves,” said Head Coach Sean Payton. “There are some things that bothered me and that we need to get corrected, but we still have a lot of training camp left to get them polished up and continue to improve. It was a good first step and I was pleased with the effort from our players.”
QB Mark Brunell then came on and started the Saints’ second drive at the Saints’ 25. After a one-yard gain by Reggie Bush, the third-year back made a spinning run to the outside for a gain of 11 yards, but the Saints suffered their first infraction of the game when Billy Miller was called for holding. On third down, Bush ripped off a 19-yard gain and appeared to pick up the first down, but Lance Moore was flagged for holding, as well, and Brunell threw the ball away on third down and Steve Weatherford came in and punted the Saints out of danger with a 51-yard punt.
Arizona began their second drive at their own 37 yard-line with 1:08 left in the first quarter. J.J. Arrington dropped Leinart’s first down pass before the two picked up five yards on a short dump pass on the next play. Leinart then hit a crossing Steve Breaston for 34 yards and a first down after catching a crossing route and finding running room in the secondary before Harper dragged him down at the Saints’ 24. RB Tim Hightower then picked up six yards on a handoff and Leinart then hit Larry Fitzgerald for a six-yard gain and a first down. Hightower then was stopped by Scott Shanle after a one-yard gain. After a false start penalty, Leinart hit FB Terrelle Smith for a 15-yard gain to the Saints’ one yard-line and on the next play, Hightower ran in over the right side for a touchdown.
RB Pierre Thomas ripped off a 58-yard kickoff return to the Cardinals’ 41 and the Saints’ second-team offense took to the field with the team’s best starting field position of the night.
Brunell hit Mark Campbell with a quick pass but the play lost a yard and then Aaron Stecker tried the left side of the line for a two-yard gain. On third down Brunell gunned a pass into the midsection for a gain of 8 and the Saints went for it on 4th down, but DE Kenny Iwebema dropped Brunell for an eight-yard loss.
The Cardinals then took over at their own 41 yard-line and marched 47 yards in 13 plays and settled for 30-yard field goal by veteran Neil Rackers with 6:38 remaining in the first half, which gave the Cardinals a 10-7 lead.
Brunell then started his third drive and opened it up with a 15-yard completion to Campbell. Brunell then hit rookie WR Adrian Arrington for 13-yards and another first down before Thomas tied the left side of the offensive line for no gain. Another short run brought up a third-and-10 and Brunell fired a 49-yard pass to a diving Robert Meachem at the Cardinals’ 3 yard-line. On the longest play of the game thus far, Meachem got behind the safety and fully extended and made a finger tip grab. Thomas then picked up 2 yards on an inside handoff, Brunell and Terrance Copper couldn’t connect on a second down pass and FB Kevin Dudley was called for an illegal procedure penalty that pushed the ball backwards five yards. On third-and-goal from the six, Brunell hit Thomas for a five yard gain.
Head Coach Sean Payton challenged the spot on the field, contending that Thomas was able to get the ball across the goal line. After the officials’ review, the ball was spotted at inside the one-yard line and the Saints were confronted with their second fourth down of the game in Cardinals’ territory. On fourth down Thomas was hit in the backfield by LB Ali Highsmith and S Aaron Francisco for no gain.
The Cardinals then used short passes to work their way towards midfield with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. The Cardinals used their last timeout with :07 left with the ball at the 50, but DT Orien Harris sacked QB Brian St. Pierre for a six yard loss on the final play of the half.
Arizona began the second half at their own 33 and picked up six yards on a J.J. Arrington run. The Saints then stopped the Cardinals from picking up any additional yards, as Orien Harris made a key stop from his defensive tackle position by getting out and tracking down a short pass in the flat on third down.
Brunell started the Saints at their own 24 and Aaron Stecker bolted up the middle for 19-yard gain to the 43. Stecker then ran off the left side for six more yards before Brunell hit Meachem for 12 yards and a first down as the Saints moved in Cardinals’ territory. Billy Miller then hauled in a Brunell short pass for three yards and Stecker picked up six yards behind a big block from G Andy Alleman. On third down and one, Thomas ran behind fight guard for a gain of three yards. Brunell then threaded a pass into traffic to Mark Campbell, who hung on despite taking a big hit from rookie Dominique Rodgers-Crommartie at the Cardinals’ 13 for a gain of 14 yards. Stecker then pounded up the middle for nine yards to the Arizona 3. Then picked up another yard on second and one for the first down. Two more one-yard gains put the Saints inside the one on third-and-goal before Stecker leaped into the end zone for the go-ahead score. K Taylor Mehlhaff kicked the extra point to conclude the 12-play, 76-yard drive in 6:37.
CB Aaron Glenn, who had a big day a week ago in the Saints’ scrimmage, thwarted the Cardinals’ next drive with a pass defensed on a third-and-two on a pass intended for Jamaica Rector that resulted in a Cardinals’ punt that Skyler Green returned for 15 yards to the Saints’ 30.
Tyler Palko came in to handle the reigns of the Saints’ offense with just over 5 minutes left in the third stanza. Palko hit Thomas out of the backfield for a gain of 15 yards on second down and on the ensuing play Palko was the victim of a personal foul hit to the head. Palko then fired a 33-yard pass to Adrian Arrington to the Cardinals’ 7. Thomas then picked up one-yard but Palko was sacked during an all-out blitz for 10 yards. One play later Mehlhaff smacked a 33-yard field goal, his first attempt at a field goal as a professional, through the uprights that gave the Saints a 17-10 lead with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter. The Saints had driven the football 55 yards in seven plays in 3:18.
The Saints once again stopped the Cardinals with key coverage turned in by Jason Craft and a nice third-down tackle by Glenn that forced a punt that went into the end zone for a touchback.
Palko’s first three passes were incomplete and the Saints were forced to punt for just their second time, this time as rookie free agent Waylon Prather, who hammered a high and booming 50-yard punt that S Chris Reis took advantage of his a hard hit on return man Antrel Rolle after a seven-yard return to the Cardinals’ 27.
The Saints’ defense once again pitched a three-and-out and the Cardinals’ were forced to punt and veteran Dirk Johnson hit a twisting 32-yard punt that bounded out of bounds at the Saints’ 36.
The Saints turned in a highlight play of the night when Palko fired a third-and-six pass to Robert Meachem for a 60-yard TD. On the play, Meachem broke at least three tackles and showed great open field vision and used his blockers, including RB Lynell Hamilton, effectively. The 60-yard reception sent Meachem over the 100-yard mark on the night (4-129).
“I have waited an entire year for a night like this,” said Meachem. “My coaches told me to just keep working hard and not be satisfied with this and to use it as a building block.”
Meachem was greeted with a hug by Payton on the sideline after his long touchdown, and, according to Meachem, the reception by his coach felt as good as the actual touchdown play and big night. “When your head coach does that, it is special. The support means a lot to me, it really does. This was a great night for me, but again, it’s just the start for me.”
The Saints halted the Cardinals again and started at the Cardinals’ 40 after a personal foul penalty on the Cardinals’ punt coverage team.
One of the few gaffes the Saints committed in the second half came when Palko and reserve center Rob Hunt muffed the quarterback-center exchange that was recovered by the Cardinals at the Arizona 38. The Cardinals, though, were unable to capitalize on the lone turnover of the game and were forced by the Saints’ defense to punt.
The Saints limited the Cardinals to only 57 yards of total offense in the second half, while the Saints racked up 230 yards of offense in the second session of the game.