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NEW ORLEANS â€“ Please, let's keep things in proper perspective. After all, it's the first exhibition game against a bottom-feeder team that is neck deep into rebuilding under a first-year coach without a bona fide starting quarterback.
But, on a sultry Friday night in the Big Easy, at a sold-out, dressed-to-kill Superdome, the New Orleans Saints were the windshield and the San Francisco 49ers were the bug.
At least on the scoreboard where it read -- Saints 24, 49ers 3.
My overall first impressions mirror the post-game evaluation of Sean Payton, who succinctly proclaimed: "We're really not a team yet. We are a roster right now.''
Know this: Payton is not trying to douse the collective spirit and lofty expectations of an over-the-top-fan base. He is speaking the truth.
At the moment, the Saints' 90-man roster is a thorny, long-stemmed artichoke. During training camp, Who Dat Nation is being treated to the edible white fleshy end of the outer petals and eventually WDN will pluck its way to the desirable meaty heart.
Soon, WDN will be able to dip the heart into a melted butter or mayonnaise sauce with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
No matter how the opening game 53-man roster shakes out (and as long as several key components stay healthy), Sean Payton's sixth version of the Black and Gold should challenge for the NFC title and Super Bowl XLVI.
It, potentially, has the makings of a team no opponent will want to play in the postseason.
But it's not there yet. It's certainly not a "Dream Team'' as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Vince Young vainly described his new team.
Keeping in mind that we are barely a dozen practices and one exhibition game into training camp, here are a few likes, dislikes and observations from Friday night's game.
-- Of the three units, the No. 1 offense appeared to be the most affected by the lack of an offseason program during the lockout. Under the direction of Drew Brees, the Saints picked up 17 yards on nine plays and no first downs, and No. 9 completed 1 of 4 passes for 6 yards.
Asked his assessment, Brees replied: "(I'm) disappointed. We had three drives and three 3-and-outs. It's not the way we envisioned it. We got to third and short manageable situations and for one reason or another we didn't convert. That part was disappointing because we expect to go down the field and score touchdowns every time."
-- Conversely, the Saints No. 1 defense looked juiced and played with a swagger, holding the 49ers to zero first downs in four series. Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams brought pressure on 18 of the first 22 snaps against a seemingly befuddled opponent. That number of pressures throughout the game is sure to mount after the game review.
"We probably pressured more in this preseason game (than) we have in others,'' Payton said, noting Williams dialed up the extra heat from linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties alike.
"It even surprised me,'' Saints strong safety Roman Harper said of the inordinate number of pressures for a pre-season game.
-- The extra attention paid to special teams in training camp and the various personnel acquisition made during the first few weeks of free agency appears to be paying off. This unit accounted for the Saints' first 10 points â€“ a 78-yard punt return by undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Joe Morgan and a 47-yard field goal by sure-footed Garrett Hartley. A 12th-man penalty against the 49ers nullified a blocked punt in the third quarter. But Payton noted that the block likely wasn't the result of the extra man, meaning somebody missed an assignment.
-- Backup QB Chase Daniel acquitted himself nicely, completing 13 of 21 for 129 yards and was under center for both offensive touchdowns.
-- Rookie running back Mark Ingram, too, acquitted himself well, rushing six times for 23 yards and a 14-yard touchdown and catching one pass for four yards. Joique Bell is making a case to stick on the 53-man roster (9 carries, game-high 52 yards), especially with workhorse Chris Ivory on the mend. Ivory is a candidate for PUP to begin the season.
-- Six different defenders had a sack, five from players who are expected to make the 53-man roster. Based on the pressbox stats, WLB Jonathan Casillas led the team with seven tackles and one sack.
-- That defensive interior rotation of Sedrick Ellis, Shaun Rogers and Aubray Franklin should be a load, a real half-ton of "fun'' for opposing offensive lines.
-- The injury to second-year cornerback Patrick Robinson (sprained right knee) will have to be monitored. Payton said the initial prognosis is good, no structural damage. CB Tracy Porter (knee) is expected back on the practice field when the team flies to Oxnard, Calif., after the Houston Texans game on Aug. 20.
All in all, it was a successful debut for the Black and Gold, a game in which to build on next Saturday against the Texans at Reliant Stadium.
One last thing: This inquiring mind wants to know -- Which has had more face lifts? Joan Rivers or the Superdome?
Until we meet again.
The Saints are off today and will return to the practice field Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. The team will work indoors and will be closed to the public. Open practices resume Monday at 4 p.m., weather permitting. ... My initial reaction is I don't think I'll be a big proponent of the NFL's decision to review all scoring plays. Perhaps, it will grow on me. The whole idea is to get it right, but the game already is more than 3 hours as it is.
GREAT QUOTE: "There's an old saying, 'if they don't bite when they're puppies, they're probably never going to,' and I think some of them were physical tonight and that's encouraging." â€“ Sean Payton on his draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents.
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