NEW ORLEANS -- Refreshingly candid.
That's how I found Coach Sean Payton after Friday night's painfully long and predictable exhibition opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, won by the Saints at the CarDome, 17-13.
He saw what we all saw: Good plays, bad plays, bright spots, potential problem areas, etc., etc.
"I thought that there were some things that happened as the game went on that were positive, and I didn't want to come in and be so negative," Payton told reporters afterward. "But there's a lot of things we need to clean up. The last game I coached was a playoff game. So you had this certain expectation.
"You know it's preseason, and yet we've got 10 guys on the field, we can't get the right personnel out there. I thought there was a ton of little things that we just have to be better at, starting with myself and everyone else. I just thought it was sloppy."
The playoff game Payton alluded to was that still inexplicable 36-32 loss in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 14, 2012, at Candlestick Park.
Ironically, the last opposing quarterback Payton faced prior to his season-long suspension was Alex Smith, formerly of the 49ers through the 2012 season and now the "Big Chief'' in Kansas City after an offseason trade.
Smith led the 49ers on an improbable 7-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to deprive the Saints from playing for the NFC championship. Well, that same Mr. Smith picked up right where he left off Friday night, leading the Chiefs on a methodical 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive during which he completed 7 of 8 passes for 68 yards.
And the one time Smith misfired was the only time he got pressure in his face.
Same quarterback, same results, only this time it mattered little. It didn't bring an entire Saints season crashing down in a matter of seconds.
It came midway through the first quarter of what amounts to a "practice game.'' On Saturday, the coaching staffs for both teams dissected the game tape, made their player evaluations and will move back to the practice field Sunday to resume training camp.
Just another August night in the NFL. A good day for the owners; an evening out for the fans. Life goes on.
Two quick observations from that first Saints defensive series: (It should be noted starting ILB Jonathan Vilma and OLB/pass rusher Junior Galette did not play.) Outside linebacker Will Smith looked lost in pass coverage and the pass rush was non-existent. Yes, the No. 1s fared better against backup QB Case Daniel and the Chiefs' reserves but the key word here is "reserves.''
From an offensive standpoint (minus wide receivers Marques Colston and Joseph Morgan), there is plenty of competition for that No. 3 job. By the way, former Saints No. 3 wideout Robert Meachem is battling to stay relevant in San Diego.
OK, now to my point:
Drew Brees played two series, threw 10 passes, took 15 official snaps, broke a sweat. He's ready to play tomorrow. Backups Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin mopped up.
Alex Smith played one series, threw eight passes, took 14 snaps, broke a smile. He's ready to play tomorrow. Backups Chase Daniel, Ricky Stanzi and Tyler Bray mopped up.
In a day and age where the NFL is so concerned with player safety -- and rightfully so -- why must it continue to gouge its fans during the exhibition season? These are "glorified scrimmages'' for heaven's sake. I understand the need to safeguard the health of Drew Brees and other marquee, face-of-the-franchise-type players. I understand the need to work off the rust and work out the kinks. I get it.
But charge the patrons a fair price to watch the bottom 50 players on training camp rosters. Don't build these "practice games'' into the cost of a season-ticket package and essentially hold buyers hostage.
These are not games, though the NFL likes to refer to them as "preseason'' games. They are exhibitions.
I am not a voice in the wilderness. I think I speak for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of NFL fans who share the same sentiment. Ask the patrons. Check out the empty seats. Hear what those absentee fans have to say.
It is outrageously unconscionable of NFL owners to charge fans regular-season prices for these dress rehearsal, understudy-filled games. The word "extortion'' comes to mind.
The best thing that can be said about Friday night?
One down, three to go.
Until we meet again.
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