Perfection! The New Orleans Saints nearly completed the first unbeaten preseason in franchise history but fell just short, missing out on two special firsts in Miami. Of course, the previous accomplishment of a world championship at the same venue was carried far more significance.
The New Orleans Saints fell just short of a 4-0 exhibition record in an entertaining 24-21 loss at the Miami Dolphins.
Most of the starters did not play for either side, but plenty could be learned about those battling for roster spots in an entertaining contest overall.
Isa Abdul-Quddus, who emerged late last season at safety, seems like a forgotten man this preseason. His bad luck continued on the opening kickoff when he needed to be helped off the field with a banged-up right knee.
A pair of sure-fire members of the final 53, John Jenkins and Patrick Robinson, started on a patchwork defense typical of a final exhibtion game. The rookie nose tackle and veteran corner both need the reps for difference reason. Jenkins is still learning while Robinson has been hurt most of the preseason. The latter was caught by a double move and commiteted a blatant hold to prevent a big play on the second series.
Sean Payton calls a fullback dive in the first offensive play from scrimmage as likely an homage (noted by former Saints RT Jon Stinchcomb on the TV broadcast) to the same play call in the same situation for the Saints at the start of Super Bowl XLIV in the same stadium.
Marques Colston catches the first pass from Josh McCown. Like Robinson, the clear-cut Saints number one receiver has missed much of the preseason work. A few reps will help Colston, recovering from a foot issue, prepare for the opener.
Both top running backs - Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas - with carries for good gains on the opening drive. Even behind the second string line, both can benefit from building momentum in Miami after three subpar preseason performances on the ground. Ingram, who scored from eight-yards out to cap a 75-yard march, showed power, quickness and determination in a meaningless game; the effort bodes wel for those predicting a big third pro season for the Heisman winner.
Speaking of the reserve line, the starters (Terron Armstead, Bryce Harris, Marcel Jones, Tim Lelito and Andrew Tiller) were stellar on a 14-play touchdown march. Lelito started at center and looked good in a indicator that Eric Olsen's days are numbered. Rookie QB Ryan Griffin looked to be responsible for a second quarter fumbled snap exchange from Lelito, who put the ball where it needed to be. If the coaches believe Lelito can handle the center spot, chances are the Saints carry just eight offensive linemen (C. Brown, B. Grubbs, B. De la Puente, J. Evans, Z. Strief, T. Lelito, T. Armstead plus Marcel Jones or Bryce Harris as the fourth tackle).
McCown was solid on the march as he has been all August though he did throw behind tight end Ben Watson twice. Regardless, he found several different targets and led the team into the end zone.
Three Saints - Jenkins, Baraka Atkins and Tom Johnson - jumped offsides during the first two defensive series. Think these games don't matter. They do to guys trying to make an impression for playing time or just to make the team; they just don't count.
When the Dolphins responded to the Saints score to tie the game on the ensuing drive, Corey White was beaten to the outside on a third down in the redzone on a scoring pass to rookie TE Dion Sims from third string QB Pat Devlin. The second-year corner then had to explain himself on the sidelines to Payton, who was not the coach in charge last season when the fifth rounder out of Furman made the final roster.
We noted that Ingram came ready to play. Maybe too much so. Inside his own 20, he went airborne and failed to protect the ball leading to a strip and lost fumble. Ingram may be trying to justify his draft selection and playing time, but such an error is a great way to lose snaps to Thomas and Darren sproles no matter what time of the year it is.
The Saints held after the turnover to force a three-and-out, but the Dolphins cash in a 33-yard field goal. But, Jim Leonhard has beaten by young TE Michael Egnew only to be saved by an overthrow in the endzone. The veteran free agent addition has not done much to deserve making this roster.
New Orleans was sloppy in the opening quarter with the turnover plus 6 penalties in the first quarter. Another lost fumble inside the Saints own 20 (center exchange) and more flags on New Orleans followed in the second quarter.
Nick Toon was labeled as a plodding possession receiver but the rookie from Wisconsin has shown explosion out of cuts and ability to run after the catch this August. He had two fine catch-and-run plays in the first quarter.
Jay Richardson, who came up with a second quarter sack with a nice inside move from right end, has made the team. He ended up with two sacks and a pair of pressures on the night/ His verstatilty as an end or linebacker in Rob Ryan's scheme make him invaluable. Though he has been out of football for a couple of years, the former Ohio State player can still play in the league.
New Orleans completes a terrific goalline stand highlighted by a stuffed running play led by Jenkins, a well-defensed pass by White and deflection on 4th down by Rod Sweeting cause a turnover-on-downs. Great effort and assignment football by the reserves to keep the Griffin fumble from turing into more Miami points.
With 11 minutes left in the second half, I'm fading. Of course, so are you. Why don't they play the last preseason game two weeks before the regular season opener? Play four but have them closer together to maintain the CBA-approved training camp standards and schedule. The two exhibitions home games per twam at regular season prices aren't going anywhere, so I am suggesting a reasonable solution to make the last fake game less dull.
Another redzone stop by the Saints! Rookie corner Korey Lindsey makes a diving interception near the goalline. Credit the genetic freak that is DT Glenn Foster with the pressure that caused a hurried Devlin throw. How could Foster be so mediocre at Illinois yet so clearly NFL quality? It doesn't matter to the grateful Saints, who have found a player who will help them in 2013 and beyond.
When people compare Khiry Robinson to Chris Ivory, they miss one key point: the new #29 in New Orleans can catch. Robinson is small college guy with every-down back potential. He may sneak on the practice squad but the Saints should not risk it. Robinson is a better prospect than Travaris Cadet, who is out tonight with an undisclosed injury and is yet another guy who made the team last year without Payton around to make the final judgment.
Toon was shaken up on a terrific diving catch nullifed by a chop block. He has to ditch the injury prone label to reach his full potential.
Tyrunn Walker tipped a field goal attempt by Caleb Sturgis but the ball still found its way through the uprights from 40 yards away late in the opening half. Miami leads 13-7 while New Orleans ponders 10 penalties and two turnovers in the locker room.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Khiry Robinson looked great on several touches. When he needed a break, Ingram came back into the game and broke off a fine run including a pair of impressive stiff arms. Competition breeds the best performances.
After a coverage sack, Garrett Hartley narrowly misses a well-struck 55-yard field goal try. No way he gets that opportunity in that spot during the regular season but at least his misses are even looking good this preseason after past inconsistencies.
Jerrico Nelson joins Lindsey in the "I got a pick in the final preseason game but didn't make the final roster" club. The former Curtis and Arkansas star made a nice play on the ball. If special teams matters as much as we always hear, Nelson could make the team in a surprise.
Griffin has not impressed in his final performance before a trip to the practice squad. The fumbled snap and another play where he tripped over a lineman's feet only to then trip up Robinson behind the line on third and short are part of the former Tulane star's lowlights on the evening. He threw quite a few wobbly spirals as well.
I'd like to personally thank Miami for feeding rookie Mike Gillislee from Florida on a nice clock-killing third quarter drive. I'm sure you're all with me on that one. another Hargis field goal (43 yards) gives the 'Fins a 16-7 lead.
You say preseason, I say exhibition. Let's all the whole thing off...
The Saints cap a drive with a score by...Tim Lelito! Robinson did most of the work on the march only to fumble near the goalline. After a Dolphin failed to scoop and likely score the other way, Lelito saved the day to help New Orleans draw within two with 13:58 to go in regulation.
Comeback trail! Griffin hits Saalim Hakim on a long pass play for 53-yards after great protection off a play fake. After a Robinson run taken inside the five, Griffin hits FB Austin Robinson to give New Orleans a 21-16 lead. The Saints are a preseason second half team as long as Seneca Wallace hasn't been the quarterback.
Two second half sacks for Jenkins. He cannot be blocked by just one man, which is exactly what a nose tackle should bring to the table in a 3-4 defense. The exciting amount of talent on the line could cover up weaknesses in other parts of the Saints defense.
Robinson fumbled untouched on a fake end around. Perhaps a heavy workload (23rd touch of the night) caused the careless miscue, but he has now matched Cadet in two-fumble games this preseason. Still, he is clearly the better running back.
In the fourth quarter, White was beaten deep by Marvin McNutt on a 56-yard bomb for a touchdown when the Saints were protecting a five-point lead against a four-minute offense. Inexcusable. Chris Carr and rookie free agent Rod Sweeting are likely battling White for the final two cornerback spots and gained ground simply because White was so bad.
Griffin led the Saints inside the Miami 10 before a 3rd-and-goal pass was intercepted on a diving intercepted by De'Andre Presley to preserve the win for the Dolphins. Robinson's final run put him over the 100-yard mark (22 carries for 115 yards plus 50 receiving). The Tulane rookie improved as the night progressed, just like the Saints expect him to do as a long-term project.
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