Da Boot Sports
Article courtesy of Crescent City Sports
By: Ken Trahan
After a couple of weeks spent in grueling heat, the 2023 New Orleans Saints cooled off while warming up for the real deal in their preseason opener Sunday afternoon at Caesars Superdome.
There were many sidebars, with Tyrann Mathieu facing his former team as well as Khalen Saunders. Derek Carr was facing a team he previously faced twice a year while with the Raiders.
First impressions were quite good in the first half.
The second and third acts left something to be desired. The fourth and final act was a welcome sight, a thing of beauty for Dennis Allen and Saints fans that resulted in a win.
Those big plays were delivered by Kyle Phillips and Blake Grupe, a duo that most likely will not be on the opening day roster in a few weeks.
Welcome to preseason football!
Here are my Quick Takes from the 26-24 win by the Saints over the Chiefs:
**Among those who did not play due to injury were Demario Davis (calf), Jesse James (groin), Lucas Krull (tailbone), Kirk Merritt (hamstring), Andrus Peat (quad), Rasheed Shaheed (groin), Tre’Quan Smith (groin) and Landon Young (MCL). Newly acquired linebacker Jaylon Smith did not play but should see time next week next week at Los Angeles against the Chargers.
**With Shaheed sidelined, Lynn Bowden Jr. was in the deep position on the opening kickoff.
**On the opening kickoff, D’Marco Jackson was flagged for holding.**The Saints also overcame a false start penalty on Trevor Penning on the opening drive, which was a thing of beauty.
**In his first series in the black and gold, Carr drove the Saints 85 yards in 12 plays, taking 5:24 off the clock, culminating with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Keith Kirkwood to give New Orleans a 7-0 lead with 9:36 to play in the first quarter.
**Carr was 6 of 8 for 70 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, including a pair of completions to Juwan Johnson for 29 yards, a pair of completions to Alvin Kamara for 21 yards and a 13-yard completion to Michael Thomas.
**The Saints should and will likely make a concerted effort to get Kamara more involved in the passing game early and often this season, when he becomes eligible in the regular season.
**It was the only series Carr played.
**Jackson made a big hit on the ensuing kickoff, helping his case.
**On their first series, the Chiefs made one first down and had a fourth-and-one at their own 48-yard like. Patrick Mahomes lined up in shotgun, ran a trick play on a short snap to tithe end Blake Bell, and he was stuffed for no gain as the Saints got a nice stop. Pete Werner and Zach Baun were credited with the stop while Khalen Saunders and Nate Shepherd held their grown well and were there as well.
**Jameis Winston took over on the second series at the Kansas City 48-yard line.
**It did not take long for the lead to grow to 14-0 as Winston drove the Saints 48 yards in four plays, hitting rookie A.T. Perry with a 29-yard touchdown pass. It was an excellent throw.
** Perry used his size to gather it, reached out for the goal line after possessing the ball for two steps, crossed the line with the ball and correctly was credited with the touchdown with 4:59 to play in the opening quarter.
**Marcus Maye broke up a third down pass attempt by Blaine Gabbert on the second offensive series of the game for the Chiefs.
**The Saints finished the first quarter with 170 yards to just 31 for the Chiefs. New Orleans had 10 first downs in the quarter, moving the ball at will.
**New Orleans increased its lead to 17-0 with 13:45 to play in the first half on a 36-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, capping a nine play, 40-yard drive in 4:33.
**The drive was stalled by a holding infraction against Max Garcia.
**Jimmy Graham made a catch for 10 yards, drawing a huge applause from the crowd.
**Peyton Turner got pressure up the middle on Gabbert, hitting him as he released the ball and Lonnie Johnson broke up a pass attempt, forcing a punt on the next Kansas City offensive series.
**Blake Gillikin shanked a very poor 22-yard punt, giving Kansas City the ball at midfield with 10:07 to play in the second quarter.
**Gabbert connected with Richie James on a 43-yard-deep ball as James whipped Alontae Taylor, reaching the New Orleans 12-yard line.
**That set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to James, who was uncovered on a blown coverage, as the Saints bit on a play-fake, and it was 17-7 with 8:26 to play in the half. The drive covered 50 yards in four plays, taking 1:41 off the clock.
**The next New Orleans drive was stopped by a holding call on Nick Saldiveri and a sack of Winston.
**Safety Ugo Amadi came up with an interception of Shane Buechele on a ball tipped by Taylor at the Kansas City 38-yard line.
**It led to nothing as Winston was sacked and pressured again on an incomplete pass, forcing a punt.
**Gilliken punted beautifully to the 5-yard line, caught and downed by Kawaan Baker.
**Carr and Winston finished the half 17 of 21 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Perry had six catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.
**Outside of one series, the defense performed well and kick coverage teams were solid.
**The Saints had the ball for 21:38 to just 8:22 for Kansas City in the first half.
**Tulane’s Nick Anderson made the tackle on the second half kickoff.
**Zach Baun sacked Buechele to force a Kansas City punt.
**Kendre Miller limped off in the third quarter with an issue to his left foot or ankle, it appeared.
**Graham was flagged for holding, negating a good run by Ellis Merriweather.
**Haener made a questionable decision, trying to throw outside the numbers to James Washington and Kahlef Hailassie picked it off, returning it to the Kansas City 46-yard line. Washington kept going on the route and Haener threw to the sideline. Haener was clearly throwing to the back shoulder of Washington but the receiver kept going in vertical fashion.
**The Chiefs capitalized, driving 54 yards in five plays to cut the deficit to 17-14 with 6:02 to play in the third quarter as Buechele connected with Justyn Ross on a 15-yard touchdown pass against zone coverage.
**Kansas City took its first lead on the final play of the third quarter on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Buechele to Kekda Crawford. Buechele was able to evade a pair of pass rushers, extending the play and allowing Crawford to uncover. The drive covered 78 yards in nine plays, taking 3:40 off the clock.
**Ty Summers came up with a sack in the fourth quarter. He tipped another pass on the same series but it ended up complete for a first down.
**Chris Oladokun ran a quarterback draw which went for 30 yards to the New Orleans 24-yard line.
**That set up a 36-yard field goal by Harrison Butker to give the Chiefs a 24-17 lead with 6:17 to play in the game. The drive covered 72 yards in 13 plays and took 5:58 off the clock.
**Shaq Davis made a nice leaping catch from Haener late in the game, covering 18 yards. A roughing the passer call on the play put the ball at the Kansas City 43-yard line. Haener then hit Ellis Merriweather for 15 yards to the 15-yard line. Reese Taylor then committed pass interference on Davis in the end zone, giving the Saints a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.
**Haener followed with a bootleg right, 2-yard touchdown pass to Merriweather, making it 24-23 with 1:20 to play in the game, capping a six play, 76-yard drive.
**You NEVER play for ties in the preseason so Dennis Allen went for two and the win. On the play, Haener appeared to try to step up and make a line call and the ball was snapped prematurely. It appeared by be Alex Philstrom and it went haywire. Haener did not handle it and the try failed.
**Phillips then came up with a huge play, intercepting Oladokun on a pass intended for La’Mical Perine, giving the Saints the ball at the Kansas City 22-yard line with 58 seconds to play in the game.
**That set up Grupe for a 31-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
The clear winners for the Saints were Carr, Winston and Perry on offense. Baun handled himself well on defense. Kick and punt coverage was solid. New Orleans starters performed well on both sides of the ball.
There were too many holding penalties on the Saints, something to correct.
This week, we will get a clearer picture of what this team is and can be when the Saints head west to practice with the Chargers before squaring off with them next Sunday in preseason game number two.
Having covered my first training camp back in 1980 in Vero Beach, my messaging remains the same as it has for several years. Do not put too much stock in what you read and watch at training camp. It is about games and live competition against opponents, not about practice. There was ample evidence of overestimating and undervaluing players at camp heading into the game.
Haener struggled a bit but had a very nice drive to cap his first performance, resulting in a touchdown. Haener finished 10 of 17 for 105 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Haener may be a solid keeper but it is a quantum leap from Fresno State to the NFL and it will take time for him to become comfortable and develop. Do not judge him on one preseason game, just as we have not judged him on practice. He deserves time and could and should improve.
A couple of defensive backs who have drawn praise throughout camp were not very good.
Credit the Saints for making plays when needed.
The overall feeling is take the good with the bad and move on to getting better this week. Of course, that is an obvious take after preseason game number one annually. Winning, on any occasion, is the goal and it is nice to have a win.
Photos Below By: Jonathan Mailhes