More than 72,000 fans filled the Super Dome Friday night to celebrate Coach Sean Payton’s return to the sidelines post Bounty Scandal, as the Black and Gold clashed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Payton coached his last game 573 days ago, a loss to the 49ers in the 2012 divisional round of the playoffs.
The Saints started the 2013 preseason on the right foot, defeating the Chiefs 17-13, thanks in large part to two scoring passes from backup quarterback Luke McCown to receiver Preston Parker.
But victorious or not, Payton was not happy with how the Saints looked overall, bemoaning the team’s mental and communication mistakes, such as having 10 men on the field and not knowing assignments.
“I thought there were a ton of little things that we just have to be better at. I just thought it was sloppy,” Payton said. “The coverage teams were average to below average. We gave up some big returns. It just shows that you have a lot of work to do and there are a lot of new faces.”
All eyes were on new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and the debut of his New Orleans version of the 3-4 defense. The opening 6 minutes and 23 seconds of the game left fans with painful flashbacks of last year’s Saints D, which was worst in league history in yards allowed. Ryan’s defense surrendered a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to the Chiefs.
But the unit seemed to get its footing after that initial stumble.
“Without a doubt they set a fast tempo, and we adjusted accordingly. They made some small completions and gave us some wear and tear,” defensive end Cam Jordan said. “We were able to make some adjustments on the second drive.”
In all, Ryan’s defense gave up 215 yards and one touchdown. The defense kept fairly consistent pressure on all of Kansas City’s quarterbacks — Alex Smith, former Saint Chase Daniel and Ricky Stanzi.
“After that first series, I thought we played better defense,” Payton said. “We got into the right down and distance. I thought we settled in. The first series: They ran a little bit of a no-huddle so I think that tempo was a little bit unsettling. But I thought we settled down after that first series.”
On the offensive side of things, the Saints produced 427 yards, with starting quarterback Drew Brees completing seven of 10 passes for 65 yards during the two series he commanded.
“I thought the overall efficiency was pretty good,” Brees said. “The tempo wasn’t quite where we wanted. We had some mental errors here and there. We were not as crisp as we would want. I think once we got going that things started to roll a little bit.”
McCown took over for most of the second and third quarters, and the competition amongst the field of young receivers gunning to win a spot on the Saints roster heated up.
Returning from injury, second-year receiver Nick Toon is trying to make up for lost time. He led the pack with four catches for 66 yards.
“It was a decent day out there today,” Toon said. “I need to clean up a lot of things, but I went out there and made some plays. I need to look at the film and make some corrections. I’ll improve for next week.”
Andy Tanner wrapped up his night with three receptions for 59 yards. Preston Parker impressed the most though, with 43 yards on four grabs and nabbed the Saints’ two touchdowns of the night.
“I thought Preston played exceptionally well with the opportunities he was given,” Payton said.
The Saints gave the starting receiver nod, however, to the fifth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma, Kenny Stills, who took the place of veteran Marques Colston while he rests a foot injury.
“We didn’t just flip a coin or go rock-paper-scissors,” Payton said. “He’s been playing pretty well. He’s smart. He’s picked up things well. He runs well. There’s going be a number of good things for us to see, and things we need to correct from his play tonight. But we wanted to give him a look with us resting Colston. And he’s going to contribute.”
There are certainly some moments Stills would like to have back from his NFL debut: He dropped a pass, fumbled a ball and got slapped with a pass interference call.
Stills also impressed with a back-shoulder catch for a 22-yard gain.
“It was a great opportunity to be out there with the ones,” Stills said. “I expect a lot more from myself. I dropped a ball that touched my hand, and I have to catch it.”
After the game, Payton seemed frustrated with his team’s overall performance but still had strong words of support for Stills.
“He’s shown enough early in this camp where we think he can. He’s learned quickly,” Payton said. “Some of the other guys need to pick up and figure out what they’re doing.”
Now the tape study and adjustments begin, as the Saints prepare for their next contest Aug. 16, when they host the Oakland Raiders at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.