NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Between Andy Reid’s debut with Kansas City and Sean Payton’s return from his one-season bounty ban, there was a little more intrigue surrounding the Saints’ and Chiefs’ preseason opener than that of a typical exhibition game.
That didn’t prevent fans from streaming for the exits early in what still amounted to a relatively low-scoring, sloppy contest often associated with August football.
The Saints won 17-13, thanks to a pair of short touchdown catches by Preston Parker, but Payton was hardly in mood to celebrate.
“There were a ton of little things that we have to be better at,” Payton said. “The good news is we are early in camp.”
Kansas City struggled to move the ball for more than three quarters, but enjoyed some highlights on special teams and the way Reid and new starting quarterback Alex Smith worked together on the opening series, which produced the Chiefs’ only touchdown.
Here are five things we learned in the Saints’ comeback victory over the Chiefs:
1. COMFORTABLE QB: Smith provided evidence that his new pairing with Reid, who calls offensive plays, could turn out well.
Smith threw only one incompletion on eight attempts in marching the Chiefs to a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. While he did not have a completion longer than 13 yards, he netted 68 yards passing, and the lone sack he took was a scramble out of bounds for a loss of only 1. Jamaal Charles closed out the 14-play, 80-yard drive with a short TD run through the line.
“You envision starting off like that,” Smith said. “We moved the ball, converted some third downs, and down there in the goal line situation, we executed. It was a great start.”
2. NEW DEFENSE, MIXED RESULTS: The Saints are hoping their defense will make major strides under new coordinator Rob Ryan. On the first drive, however, New Orleans’ defense looked more like the unit that yielded an NFL record 7,042 yards last season. The Chiefs’ Smith left after one series. Then New Orleans shut down KC’s backups for the remainder of the game, allowing just 135 yards the rest of the night.
“They set a fast tempo and we adjusted accordingly,” Saints defensive end Cam Jordan said. “We were able to make some adjustments.”
3. STILLS’ SPEED: Saints fifth-round draft choice Kenny Stills had only one catch for 22-yards on a heady adjustment to haul in a back-shoulder pass from Drew Brees. Yet, even when he didn’t catch the ball, Still’s speed gave Kansas City trouble — a promising sign for a team trying to overcome a season-ending injury to deep threat Joseph Morgan.
Stills dropped what would have been another long completion from Brees, but his route-running against a first-team defensive back offered reason for encouragement. Later, he extended a drive with a long pass-interference penalty.
“We didn’t just put him in there by flipping a coin or rock, paper, scissors,” Payton said. “He is smart. He has picked things up well and he runs well.”
4. BIG RETURNS: Kansas City’s special teams showed promise. The Chiefs’ had two field goals set up by big returns — Dexter McCluster’s 55-yard punt return and Knile Davis’ 77-yard kickoff return.
“Most of the blocking was pretty good, and they were able to find holes,” Reid said.
5. PAYTON’S PRESENCE: Although Payton is back with the Saints, his influence won’t be truly understood until the regular season, when his game-planning and ability to identify mismatches comes into play. His scheme against the Chiefs was vanilla by his standards. Still, his intensity and attention to detail were evident in the way he critiqued his team and himself, particularly the pace of his own offensive play-calling.
“I wasn’t very good. It was slow and I’ve got to improve in that area,” Payton said. “Right now we just have a lot of work to do.”