INDIANAPOLIS -- The New Orleans Saints have gotten pretty good at these final preseason “dress rehearsals” over the years.
Their 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts marked the eighth consecutive year that they have won the second-to-last preseason game, which is the game where starters typically play the most.
As they usually do, the Saints took their preparation for Saturday’s game more seriously than other exhibitions, specifically game-planning against the Colts in practices during the week. And they came out sizzling, rolling to a 20-7 lead while most of the starters were still in the game.
“It’s a good thing, because we certainly come into this game saying, ‘Hey, this is like a regular-season game for that time we are in. … We usually prep for it like it’s the dress rehearsal for the season,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, whose two-touchdown performance was especially impressive considering it was also his preseason debut.
Brees was one of several key Saints veterans who made their preseason debuts Saturday after nursing a variety of injuries -- a group that also included guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Champ Bailey and receiver Kenny Stills.
“We knew coming into this we were going to bring all the guns out and see if we could put a few good drives together and then get them out,” Brees said. “Make sure everybody was ready to roll for the regular season.”
Consider that, “Mission accomplished.”
The Saints weren’t perfect -- especially when it came to penalties, a nagging problem that has plagued them throughout the preseason.
This time, New Orleans was “only” charged with 10 penalties, compared to 22 a week earlier. But eight of them came in the first half. And the Saints also had to burn at least one timeout because they didn’t have the right number of men on the field -- an issue that coach Sean Payton said was his "biggest disappointment."
But Payton was obviously more pleased than he was a week earlier, when he was fuming over the penalties in his postgame press conference.
“Pretty much what I told the players, it was good to get the win. There were a lot of positives. I thought the energy was good. I thought situationally in a lot of areas we did some good things,” Payton said in his opening statement after the game. “We are still high in the penalty count with 10. Substitutionally, that was a mess in the second half, part of it in the first half. We will get that squared away, and we need to because it cost us timeouts and just keeps showing up too often.”
Payton specifically credited the strong play by the Saints’ secondary to the high energy the team was playing with. The Saints had two interceptions and nearly two others.
There was still plenty to nitpick about, though, including a coverage breakdown that led to the Colts’ only first-half touchdown.
The consensus among most players was that they’re getting closer but not quite there yet. That’s how defensive end Cameron Jordan felt after he played outstanding, with the exception of one missed opportunity at a sack when he allowed quarterback Andrew Luck to slip from his grasp.
“The one (missed play) is always nagging at you,” Jordan said. “I feel like we’re headed in the right direction, further along the path than what we started out with.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham made a similar comment after the offense gave its smoothest first-half performance to date.
"It went well. Especially if you compare it, you can tell that we're just growing,” Graham said. “And to have No. 9 back is a big part of that. He really gets the tempo going early, and he's really looking to push the tempo. When we've been able to push the tempo, that's when we’re at our best, so all good things."