Dolphins 10, Saints 7

NEW ORLEANS -- Although a perfect preseason was hardly worth celebrating, it left the Miami Dolphins encouraged as they begin their quest to repeat as AFC East champs.

Patrick Cobbs rushed for 54 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown, and Miami had eight sacks and an interception in a 10-7 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.

"Now it's time to play real football, to get into game week and show what we are made of," said Dolphins receiver Ted Ginn, whose 23-yard reception from backup quarterback Chad Henne set up Cobbs' score. "I know we had a real good preseason, but in a week or so the games count for real."

Chad Pennington completed eight of 11 passes for 57 yards and led the first scoring drive for Miami (4-0), which took a 3-0 lead on Dan Carpenter's 41-yard field goal.

"I feel good about where we are right now," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "Everybody, I thought, played pretty hard. We were about as clean as could be."

New Orleans (3-1) fell short of its first undefeated preseason in the franchise's 43-year history, but hardly cared. Head coach Sean Payton held out numerous key players on offense, including quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey.

Having played only in the Saints' preseason opener on Aug. 14, Bush had only three preseason rushes for 5 yards. He has been bothered by a strained right calf and also is working his way back from surgery last December to repair cartilage in his left knee.

"We'll have him ready for Detroit," Payton assured, referring to the Saints' regular-season opener.

While resting starters left the Saints' normally prolific offense largely stagnant, it gave Payton a chance to see some reserves trying to make the team.

Rod Harper, signed by the Saints out of arena football in June, returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, his second punt return for a score this preseason. Harper also caught two passes for 29 yards, giving him a good chance to survive final cuts as regular season rosters are trimmed to 53 on Saturday.

"Credit him. He's taken advantage of the opportunity," Payton said. "I was encouraged with the play he made tonight."

However, the Saints' depth at tight end was dealt a blow when veteran Billy Miller injured his right Achilles' tendon. Miller, who played in 15 games last season and started five when Shockey was hurt, had to be helped off the field. The 10-year veteran was clearly upset, covering his face several times while sitting on a trainer's table. Several teammates, including Shockey and Bush, sought to console him.

The injury left the Saints with three healthy tight ends: Shockey, Buck Ortega and Martrez Milner.

Henne came back strong from a disappointing outing last week in which he completed only two of eight passes. He connected on 10 of his first 12 throws for 81 yards and led Miami's only touchdown drive.

"I'm happy with the progress I've made, but I know there's more out there," he said.

Second-year running back Lynell Hamilton, vying for a backup running back spot with New Orleans, also stood out with 122 total yards from scrimmage. He caught six passes out of the backfield for 88 yards, including 43-yard gain on a screen. He rushed nine times for 34 yards.

Mark Brunell started for New Orleans but played only two series. His second series ended on Sean Smith's spectacular one-handed interception in the end zone, right along the sideline. It was Brunell's third interception of the preseason.

Joey Harrington played most of the game with mixed results. Late in the first half, he led New Orleans deep into Miami territory, but John Carney pushed a 34-yard field goal attempt wide right.

Harrington did not turn the ball over, but looked indecisive and was sacked eight times for minus-36 yards. He finished 13 of 19 passing for 115 yards.

Game notes
The Dolphins said cornerback Vontae Davis hurt his left knee late in the second quarter, but did offer further details. ... Saints rookie P Thomas Morstead had two punts downed inside the 5, the second covering 63 yards. Morstead averaged 47.6 yards on seven punts, none of which were returned. "He looked outstanding," Payton said. "It's just good to see him continue to develop." ... Miami DE Tony McDaniel and LB Charlie Anderson each had two sacks. ... Saints reserve LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar had 13 tackles, including a sack.


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