**New Orleans, La.** – Rookie RB Steve Slaton darted 10-yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference in the Houston Texans' 31-27 win over the New Orleans Saints in a high-scoring pre-season affair at the Superdome.
Two Saints plays highlighted the first half of the game for the Saints. WR Marques Colston made a one-handed five-yard touchdown grab late in the first half that gave the Saints their second lead of the game. Earlier in the quarter RB Reggie Bush hurdled a pursuing Texans cornerback who was diving low in an attempt to tackle Bush, but the high-flying third year RB energetically soared for the score that pulled the Saints within a point of the lead (14-13) at the time.
The Saints' starters gave the team a 20-17 lead at halftime, but the Saints weren't able to keep up with the visitors in the second half and dropped to 1-1 this pre-season after an impressive win at Arizona last week.
"We, as a first team, feel like we want to outscore the opponents, so going in at the half with a 20-17 felt good," said QB Drew Brees, who was 12-of-17 for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite the impressive offensive showing for the most part by the Saints' starters it was the play of the Saints' defense that drew the ire of Saints' Head Coach Sean Payton.
In his post-game press conference, Payton cut right to the chase when analyzing the game.
"The thing I struggle with is when a team punts twice all night (as Houston did). You can say it's the pre-season, but I thought our defense was poor," said Head Coach Sean Payton. "We played a good offense tonight, but we didn't play very well on defense and with much energy. In some ways I feel like we stepped backward tonight.
"If we're a team that wants to compete for a championship, then we are going to have to play much better than that. The penalties, we had eight of them, really bother me, as well.
"Tonight was painful to watch. It was painful. Obviously we aren't good enough right now."
"Each unit, each player," LB Scott Fujita said after the game. "We all have a long way to go. I've got to start by looking at myself in the mirror. We all do. Yes, it's discouraging. That's all there is to say about it. Did I see it coming? No. We were better in practice against these guys."
Houston out-gained the Saints 405 yards to 331 as the two squads combined for 736 yards of total offense. The game was a seesaw affair until the final minutes of the game, with the home squad unable to regain the lead.
The Texans had taken a 14-6 lead early in the second quarter behind two Matt Schaub touchdown passes, one to WR Kevin Walter and the other to former Saints FB Vonta Leach. The Saints' first six points came courtesy of two mid-range (25 and 33 yards) field goals by K Martin Gramatica.
The Saints scored first when they took advantage of a Houston Texans muffed punt by return man Jacoby Jones that was recovered by Saints LB Troy Evans and the Saints turned it into a field goal just 3:16 into the game, giving the home team the early 3-0 lead.
The Saints had accepted the opening kickoff and were the beneficiaries of a 33-yard kickoff return by Pierre Thomas, but couldn't muster a first down on their first possession and were forced to punt. P Steve Weatherford hammered a 50-yard punt that Jones muffed as Saints cover-men Usama Young and Terrance Copper bore down on the dangerous returner, and the ball popped up into the air where an alert Evans snared it out of the air at the Houston 10. The Saints couldn't cover the final 10 yards and instead opted for Gramatica's 25-yard field goal.
The Texans then drove 80 yards in 11 plays and capped it off with a 26-yard touchdown pass from QB Matt Schaub to WR Kevin Walters on a third down. The key play on the drive came on a third down when Schaub connected with WR Andre Davis for a 14-yard completion to keep the drive alive.
The Saints came right back offensively and started with a quick out pass from Drew Brees to Devery Henderson, then Reggie Bush picked up 6 yards and a first down and Brees aired out a 39 yard pass to a streaking David Patten down the sideline to the Texans' 20. Marques Colston caught a six-yard pass and Houston was then flagged for a defensive holding call on DT Amobi Okoye that gave the Saints a first down at the Houston 15.
Three incompletions though forced the Saints to attempt a field goal and Martin Gramatica hit a 33-yard field goal, his second of the evening, which closed the Texans' lead to 7-6 with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
The Texans then began a drive at their own 26 and picked up a 12-yard third down completion to Davis and a 16-yard pass to TE Owen Daniels before a 10-yard holding infraction pushed them back across midfield. Schaub then hit Walters for a 27-yard gain to the Saints' 22 on the first play of the second quarter on a crossing route. Two plays later Houston picked up 11 yards on a completion to Davis for 11 yards and then a seven-yard completion to former Saints FB Vonta Leach. On the next play, Schaub hit Leach for a touchdown that capped a 74-yard drive in 10 plays.
The Saints came right back, picked up nice runs from Bush and a 39-yard completion from Brees to a wide-open Mark Campbell for 38 yards. Brees then found Patten for 13 yards to the Houston 14 yard line. Bush then pounded into the middle for two yards and then hit Bush out of the backfield for a 12-yard touchdown. On the touchdown reception, Bush hurdled over CB Jacques Reeves who was diving for Bush's knees near the goal line.
Earlier in the drive Bush and Reeves were involved in a hard play along the sideline when Bush stiff armed Reeves along the sideline that Reeves took exception to as the two players exchanged words on the way back to their respective huddles.
Houston started their third drive at their own 23 and picked up 20 yards on a completion to Kevin Walter and two plays later snagged a 21-yard completion to TE Owen Daniels. S Roman Harper came up to sting RB Chris Brown after a one-yard gain with a heavy hit and then LB Scott Shanle dropped RB Chris Taylor after a gain of one yard at the Saints' 32. On a third-and-eight CB Jason Craft came up to meet WR David Anderson after a gain of just four yards and the Texans sent their field goal team on the field. K Kris Brown connected on a 45-yard field goal to up the visitor's lead to 17-13 with 5:36 remaining in the first half.
Trailing 17-13 late in the first half WR Devery Henderson started a drive when he took an end-around for nine yards. Deuce McAllister picked up two yards on an inside handoff for the first down and then Brees connected with Colston for 12 yards. Houston CB Jacques Reeves was flagged for pass interference on the ensuing play that cost the Texans 18 yards and gave the ball to the Saints at the Houston 27. Brees and Henderson hooked up for a seven-yard completion before McAllister picked up a first down on a hard-cut back move that picked up five yards as the clock stopped at the two-minute warning. After an incompletion, McAllister took a handoff and plowed his way through the line for four yards, which then brought up a third-and-six from the 11.
The Saints took their first time-out of the first half with 1:24 left in the quarter and out of a three-wide out set Brees hooked up with McAllister for a six-yard gain and the first down and quickly called their second time-out with the football resting atop the five yard-line.
"It was good to have our hammer back in there," said Brees of McAllister's return.
Brees then lofted a perfect spiral to Colston in the end zone and the receiver went up and made a leaping one-handed grab over CB Jamar Fletcher for the touchdown that gave the Saints a 20-17 lead after Gramatica's extra point. The drive covered 72 yards in 10 plays in 4:37.
Brees said of the plays turned in by Bush and Colston, "We have great athletes out there and it's about getting them the ball in the right spots so they can make plays. I think we all saw that tonight."
The first half ended with the Texans running out the clock and with the Saints leading, 20-17. Brees ended the first half having completed 12-of-17 passes for 147 yards and two scores, with the Colston having a team-high four receptions. WR David Patten led in receiving yards with 52 yards. From the backfield Bush had seven carries for 24 yards and a reception for 12 yards and the score and Deuce McAllister, in his first action of the pre-season, picked up 16 yards on the ground and ten yards on two receptions.
"I'm happy with the way this first game - this first chance to play – went," said McAllister. "I felt good out there. I felt like I played average at best, but it's a start, and you have to start somewhere. I will take a few four-yard carries like I had tonight. I ran with some toughness, and I put my foot down a couple of times in there. So it's a start. I've had to stay patient through the whole process, and I'm still trying to make all the effort over the last year pay off. There is still a lot of work to do, but tonight was a start."
The Texans started the second half with the ball at their 32 and CB Aaron Glenn knocked down a Sage Rosenfels pass and on the following play DT Orien Harris shot into the backfield to grab a Texans running back and slowed him down for a two-yard gain. Rosenfels hung in the pocket and completed a pass to WR Mark Simmons for 13 yards. RB Steve Slaton bounced off an Antwan Lake attempted tackle and picked up 12 yards and then Rosenfels threw deep down the far sideline for a 20-yard completion to Jacoby Jones to the Saints' 21.
RB Chris Taylor picked up a yard before being laid out on a big hit by S Chris Reis but the Texans' runner came right back up the middle for a gain of seven yards and then dove over the left side of the line for a gain of four yards on a third-and-short to the nine yard-line. After a short completion, Taylor picked up six yards to the one on a carry and then bounced over the pile for a touchdown, that gave the Texans a 24-20 lead following Brown's extra point. The drive covered 68 yards in 11 plays in 5:54 in time of possession.
New Orleans started at their own 33 and picked up five yards courtesy of an Aaron Stecker run but were found guilty of their first penalty of the night when Zach Strief was called for a holding call. Stecker picked back up eight of the yards on a run, but QB Mark Brunell and TE Billy Miller failed to connect on a third-and-long and rookie punter Waylon Prather hit a 49-yard punt that Jones returned 19 yards to the Houston 39.
DT Kendrick Clancy dropped Taylor for a one-yard loss on a handoff and then the Saints disrupted a shovel pass when rookie LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar stopped Slaton for a short gain. The Saints forced the Texans' first punt when CB Jason Craft batted away a Rosenfels pass. Return man Skyler Green fair caught the Matt Turk 41-yard punt at the Saints' 18 with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
Brunell hit WR Lance Moore for a gain of 13 yards to start the drive, taking the ball to the Saints' own 31. The Saints, guilty of a false start, were pushed back and faced a third-and-10 but Brunell bailed the team out by hanging in the pocket and found and open Terrance Copper for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Aaron Stecker then picked up nine yards combined on his next two carries but the Saints again turned in a false start, which pushed them back five yards to the Houston 48.
But it hardly mattered when Brunell stepped back and fired a 42-yard strike to Moore to the Texans' five yard-line on a fine over-the-shoulder reception. Stecker then picked up a hard two yards over the right side on first and goal. LB Kevin Bentley gave the Saints a first-and-goal when he interfered with TE Billy Miller near the goal line. Brunell then rolled out and hit FB Kevin Dudley for a one-yard score and the Saints regained the lead, 27-24, following Taylor Mehlhaff's extra point.
Rosenfels connected with WR David Anderson for a 43-yard completion to begin the Texans' next drive. Following two short runs Houston then converted a third down with a 13-yard gain from Rosenfels to Anderson. The Saints committed their fourth infraction of the night on a neutral zone infringement infraction. Slaton then put Houston back on top, 31-27, with a 10-yard touchdown run off the right side of their offensive line.
Starting at their own 25 with just less than 12 minutes remaining, Brunell hit Robert Meachem for an 11-yard gain and a first down. A false start penalty backed the team up five yards, but RB Pierre Thomas picked up nine of it with a hard run off the left side of the line. Brunell overthrew Meachem on a timing route on second down and was sacked by DE Tim Bulman on third down and the Saints were forced to punt and Prather hit a punt that was downed by rookie CB Tracy Porter at the Texans' three yard line, a 60-yard punt.
With their backs to the end zone, Slaton picked up five yards on a carry. QB Alex Brink then scrambled for a gain of four yards before being hauled down by DT Orien Harris at the 12 yard-line, which brought up a third-and-one, but a false start was whistled on a Texans' offensive lineman. On third-and-six Brink threw underneath to a sliding Mark Simmons for a gain of eight yards and the first down. Slaton then bulled his way over the right side of his offensive line for a gain of eight yards before being stopped by LB William Kershaw. Slaton again tried the right side of the line but was stopped after a gain of one yard. Brink kept the ball and ducked behind the center after the exchange and picked up the first down with a two-yard gain.
After a short run the Texans suffered a setback when an end-around attempt to Jones was fumbled and the play lost 11 yards. Slaton took a handoff on a draw play and picked up the 11 yards that was lost on the previous play. P Matt Turk ripped off a 54-yard punt that rookie Tracy Porter field and nearly broke for a long gain but was tackled by a shoestring tackle by a Texan.
Third-string QB Tyler Palko took over for the Saints at the Saints' own 16 with 3:09 left in the game and the team trailing 31-27.
Palko hit Lance Moore for a gain of 10 yards to the 26. Palko then scrambled for a 15-yard gain but the Saints were flagged for a holding call and instead pushed back 10 yards to their original starting position. Palko hit Pierre Thomas on a screen for six yards but the Saints again committed a false start, which brought up a second-and-19 from the 17. Palko's second down pass failed to connect with Terrance Copper and the Saints faced the dubious task of completing a third-and-19 from deep in their own territory with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Palko attempted to hit Meachem down the middle of the field but his pass narrowly missed. The Saints went for it on fourth down but were unable to complete the pass and the Texans took over at the Saints' 17 with 1:45 left in the game.
Houston ran out the clock and improved to 2-0 in the pre-season while the Saints fell to an even 1-1.
Notes: The following Saints players did not play in this evening's contest against the Texans: LB Mark Simoneau (back), WR Adrian Arrington (toe), CB Mike McKenzie (knee), S Josh Bullocks (knee), TE Jeremy Shockey (leg), DT Brian Young (knee) and DT Hollis Thomas (triceps) ... the paid attendance this evening was 70,009 ... Payton cited three injuries in his opening remarks after the game: CB Randall Gay left was an arm injury (triceps) that Payton said x-rays came back negative on, CB Usama Young left with a hamstring injury and DT Brian Young left with a sore foot.