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John DeShazier: Drew Brees sharp in preseason debut for Saints

Brees throws for two TDs in Saints' 23-17 win over Colts

Indianapolis – Drew Brees missed more than two weeks of team drills in training camp, and didn't take a snap in the New Orleans Saints' first two preseason games.

Really, it's true.

But it may take some convincing the Indianapolis Colts otherwise, after Brees executed as if he'd never been absent on Saturday night in Lucas Oil Stadium, leading the Saints' offense to two 80-yard touchdown drives in its first three possessions.

He exited with the Saints leading 14-7 after the first quarter, and with Coach Sean Payton having seen all he needed to see of his star quarterback in the Saints' 23-17 victory.

In his limited time, Brees completed nine of 15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns – a 3-yarder to fullback Austin Johnson and a 13-yarder to receiver Marques Colston. He connected with six receivers en route to a 127.2 quarterback rating, leading the Saints to 189 yards of offense in the first quarter.

"I felt like it was a progression through the week," Brees said. "I feel like the tempo and rhythm are coming back as expected."

In leading the Saints to their third win in as many preseason games, Brees and the offense ran up 28 plays in the first quarter, and converted three of four third-down plays.

During that same time the defense was as ruthless as the offense was piercing. The Colts were held to 50 yards in the first quarter, and safety Kenny Vaccaro's interception was the first of three turnovers New Orleans produced in the game.

But the focus was on Brees, the only quarterback in NFL history with four 5,000-yard seasons.

After missing 16 days of team practice due to a strained oblique, he was sharp and opportunistic (his 10-yard scramble also produced a first down).

Brees said he was scheduled to log 18 to 20 plays, but the pitch count ran over in part due to the team's methodical touchdown marches, two 80-yard drives that lasted 13 and seven plays. Sandwiched between was a six-play drive that resulted in a punt.

"It was good to see Drew back on the field," Coach Sean Payton said. "I thought during the week that he would be sharp. (Tuesday and Wednesday), I thought the ball was coming off of his hand really sharp and accurate."

Also, it helped that his offensive line provided a clean pocket.

"At the end of the day, if you give Drew Brees time he will be sharp," center Jonathan Goodwin said. "Give him a clean pocket, and I've yet to see Drew not be sharp."

As sharp as Brees and the offense were in the first half – two touchdown drives of 80 yards, and 83-yard drive that resulted in a field goal and scores on four of the first five possessions – the defense was just as effective.

The Saints' No. 1 defense produced stops on three of the Colts' first four possessions, including Vaccaro's interception, and also forced an Indianapolis field goal after the Colts had reached first-and-goal from the 1 near the end of the half.

"We have high expectations," said defensive end Cam Jordan, who registered one sack and barely missed out on another.

"I think we responded well in practice. We're headed in the right direction."

Said Payton: "We did some good things. Situationally, we did some things that hurt us."

The Saints twice burned timeouts in the second half because of substitution errors, once for 12 men on the field and other time, for 10. And Payton also reiterated that the Saints must cut down on the penalties; for the third consecutive game, they had double-digit penalties. The 10 against the Colts followed 22 against Tennessee and 10 against St. Louis.

But they balanced that number against Indianapolis with three forced turnovers and three sacks, and with completely smothering the Colts offense in the first half. Indianapolis had 132 yards on 27 plays at halftime.

"It was good to get the win," Payton said. "There were a lot of positives."

Included among them were Pierre Thomas' four receptions for 66 yards; Mark Ingram's 46 rushing yards on eight attempts; a 38-yard, looped touch pass from Brees to Jimmy Graham; and a pair of goal line stands, one of which forced the Colts to settle for a field goal and the other, a drive in which Indianapolis turned over the ball on downs.

It wasn't the kind of performance the Colts were looking for in their regular-season dress rehearsal.

"We're just getting outplayed right now," Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said at halftime. "They're playing harder. They're beating us at fundamental football. We're giving up big plays on defense. We're not tackling very well. They're running the ball effectively. They've made big plays, we haven't been able to get off the field on third down."

New Orleans converted six of nine third-down attempts in the first half, while shutting out the Colts on three of their four third-down attempts.

Brees had a hand in the first four third-down conversions, three via passes and one with his scramble. It was his first preseason action and, possibly, the last for him and the starters.

After Saturday night, no one can argue that he needs any more.

2nd photo gallery from the New Orleans Saints preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, August 23, 2014. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)

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