The New Orleans Saints weren't everything they wanted to be in Sunday's season-opening, 16-15 victory over Tennessee in the Caesars Superdome.
But they were enough.
Just good enough on offense, plus almost perfect on defense, with a splash of special teams lightning and accuracy was what got New Orleans its victory and will send it to Charlotte, N.C., to face the Panthers next Monday night on the right note.
OFFENSE: The first half totally wasn't a mess, but New Orleans definitely had work to do after scoring a pair of field goals despite Marshon Lattimore's interception, Zach Baun's blocked punt (which traveled a yard and went out of bounds at the Tennessee 28-yard line) and a pair of sacks by the defense. The Saints totaled 143 yards in the half mainly because the Titans are really good against the run (24 yards allowed on seven carries) and New Orleans wasn't able to effectively protect quarterback Derek Carr (sacked four times). But give the Saints credit for figuring out the protection issue in the second half (Carr wasn't sacked) and the offense produced the three plays it needed the most: Carr's 19-yard touchdown pass to Rashid Shaheed to give New Orleans a 16-9 lead; Carr's 41-yard completion to Shaheed on third-and-6 with 1:55 left to give the Saints a crucial first down; and Jamaal Williams' 11-yard run on third-and-4 from the Titans' 20, with 99 seconds left, to seal the deal.
DEFENSE: Hard to think of many ways the defense could have been better, other than posting a shutout. The Titans were held to 285 yards and 0-for-3 in the red zone. While Tennessee ran the ball well (22 carries for 104 yards), New Orleans' defense made life miserable for Ryan Tannehill in the passing game. The Saints sacked him three times (1.5 by defensive end Carl Granderson and half-sacks from defensive end Cam Jordan, linebacker Pete Werner and rookie defensive tackle Bryan Bresee), intercepted him three times (Lattimore, safety Marcus Maye and cornerback Paulson Adebo, to set up the touchdown), hit him 10 times (four by Granderson) and defended 11 passes (four by Lattimore). It was a thorough, front-to-back performance that New Orleans can build off. The run defense can use some tightening, but forcing three turnovers was an outstanding start.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The big hiccup was Shaheed fumbling the opening kickoff, which gave the Titans the game's opening drive even though they won the kickoff and deferred. Otherwise, "solid" would be an understatement. Baun's blocked punt in the second quarter – officially ruled a punt, because it traveled 1 yard – gave the Saints the ball at the Tennessee 28 and led to a field goal to tie the score at 6-6. Rookie kicker Blake Grupe was perfect (field goals of 26, 33 and 52 yards) and rookie punter Lou Hedley averaged 40.8 yards net (48.2 gross) with one of his five punts downed inside the 20. Really good work, especially from the rookies.