Carson, Calif. – The New Orleans Saints won Sunday.
Preseason or regular season, that always will be the best that can be said of a game because it's the bottom-line result that the team is pursuing. But the 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park wasn't exactly filling, considering the gaps that showed for the Saints.
They rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit, overcame some offensive sluggishness and a special team gash, and outscored the Chargers 16-0 in the second half to even their preseason record at 1-1.
They'll take the win. Here are a few takeaways from it.
OFFENSE: When Coach Sean Payton categorized the first-half offensive performance as "awful," it wasn't because he needed prodding. New Orleans had four first downs in the first half, was 1 of 6 on third-down attempts, failed to score a touchdown on two red-zone trips – including a turnover – and had 76 yards. Payton admitted that starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5 of 12 for 40 yards and an interception, and another pass that would have been picked if receiver Tre'Quan Smith hadn't jarred it loose) was ill; he also allowed that Bridgewater didn't receive much support while he was on the field. The 14-point halftime deficit actually could have, and perhaps should have, been worse. Quarterback Taysom Hill (11 of 15 for 136 yards and two touchdowns passing, five carries for 53 yards rushing) did more than jump-start the offense; he led the charge that saved the day, and even he led a drive that ended on a turnover in the red zone. Hill lasered a 27-yard touchdown pass to Austin Carr and clearly looked like the best player on the field when he was taking snaps. Overall, the Saints ran for 163 yards on 33 carries, and that was encouraging. But the efficiency was much, much lower than it needs to be regardless of who's playing quarterback, offensive line, receiver and running back.
DEFENSE: The starters were stout. On the Chargers' first three offensive possessions, New Orleans produced a stop on fourth-and-1 (a 2-yard tackle for loss by linebacker A.J. Klein), a three-and-out and an interception (by Klein, off a pass that was tipped by defensive tackle David Onyemata). Leakage didn't occur until several starters were on the sideline and even then, the lone touchdown drive that the Saints surrendered defensively was extended by a third-down pass interference by cornerback Ken Crawley. Klein was noticeable (he also drew a holding penalty), and so was defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who had an extremely impactful one-tackle game (he drew at least two holding penalties and spent a good deal of time in Los Angeles' backfield). Linebacker Colton Jumper had a game-sealing interception to button up the defensive performance (304 yards allowed, stops on 10 of 14 third-down attempts and the fourth-down stop). New Orleans allowed 4.9 yards per play after surrendering 8.5 per play in the preseason opener against Minnesota.
SPECIAL TEAMS: When you allow an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown almost, literally, as the half expires – Troymaine Pope's dash was completed with three seconds left in the second quarter – not much can rinse away that taste. Kicker Wil Lutz made the game-winning 28-yard field goal with 65 seconds left, and Deonte Harris had a 26-yard punt return and two kickoff returns for 50 yards. But there might be some extra attention given to punt coverage in the coming days. That was a deflating play that, fortunately, didn't snowball.