New Orleans Saints, recovering from bounty scandal, lose opener to Redskins

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints’ offseason of bounty-scandal turbulence gave way to an afternoon of exasperation in their season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins.

“Today was a day that was frustrating because our fans deserved more than what we gave them,” said Aaron Kromer, the fill-in head coach of the Saints. “When it was all said and done, they deserved more. They deserved better play by the New Orleans Saints.”

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The Saints were called for a dozen penalties and committed three turnovers on Sunday. They couldn’t slow down Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and never led after the first quarter.

“It’s disappointing that it was our home opener, with all the emotion and everything going into this game, to come out and not play as well as we know we should have,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “It really comes down to all the things that we know don’t win you football games. . . . It was some turnovers. It was penalties that cost us drives.”

The atmosphere at the Superdome was emotionally charged, with the Saints opening the season at home after the NFL’s offseason suspensions of Coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, assistant coach Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in the bounty scandal.

The suspensions of two Saints players, defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and two former Saints players were overturned Friday by an appeals panel, although perhaps only temporarily. Smith was in the starting lineup Sunday. Vilma, who is recovering from a knee injury, didn’t play. He wasn’t in uniform but received a huge ovation when he stepped on the field and waved to the crowd before kickoff.

It didn’t help, although Smith and others dismissed the after-effects of the bounty scandal as being a factor in the team’s performance Sunday.

“I don’t think it played much into it. . . They came out and played well and played better than us,” Smith said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Brees expressed similar sentiments, saying: “They made fewer mistakes than we did. They made more plays than we did. It’s hard to believe we even had a chance at the end to tie it or to win. If you make that many mistakes, you don’t deserve to win.”

Brees set single-season NFL records for passing yards and completion percentage a year ago, but wasn’t at his sharpest Sunday. He had 339 passing yards and three touchdown passes but connected on fewer than half his throws, going 24 for 52. He also had two interceptions, the last one on a desperation throw toward the end zone on the game’s final play.

The Saints converted only two of their 11 third-down opportunities into first downs.

“They did a very nice job of keeping the football,” Kromer said. “And we did not do a good job of keeping the football, and that stemmed from penalties.”

Kromer is, in effect, the Saints’ third-string head coach, with Payton suspended for the entire season and his interim replacement, Vitt, suspended for the first six games. He said he expects the team to regroup quickly, given its history of rallying under challenging circumstances.

“This team is going to stay together because of their core and the character within it,” Kromer said. “As we went in that locker room after that tough day we had, we couldn’t have gotten any tighter as a group and said, ‘We’re going to get this thing fixed.’ ”

There were some positives for the Saints, including a touchdown by Courtney Roby on a blocked punt late in the first half that cut the Redskins’ lead to 20-14. But the day’s good moments for the Saints were more than offset by their gaffes such as 12 penalties, including a pass-interference penalty called on safety Roman Harper in the end zone that set up a Redskins’ touchdown and a penalty for having 12 men on the field on a punt return that sustained a Redskins’ drive en route to a field goal.

“Whenever you lose the turnover battle and have over 10 penalties, it’s hard to win a game,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

Said Roby: “The bottom line is, a loss is a loss. We just have to go back to the drawing board.”

Kromer said he had “no indications” from the Saints’ preparations and their play during the preseason that they would give such a sloppy performance in their opener.

“We just need to go back and look at ourselves, each one of us, starting with me, look at ourselves and figure out, ‘What can I do better?’ ” Kromer said.

 
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