Saints look for first win

Published 1:55 am Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saints linebacker Scott Fujita lives in New Orleans’ warehouse district, where he routinely gets out in public to walk his dogs or dine in a sushi restaurant that named its Mount Fujita roll after him.

A few days ago, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Fujita was out with his wife when someone came rushing out of a shop with bag of footballs, asking the Saints’ defensive co-captain to sign them.

“So after I’m done signing for him, he says, ’You guys gotta wake up this week,”’ Fujita recalled.

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The Saints, who entered this season with all the build-up of a Super Bowl contender, could have been accused of sleepwalking through their first two games — blowout losses in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

An 0-2 hole was the last thing they needed coming into their home opener Monday night against the improving Tennessee Titans (1-1), whose lone loss was by two points to the same Colts team that stomped New Orleans 41-10 on opening night.

But as this week has progressed, the Saints have begun to exude a sense of confidence and calm, as if they’ve figured something out.

“We tried to be too perfect — paralysis by analysis,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, leader of an offense that has produced only two touchdowns and turned the ball over five times.

Last year, Brees led the league in passing, and the Saints led the league in total offense.

“Guys have been trying to do too much. I’m guilty of it myself,” said Saints running back Reggie Bush, who has a surprisingly low 117 yards on runs, receptions and punt returns combined. “I know a lot of people are ready to jump off the bandwagon right now because we’re 0-2, but we still believe in ourselves and that’s really all that matters.”

The Saints expect to be back in the playoffs, but it only gets harder if they fall to 0-3.

“They were a lot of people’s preseason Super Bowl pick. They still have those same guys,” Tennessee defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “We know we’re going to get a different team because it is their home opener and it’s going to be a big emotional boost for them.”

So far, however, Tennessee has looked like the better team.

LenDale White may have been overshadowed by Bush when they were teammates at Southern California, where Bush won the Heisman Trophy in 2005. But after two games this season, White has the better numbers, running the ball 33 times for 130 yards and teaming with fellow running back Chris Brown to help the Titans accumulate the best rushing totals in the NFL (211.5 yards per game).

Versatile Vince Young has aided the Titans’ success on the ground, scrambling for 75 yards and a touchdown. His passing numbers have been less impressive at 262 yards and one touchdown, but Titans coach Jeff Fisher isn’t getting too caught up in statistics so much as the intangibles Young demonstrates: poise and the ability to make clutch plays.

“He’s a young quarterback that’s yet to play a full season. There are a lot of things that he can improve on, no differently than anybody else that young in their career,” Fisher said. “I think the thing that is special about Vince is that he finds ways to win ballgames.”

And Young seems to thrive in big games.

“This is the stage to show the whole world what type of team we have on Monday night,” Young said.

The Saints are worried about him. They hope defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant can prevent Young from scrambling outside, where he’s a threat to run or pass, somewhat like suspended Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick, who the Saints saw twice last season and beat both times.

“They’re different players, though,” Payton said. “This guy is strong and powerful — not that Michael isn’t — but they’re a little different in their body types. I don’t see them the same way, but (Young) is explosive and certainly a big part of what they do offensively, and more importantly, he’s a real good leader and a winner.”

Long passing plays have not been the Titans’ forte, although maybe all they need is a game against the Saints, who have given up a slew of them.

New Orleans can only hope new defensive backs Jason David and Kevin Kaesviharn, who were both on the field for Joey Galloway’s 69-yard touchdown last Sunday, continue to show progress in their adjustment to the Saints’ defensive schemes.

David, who won a Super Bowl with the Colts last season, was confident the pass defense will improve.

“I’m getting better and feeling a little more comfortable out there and being able to play a little bit faster,” David said. “Morale’s up in the locker room. Everybody’s kind of excited to be at home and play such a big game.”

Even though neither team has a winning record, there is a big-game vibe emerging in New Orleans. Perhaps because it’s a rematch of sorts between Young and Bush, who faced one another in the 2006 Rose Bowl, when Texas beat USC for the national championship in a thrilling game.

Or perhaps it’s simply because it’s a home opener on a Monday night, a year since the Louisiana Superdome, damaged badly by Hurricane Katrina, reopened for the first time — also for a Saints home game on “Monday Night Football.”

Of course, a year ago, the Saints were 2-0 heading into their home opener, which they won handily over Atlanta on an emotionally charged night.

“With the opening of the dome last year, obviously there was a lot behind that. We needed that win last year, and I think more so because we wanted to give it to the fans, we wanted to give it to the city, after everything that everyone had been through,” Brees recalled. “I think this year, we need it for ourselves. We need it for our team. I think the fans understand how much we need it for our team. Obviously, they’re a huge part of our success.”


AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville contributed to this report.