Saints rack up another win in the preseason
By Bret Martel
AP Sprots Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jimmy Graham didn’t hesitate to punctuate a pair of touchdown catches with the goal post-rattling, basketball-style dunks that led the NFL to ban such celebrations coming into this season.
Both times, Graham drew penalty flags for unsportsmanlike conduct.
With relatively little at stake in preseason game No. 2 on Friday night, the crowd roared its approval, and the Saints went on to beat the Tennessee Titans, 31-24.
Saints coach Sean Payton, however, wasn’t amused after Graham’s second dunk, barking at the star tight end as he came to the sideline.
Following the game, Graham fled the locker room without speaking to reporters.
Payton, meanwhile, said he was “particularly” upset with Graham’s penalties, but also with much of the team after the Saints (2-0) drew 22 flags for 184 yards.
“Obviously, that was painful to watch,” Payton said. “It’s the first sign of a team that has no discipline, and that’s the first sign of poor coaching. … I’m very upset.”
After holding out the entire offseason for his four-year, $40 million contract, Graham appeared to be in fine form with five catches for 48 yards in limited action, including his TDs of 6 and 19 yards from Luke McCown.
While Payton lost patience with Graham’s insistence upon continuing his post-TD dunks, Graham’s teammates appeared conflicted, considering it was a preseason game.
“I understand Jimmy’s frustration with that rule change,” veteran right tackle Zach Strief said. “I don’t think Jimmy is a selfish player. … It’s selfish in a real game. I don’t think Jimmy is like that. I think that was his one opportunity to make it his statement on it.”
Last year, one such dunk bent a goal post out of place, delaying a regular-season game.
“Look, one time in 40 years a goal post gets tilted and all of a sudden we have to change the rules?” Strief said. “People love Jimmy because he gets excited and they love him because he celebrates. The fans love that stuff. And Jimmy is frustrated because they’re taking something away that … adds entertainment to the game.”
The penalties after both celebrations were enforced on the kickoff, resulting in returns to the Tennessee 38 and 36 by the Titans’ Marc Mariani. Tennessee (1-1) scored touchdowns on both drives.
There were some developments which pleased Payton.
The Saints’ defense had five turnovers and four sacks. Offensively, New Orleans produced several long gains, including completions of 52 and 44 yards from Ryan Griffin to Joe Morgan, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
“It was encouraging that (Morgan) got behind the defense and was able to make a few plays that we’ve seen him make prior to his injury,” Payton said.
The Titans were competitive early when both teams’ starters were on the field.
Starting quarterback Jake Locker was 8 of 11 for 75 yards and a touchdown on a 4-yard touch pass along the sideline to Justin Hunter, who made a leaping grab over cornerback Corey White.
“It was great to see the way we came out and started,” Locker said. “It was something we can definitely build off of.”
Hunter also was on the receiving end of Zach Mettenberger’s first touchdown pass as a pro. Mettenberger entered the game earlier than expected after second-string QB Charlie Whitehurst was shaken up on a sack by Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.
The crowd cheered the former LSU quarterback when he took the field.
“That was a pleasant surprise,” Mettenberger said.
Mettenberger completed his first series by rifling a pass over the middle to Hunter, who raced off for a 64-yard score.
Mettenberger finished 20 of 25 for 269 yards, but was also intercepted once and fumbled once. Hunter had four catches for 111 yards.
“We played OK, but we just turned the ball over way too much and ultimately that led to a loss,” Mettenberger said. “Offensively we did a lot of good things but we’ve got a lot to clean up.”
Undrafted rookie kicker Travis Coons made a 50-yard field goal for Tennessee.
One of Tennessee’s fumbles may have cost more than a turnover. Running back Shonn Greene, who has had right knee surgery twice, appeared to favor his right leg after being stripped by Vaccaro.
McCown started for Brees, who missed his second exhibition game while resting his sore abdomen, and was 12 of 20 for 117 yards. Griffin finished 13 of 19 for 179 yards with touchdown passes of 23 yards to Mark Ingram and 3 yards to Seantavious Jones.