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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; Saints show some improvement in a narrow loss to Buffalo Saturday, August 11, 2007 By Jimmy Smith Progress was the theme in a short, yet eventful, week for the Saints as they prepared to meet the Buffalo Bills in Friday ...

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Old 08-11-2007, 09:14 PM   #1
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Saints show some improvement in a narrow loss to Buffalo

Saturday, August 11, 2007
By Jimmy Smith

Progress was the theme in a short, yet eventful, week for the Saints as they prepared to meet the Buffalo Bills in Friday night's exhibition home opener at the Superdome.

Coach Sean Payton, displeased with the performance of his front-line players in Sunday night's 20-7 Hall of Fame Game loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Canton, Ohio, was hoping his unusual practice schedule -- a pair of tough workouts wrapped around a trip to a Jackson, Miss., waterpark, might ignite a spark under his first offensive and defensive units.

The announced crowd of 70,003 -- many obviously stayed home to watch the nationally televised proceedings -- that returned to the Dome seven months after the biggest home victory in franchise history, a 27-24 NFC divisional playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles, were just eager to see the home team back in action as a bona fide Super Bowl contender for the first time.

Were it not for a blocked, 37-yard Olindo Mare field-goal attempt by Buffalo's Langston Walker, the Saints' first-team offense might have put up six points instead of three in the 13-10 loss to the Bills.

Last week, the Steelers' best shut out the Saints and limited quarterback Drew Brees to a 1-of-6, 6-yard effort in a cameo appearance.

In one quarter of work against the Bills, Brees was a near-flawless 12-of-14 for 118 yards, but he could not punch the ball into the end zone. Nevertheless, he had completions of 11 and 17 yards to wide receiver Devery Henderson and 9 yards to tight end Eric Johnson before the opening drive stopped at Buffalo's 19-yard line, leading to the blocked field-goal attempt.

Significant progress, but Brees, ever the perfectionist, was still not satisfied.

"We were a little sharper tonight on offense, but you would like to see us complete those drives with touchdowns," Brees said. "There was more to build on tonight for us, and we've also seen some positives for our younger players.

"It was good to get out here and have another chance to go against someone else and see where we need to get better."

The Saints' defense, which allowed the Steelers' first-teamers several big plays, forced two first-drive incompletions by former Tulane quarterback J.P. Losman, which resulted in a punt after six offensive plays, quickly putting the ball back into Brees' hands.

Quite a contrast to Sunday when the secondary allowed 55- and 18-yard completions in a first-possession Pittsburgh touchdown drive.

Brees connected on seven consecutive passes, the eighth attempt sailing just over Henderson's outstretched fingertips in Buffalo's end zone, before Mare converted a field goal from 42 yards. Henderson injured his hamstring on the play, and his status will be evaluated when the team returns to Jackson.

"We need to improve, but tonight's game showed progress," said tailback Deuce McAllister, who saw his first action of the exhibition season (three carries for 2 yards and one reception for 8 yards). "You hope to show some improvement each week during the preseason, and I think there was some of that tonight. We just didn't score touchdowns. We play for seven, not three."

The Saints' defense shut down Losman and the Bills on Buffalo's second possession (Losman was 4-of-6 for 20 yards before giving way to former LSU quarterback Craig Nall in the second quarter), then watched as rookie Tyler Palko made his case to become the team's third-string quarterback.

"It's our first preseason game," Losman said. "It seemed like just when we started to get in our groove, they were taking us out. So we're starting to look forward to next week."

In his first extended playing time, Palko, an undrafted free agent from the University of Pittsburgh, showed flashes of poise and panic. He finished 15-of-27 for 172 yards and a touchdown, completing four in a row and five of six on his first drive, before being intercepted in the end zone by Jabari Greer, who stepped in front of intended receiver Terrance Copper.

Palko was intercepted twice and sacked twice, but he scrambled out of danger several times, gaining 47 yards on four carries.

After losing three starters to injury this week in training camp -- center Jeff Faine (calf strain), left tackle Jammal Brown (right knee bone bruise) and linebacker Scott Fujita (heel bruise during water-park outing) -- Henderson was the only significant injury Friday night.

And the progress Payton had hoped to see was evident in the numbers.

In the first quarter, the Saints outgained Buffalo 142 yards to 19, had seven first downs to one, and 118 passing yards to the Bills' zero.

"Defensively, there was better effort and energy; they kept the ball in front of them," Payton said. "And I thought the offensive first group did a pretty good job. I wanted to see that energy tonight.

"Our execution on both sides was pretty crisp. I don't like the fact we lost the game or that we were sloppy in the second half. There are things we need to work on and get better at."

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