Give the New Orleans Saints credit for one thing if nothing else: they never quit or give up on anything without a fight.
The Black and Gold quickly found themselves down but not out in L.A. (apologies to the famous mid 1980’s movie comedy with a similar title) Sunday evening, but with 3rd string QB Taysom Hill leading the way in the 2nd half, New Orleans overcame a 17-3 deficit, coming away with an electric 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park in the game’s final minutes.
Hill brought the team to victory on the Saints’ final drive of the game, leading the offense on a 50-yard drive utilizing both his throwing and running capabilities after they got the ball back trailing by a score of 17-16.
Taysom Hill might be the most exciting backup QB of all time pic.twitter.com/8FFDFewSfK
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 18, 2019
Hill helped to set up the go-ahead (and eventually the game-winning) 28-yard field goal by kicker Wil Lutz with 1:05 left to play. On the very next (and final) possession by the Chargers, 2nd-year Saints linebacker Colton Jumper iced the win for the Black and Gold with an interception of Los Angeles’ rookie quarterback Easton Stick with less than a minute remaining.
The win allowed New Orleans to improve their record to (1-1) in the preseason, but the main reason the Saints found themselves in such a predicament can be blamed on a variety of things, such as committing two early turnovers in the red-zone along with the misfortune of losing not just one but two of their back-up offensive linemen to injuries.
Then to make matters even worse, the special teams unit inexplicably allowed Los Angeles kick returner Troymaine Pope to score on an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown right before the very end of the 1st half.
Troymaine Pope house call just seconds before halftime 👀💨
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) August 18, 2019
Pope was able to shake off an attempted tackle by rookie Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson shortly after catching the punt and then essentially out-sprinted the Saints punt coverage unit all the way down the left sidelines nearly untouched for the score with only just three seconds remaining in the first half.
That put New Orleans in a 17-3 hole at halftime, following a first half in which the Black and Gold was out-gained 195-76 in total yardage, while only managing to pick up four first downs on offense.
The bottom line is that they simply failed from sloppy play in general, as well as a lack of execution; things that no they’ll no doubt be looking to get cleaned up before the 2019 NFL regular season opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 9th vs. the Houston Texans.
Now to be completely fair to the team, several notable Saints players did not play in this game, while others did play but only did so for a brief time. Nineteenth-year veteran and starting QB Drew Brees sat out for the second consecutive week, as did veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan.
All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas also sat out this week, and 3rd-year superstar and starting #1 running back Alvin Kamara left the game early following a brief appearance in which he gained 15 yards on four touches early in the 1st quarter.
But it was the disappointing underperformance of several other notable players that had New Orleans staring a 2nd straight preseason loss right in the face following last week’s defeat to the Minnesota Vikings at home at the Superdome.
The Saints’ backup QB, Teddy Bridgewater, who started in place of Brees at quarterback for a 2nd straight week, wasn’t nearly as sharp as he had been against the Vikings last week, but appeared to struggle against an aggressive Chargers defense. He only managed to complete 5 of 12 passes for 40 yards with an interception and finished with a godawful quarterback rating of 16.
First step explosion, speed, bend, power through contact on this rep. Rip move is thrown as he flattens his angle to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has looked great coming off the edge. pic.twitter.com/3UUo9ZUdO7
— Chargers Wire (@TheChargersWire) August 18, 2019
However, after the game in his post-game press conference, Saints’ head coach Sean Payton revealed that Bridgewater was dealing with an illness before the game, and very likely wouldn’t have played if Brees hadn’t already been told by the team that he was going to be given the day off yesterday
Sean Payton said Teddy Bridgewater was sick and that he thought about not playing him today but he knew they weren’t going to play Drew Brees. “He didn’t get a lot of help,” Payton said.
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncan_) August 18, 2019
But thanks to Taysom Hill, the Saints offense was able to rally from behind as the former BYU star and “jack of all trades” led the team to a pair of 2nd-half touchdown drives, with the key drive coming late in the 4th-quarter that set up Lutz with the game-winning kick.
Hill had a phenomenal performance and ended up leading the Saints in both rushing (53) and passing (136) yardage. That was just barely enough to allow the Black and Gold to win a game that by all rights, they should have lost if not for Hill’s heroics.
Hill, who entered the game on the final drive of the 1st half, finished with an outstanding 140.6 passer rating after he completed 11 of 15 passes, and he undoubtedly was very effective in rallying the troops as New Orleans outscored Los Angeles 16-0 in the 2nd half.
In fact, New Orleans didn’t even score their first touchdown until late in the 3rd quarter, when Hill stepped up in the pocket and found WR Austin Carr for a 27-yard touchdown reception.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) August 18, 2019
Before that drive, the Saints had only managed one scoring drive that ended in an early 1st quarter field goal, and afterward went five straight drives which ended in punts or turnovers.
“It was obviously two different halves,” Payton said to reporters in his post-game press conference. “A lot of things that were frustrating, discouraging. I thought we played pretty good defense early in the game,” Payton said. “I thought offensively we were awful.”
“By no means is it a game you come away from and it feels like, ‘man, you’re ready for the regular season to start’. We’ve got a lot of work still to do.”
The Saints picked the win up today, but red-zone errors throughout the game left head coach Sean Payton a little less than thrilled.
— SaintsNOW (@SaintsNOW) August 19, 2019
The first half performance of the defensive secondary — and particularly in one-on-one pass coverage by veteran cornerbacks Eli Apple and P.J. Williams — was very disappointing; just one of the several things that need to get cleaned up before the arrival of the regular season.
Nevertheless, there were several positives; among them the performances of 3rd year defensive end/edge pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, who was easily the most impressive player on defense for a 2nd straight week, and who along with teammates and rookies linebacker Kaden Ellis (who finished with a team-leading 6 tackles) and kick returner Deonte Harris (105 return yards) were all singled out afterwards by Payton for their efforts.
One thing for Who Dat fans to keep in mind: it’s still the preseason and not the start of the NFL regular season yet, which will be much different and will very notably pick up in intensity when the team has all of its starting players in the lineup.
Ok, I'm like the rest of you. I'm over the preseason. I'm ready for football that counts – college and pro. I'm ready for full stadiums, college student sections/bands, the first Drew Brees touchdown pass, fourth quarter drama, the initial cool breeze of fall.
— Jacques Doucet (@JacquesDoucet) August 18, 2019
That said, the Saints have some work left to do. Luckily, there’s still enough time to get it done before the games start to actually count in the League win-loss standings.
The Saints return to the field next Saturday night for their 3rd preseason game (when all of their starters are expected to see action), in a road contest at MetLife Stadium in New York City against the New York Jets. Kickoff is at 6:30 Central time.
Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium. He is the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius