For the better part of three hours, an attacking, opportunistic New Orleans Saints defense was the only thing worth watching in the Superdome during Sunday’s season opener against the Tennessee Titans.
They mauled a beleaguered Titans offensive line and choked the rushing lanes for superstar running back Derrick Henry. They battered quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sacking him three times and hitting him 10 times. When the Titans quarterback did get the ball away, the Saints were ready to pounce, picking him off three times.
For all the good they did defensively, the Saints looked poised to spoil their own defensive effort with a lackluster showing on offense — until they finally broke through late in the third quarter.
After Paulson Adebo picked off Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Saints territory, Derek Carr followed by finding Rashid Shaheed for a 19-yard scoring strike that gave the Saints a 16-9 lead they would not relinquish — though they came close.
New Orleans showed in its first game of the season that it is capable of winning ugly, beating the visiting Titans 16-15 to move to 1-0 on the season.
To effectively clinch the win, Carr hit Shaheed with a beautiful 41-yard bomb down the sideline on third and 6. An incomplete pass would’ve given the Titans the ball back with nearly two minutes to go.
Carr’s debut as the Saints quarterback often left plenty to be desired. He completed 23 of his 33 attempts for 3-6 yards with the touchdown to Shaheed and one interception. Carr also did not get much help from his supporting cast.
New Orleans found next to nothing on the ground against a Tennessee defense that led the NFL in rushing last season. Another offseason acquisition, Jamaal Williams, led the Saints with 45 yards on 18 carries, and as a team the Saints managed just 69 yards rushing.
With the Saints forced to be one-dimensional, the Titans teed off on the Saints offensive line, and specifically, left tackle Trevor Penning.
The lasting image from the first half featured Carr pulling himself up from the turf and tossing the football in disgust after yet another drive-killing sack.
Tennessee dropped Carr four times in the first 30 minutes, and even when it wasn’t getting home to finish off a play, it was speeding things up for the veteran quarterback. The result was an often disjointed offense that never established its rhythm.
But the defense had their back from the beginning.
The Saints were in a vulnerable position at the outset. Shaheed fumbled the opening kickoff, allowing Tennessee to run its first offensive play from the Saints’ 24-yard line.
But they never broke. Tennessee pushed the ball into New Orleans territory six times and all they had to show for their effort was five field goals.
Adebo, Marshon Lattimore, and Marcus Maye all hauled in interceptions — notable on any day, but especially for a team that needed 13 games to record its third interception a year ago. As a defense, New Orleans was credited with 11 passes defended.