NEW ORLEANS -- The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Drew Brees gave a timeless performance, with 423 passing yards and four touchdowns, including a 98-yard TD pass to Brandin Cooks in the third quarter that was the longest offensive play in Saints history.
But the Saints' young defense crumbled after a strong start and coughed up a 14-point lead in the second half. The Raiders scored 25 points in the final 19 minutes -- including a gutsy two-point conversion in the final minute, instead of going for the tie.
“We were having trouble stopping anything. On the road, in a game like this, I probably would have done the exact same thing,” admitted Saints coach Sean Payton, who called the loss “obviously disappointing.”
Oakland wisely trusted its offensive momentum against New Orleans’ defense on that bold, game-winning play -- and converted with a fantastic catch by receiver Michael Crabtree on a fade pass, despite tight coverage by undrafted rookie cornerback Ken Crawley.
It didn’t help that the Saints lost their top cornerback, Delvin Breaux, to an unspecified leg injury early in Sunday’s game (updated: the early indication is a broken fibula, per source)-- leaving them with their top three cornerbacks all making their NFL debuts. But the lowest point for the Saints' defense came courtesy of their run defense, which allowed Raiders undrafted rookie running back Jalen Richard to burst for a 75-yard run in the fourth quarter.
It turned into an extremely disappointing season opener for Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who replaced the fired Rob Ryan last November. Allen was fired as the Raiders' head coach two years ago -- before Oakland began its current rise under young stars Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack.
“Look, there’s a point where you have to dig down and get off the field, and we have a chance on that fourth-down play, but we weren’t able to do so,” Payton said of a questionable pass-interference call against Saints LB Craig Robertson late in the game. “And now you’re just hanging in there and we didn’t make enough plays. One thing we do know stats-wise is that we didn’t have any sacks on the quarterback and we weren’t able to create a turnover – and it’s one the things you’re gonna have to be able to do at some point if you want to play good defense.”
But Payton quickly added that while “conventional wisdom would point to the defense,” in a game that plays out like this one did, “I would say that we didn’t score enough offensively.”
Brees agreed, lamenting that there were many times in the game when one more play could have made all the difference – especially when he held onto the ball too long for a sack-fumble on the opening drive that set up a Raiders field goal.
And after all of that, the Saints still had a chance to win in the end, but undrafted rookie kicker Wil Lutz barely missed a 61-yard attempt at a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Lutz, who just signed earlier this week, also missed a 50-yard field goal wide left earlier in the second half – another issue that continues to plague the Saints.