Well-rested Saints look to get on roll
SAN FRANCISCO – The New Orleans Saints are going from a prime-time season opener to kick off the NFL season to a second straight game in the national spotlight.
Quarterback Drew Brees doesn’t mind all the early season hype surrounding the defending Super Bowl champions. They’ve had plenty of time to prepare for Monday night’s matchup at San Francisco following their Sept. 9 win over the Minnesota Vikings, a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game.
“Every game is a huge game, especially when you’re going from a Thursday night prime-time game to a Monday night prime-time game,” Brees said.
Running back Reggie Bush makes his first appearance for the Saints since giving back his 2005 Heisman Trophy won while with Southern California. The NCAA punished USC after concluding that Bush and his family took money and gifts from sports agents while Bush played for the Trojans.
Bush’s energy is focused on the 49ers.
“They’re going to be tough,” he said. “It’s at their field, home field advantage. The crowd’s going to be behind them and anybody who knows Mike Singletary knows how fierce of a competitor he was.”
The Saints sure would appear to have the upper hand against San Francisco. They’re already clicking. They’ve won the last five matchups with the Niners, who will try to get back on track following a dismal 31-6 season-opening loss at Seattle and a week of questions about their offense. Quarterback Alex Smith had problems getting the plays into his ear on time before the headset cut off with 15 seconds on the clock.
Those issues drew criticism of second-year 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who stood up Thursday and took the blame for what happened while also defending himself and his NFL coaching career stretching more than three decades.
The Niners didn’t score a touchdown against Seattle and couldn’t score in the second half. They made the very penalties and mental errors that cost them so many times on the road last season, when San Francisco dropped six straight away from the Bay Area and five in a row by a combined 19 points.
New Orleans isn’t too concerned with the 49ers’ early season drama.
“I don’t know what’s going on there in that organization, but I know in our organization everything is good,” Saints running back Pierre Thomas said. “We can’t take this team for granted.”
Brees, Bush and the Saints seem far ahead of the 49ers at this stage.
Brees completed 27 of 36 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings, hitting nine different receivers. That could cause problems for San Francisco’s sometimes overly aggressive secondary.
Winning 14-9 against Minnesota, New Orleans scored its fewest points in a victory since coach Sean Payton took over in 2006. That after the Saints began the game with Brees leading a five-play, 77-yard touchdown drive in the opening 2:04.
“He’s very efficient. He pretty much knows where he’s going with the ball,” 49ers cornerback Nate Clements said of Brees.
The Saints are trying to begin 2-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Singletary insisted San Francisco will shut down Brees.
The coach has been on the defensive of late, in a far different way than in his Hall of Fame linebacker days with the Bears that Bush alluded to.
Singletary is trying to get the 49ers back to normal. A quiet training camp ended with team captain Vernon Davis getting into it verbally with second-year receiver Michael Crabtree during a practice leading up to the last preseason game. Singletary had to step between them, then took both players to the locker room for a chat. Neither played at all during the team’s unbeaten exhibition campaign, and it showed in their timing with Smith against the Seahawks.
The ugly performance in Seattle led to more issues. Singletary dismissed a report by Yahoo! this past week criticizing Raye’s playcalling and claiming players approached Singletary with concerns about the offensive coordinator during the offseason.
Singletary was angered by the report and the notion that someone in the building might have gone public.
“To me, that’s a rat, that’s a coward, so those things I can’t spend my time on,” he said. “I don’t want to deal with a rat. I don’t want to spend my time trying to find out who said this, who did that. … In time, the smell will come.”
Singletary said Saturday he was still deciding whether to bring Raye down to the field from the booth so he could give the plays directly to Smith rather than go through middle man and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. Another possibility is Smith wearing a wristband with plays he can go to if the communication problems persist.
Smith believes the issue will be solved by Monday night.
“It’s just a more conscious effort from top to bottom, from the moment the play is called coming all the way through the headsets to me – and that’s getting in the huddle and being efficient in the huddle and breaking and getting to the line of scrimmage,” Smith said. “It’s something that we’ve gotten away with at times in the past, especially last year, you know, just battling it and hurried at the line of scrimmage and we’ve gotten away with it at times. But I think over the long run, it hurts you.”
It hurt the 49ers in Week 1 because they never found the end zone despite plenty of chances.
“We need 7 all the time, we don’t need to keep getting 3,” receiver Josh Morgan said. “That’s basically just executing the plays so we can get 7.”