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Saints settle for field goals in 31-19 loss to Cardinals

September 14, 2015

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — New Orleans’ new-look defense still needs a little work. The Saints’ offense just needs to score touchdowns.

Drew Brees threw for 355 yards and a touchdown, but New Orleans had four drives end with field goals by Zack Hocker in a season-opening 31-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

“We played the game the way we wanted to and once we got into the third quarter I felt like offensively we didn’t take advantage of some opportunities we had,” Brees said.

Coming off a disappointing 7-9 season, the Saints entered this season with an NFL-most 11 rookies on their 53-man roster. A year after having one of the NFL’s worst defenses, New Orleans revamped that group, adding 16 new players.

But the Saints were short-handed for the opener. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was out after having hip surgery and safety Jairus Byrd, who is still bothered by a surgically-repaired knee.

And the Cardinals had no trouble picking them apart on their first drive.

Carson Palmer appeared agile — for a 35-year-old quarterback — on his first drive since ACL surgery a year ago, scrambling to buy time before finding John Brown in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.

On Arizona’s next scoring drive, the Saints allowed Cardinals tight end Darren Fells to rumble 48 yards on a catch-and-run, then had three penalties on the same play to set up Arizona’s next score. Delvin Breaux, who spent the past two seasons in the Canadian Football League, had two of those: illegal contact and a pass interference in the end zone that set the Cardinals up at the 1. Andre Ellington punched it in on the next play to put Arizona up 14-3.

“We had seven penalties tonight,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “A handful of those were costly.”

New Orleans’ defense held its ground for most of the second half to keep the game close before the giving up a backbreaking play.

With less than 2 minutes left, the Saints punted from their own end, hoping to get the ball back for one final drive. Instead, they allowed David Johnson to catch a pass out of the backfield and race 55 yards up the sideline for a touchdown.

“In Coach Arians’ car there’s no cruise control,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

New Orleans’ offense appeared to be in good shape under the guidance of 36-year-old Brees in the first half.

The Saints marched for a 37-yard field goal by Hocker on their first drive and Brees led them on an 80-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, capped by his 12-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman that cut Arizona’s lead to 14-10.

Brees completed a 63-yard pass to Willie Snead on the first play of the second half, but the Saints stalled at the 5 and had to settle for Hocker’s 23-yard field goal.

That trend continued.

New Orleans had two more drives into Arizona’s side of the field in the second half and those resulted in two more field goals, from 45 and 33 yards.

“We have to be better when we get in that area of the field and come away with a touchdown,” Payton said.

Notes: Ellington was taken to the locker room on a cart after suffering a right knee injury in the fourth quarter. Arians said the third-year running back felt good after the game, but would undergo more tests. ... Saints safety Rafael Bush, who had started in place of Byrd, left with a chest injury in the third quarter. ... Fitzgerald has a catch in 164 straight games, the NFL’s longest active streak.

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