EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—To the New Orleans Saints, Monday night’s bizarre “home” opener was unfair from the outset. And they played like they didn’t want to be there in losing 27-10 to the New York Giants.
“They made this seem like the Super Bowl,” quarterback Aaron Brooks said of the NFL and the hoopla after New Orleans had six turnovers and 13 penalties. “We played a team that outplayed us today, but it was way overdone. Setting up a stage, traveling out here, was uncalled for.
“Try not to patronize us next time, traveling us to New York, saying we’re playing a home game.”
Added coach Jim Haslett: “We were in the visiting locker room, on the visiting field. It seemed like an away game.”
The Giants, visitors in name and jersey color only, had no complaints. Playing before 68,031 of their fans, they took advantage of New Orleans’ sloppiness from the first play, a fumbled kickoff. Tiki Barber scored two touchdowns and the defense had four sacks.
“It was supposedly their home game, but we just played like it was our home game,” said Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had two sacks.
NFL nomads after the damage to the Superdome and New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints were given a home game here by the league. Historically more successful on the road under Haslett (25-17 going in), they couldn’t overcome critical mistakes in falling to 1-1.
Efforts to make this resemble something akin to home appeared minimal at Giants Stadium, where—surprisingly, considering the local team’s popularity— about 10,000 seats went unoccupied. Those in attendance generally were dressed in Giants blue and, except for mild applause when the entire Saints squad came onto the field before the coin toss, they rooted for their guys.
One end zone had SAINTS painted in white and a few Saints banners were scattered along the blue bunting on the lower level. Other than a www.saintshurricanefund.org sign on the message board, everything about the night said New Jersey, not New Orleans.
“It could go on and on like this, we have to take this one week at a time,” Brooks said. “At some point, it is going to wear down on us. We’ve got to be strong enough and mature enough to handle this situation and accept the responsibilities given to us.”
While they could be excused if their minds were elsewhere, Saints players have insisted that on game day, nothing distracts them from football. It looked that way in last week’s upset of Carolina. It looked decidedly different Monday night.
“I think the guys have gone a great job of focusing on football in practices and meetings,” Haslett said. “It did not reflect that today. It didn’t carry over.”
In the first half alone, the Saints committed 11 penalties for 72 yards, including an illegal contact by Sedrick Hodge that negated a third-down sack and set up the Giants’ third touchdown.
“We’ve been in four complexes in four weeks, I’ve been in three hotels, now an apartment,” Haslett noted. “But that (performance) had nothing to do with where we live or what we do. We sucked on that field today.”
At least the Saints’ other seven home games will be played closer to home: four in Baton Rouge, La., and three in San Antonio, where they train. For this one, they had to dress in the cramped visitors’ locker room, with a makeshift Saints sign hung above the entrance.
The Giants (2-0) benefited in every way from the NFL’s decision, beginning with the opening kickoff. Some Saints trickery immediately backfired. Michael Lewis handed off the return to Fred McAfee, who fumbled at the 10, with Chase Blackburn recovering. Three plays later, to tumultuous cheers for the “visitors,” rookie Brandon Jacobs squeezed into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Hardly the start the Saints needed, and it didn’t get much better. The Giants took a 14-0 lead on Barber’s 6-yard reception.
But the Saints are nothing if not resilient, and they came back with an 86-yard drive that was almost all Joe Horn. He had two catches of 15 yards, then a 21-yard touchdown reception. It was Horn whose cell phone antics in a game against the Giants two years ago drew him a measure of fame—and a $30,000 fine.
“They didn’t just beat our butts and drag us all over the field,” Horn said. “We gave them the ball and they capitalized.”
Hodge’s penalty three plays after Carlos Emmons’ interception led to Barber’s 12-yard run for a 21-7 New York lead. While the Saints got closer on John Carney’s 21-yard field goal near the end of the half, their miscues continued in the second half.
Carney, who kicked the winning field goal last week at Carolina, even missed a 29-yarder, hitting the left upright. Feely then made a 30-yarder for New York.
When Horn fumbled as he was stretching for the end zone with 3:40 to go, most of the fans headed home, quite happy to see the visitors’ victory.
“That’s one of the loudest I’ve heard the stadium in a long time, and it wasn’t even full,” Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey said. “As players, we hear that and it really helps us out.”
Notes: Saints kick returner Michael Lewis injured a knee in the fourth quarter and Haslett said it appeared to be serious. … The Saints had a five-game winning streak, dating back to last season, snapped. … New York’s Plaxico Burress and Shockey each had five receptions for 64 yards.Barber rushed for 83 yards. … Horn made nine catches for 143 yards, while Stallworth had eight for 17.6. Saints RB Deuce McAllister set a team record for yards rushing in a career with 4,305, beating George Rogers’ mark of 4,258.