Brees, Leinart sharp in preseason opener
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)—Robert Meachem finally looked like the first-round draft pick he is, even if it was a preseason game.
The second-year wide receiver, inactive for all 16 games last season, caught four passes for 129 yards and a touchdown Thursday night as the New Orleans Saints opened their preseason with a 24-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
“A lot of the people don’t think preseason games mean a lot,” he said, “but to people like me who didn’t play the whole year, that game meant a whole lot.”
Meachem was the 27th overall pick out of Tennessee last season.
“He’s worked extremely hard,” New Oreans coach Sean Payton said. “There’s parts of his game he’s still improving on, but it was good to see him play with some confidence. All of a sudden you get in this environment, and you get to see guys step up a little bit, and I was pleased that he did.”
Brees was 6-for-7 for 40 yards and a touchdown.
“The thing you want to do especially in that first drive of the first preseason game is to look sharp,” Brees said. “You want to create good tempo, you want to be balanced mixing up the run and pass, be efficient, eliminate the negative plays, no stupid penalties—and I think we did all those things.”
Saints backup Mark Brunell was equally effective, completing 10 of 12 for 119 yards.
“At the end of the day, the three different offenses scored 24 points,” Brunell said. “For a preseason opener, I don’t think that’s too bad.”
Leinart, the third-year Arizona quarterback who missed the final 11 games last season due to a broken collarbone, completed eight of nine passes for 91 yards in the first two series of the game.
Leinart said his offseason work paid off.
“I felt comfortable,” he said. “When you’re comfortable and you know what you’re doing, the game slows down a little bit.”
Second-year Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt liked what he saw from his young quarterback.
“He was accurate, in control,” Whisenhunt said. “He looked smooth in the pocket and his footwork was good. I was impressed with his overall play.”
Nine Saints regulars didn’t make the trip because of various minor injuries. Among them were starting tight end Jeremy Shockey and starting wide receivers Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. Running back Deuce McAllister also stayed home.
Still, New Orleans took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 13 plays. Brees lofted a 7-yard toss over the middle to David Patten for the score.
The Cardinals, the most penalized team in the NFL last season with 137, committed three on the drive, including a 15-yard face mask infraction by Darnell Dockett on the first play from scrimmage. Overall, Arizona was penalized eight times for 70 yards.
Arizona tied it 7-7 on its second possession. Leinart connected with speedy second-year receiver-kick returner Steve Breaston for 34 yards on the final play of the first quarter.
That helped set up a 1-yard scoring run by rookie Tim Hightower.
Whisenhunt chose not to play Kurt Warner, the former NFL and Super Bowl MVP who threw for 3,417 yards and 27 touchdowns for the Cardinals last season. Instead, he went with third-stringer Brian St. Pierre.
Whisenhunt said he didn’t want Warner to be restricted to just a few plays behind the starting offensive line.
Brunell had one of the most impressive plays of the night, a 49-yard pass into the arms of a diving Meachem at the Arizona 3 late in the second half.
New Orleans reserves outscored their Cardinals counterparts 17-0 in the second half. Arizona missed three tackles in a 60-yard touchdown pass play from Tyler Palko to Meachem.
Whisenhunt said he saw positives despite the loss, especially in the play of some of his draft picks. He singled out Hightower, who had 23 yards on five carries.
The Cardinals were without wide receivers Anquan Boldin and rookie Early Doucet because of hamstring injuries. … Breaston is contending for the third receiver slot behind Larry Fitzgerald and Boldin. … The Saints’ Mark Campbell was helped from the field after a hard hit from Arizona first-round pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie following a 16-yard catch in the third quarter. … Arizona is 0-5 in the preseason under Whisenhunt.