Washington rookie and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III runs and throws, and dazzles in his NFL debut, upsetting the Saints, 40-32 on Sunday.
NEW ORLEANS — Robert Griffin III brought his Heisman Trophy swagger to New Orleans and made his NFL debut look like a Big Easy.
Showing a veteran’s composure by scrambling only when necessary, the dynamic Redskins rookie quarterback tormented New Orleans’ defense with 320 yards passing and two touchdowns, and Washington held on for 40-32 victory over the Saints on Sunday.
“I’ve won a high school state championship and a bowl game in college, but to play in the NFL, the pinnacle of it all, and win your first game against a Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, it’s at the top,” Griffin said while cradling the game ball he had just been given. “After the game, (Brees) told me he was proud of me. That’s big for him to say after he just lost the game.”
New Orleans hoped to open the season with a defiant show of force. in the wake of the bounty scandal that overshadowed its offseason. The Saints also got a boost Friday when a three-member appeals panel reinstated defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jon Vilma, who had been suspended for their roles in the Saints’ alleged pay-for-pain bounty program.
Smith started, while Vilma, deemed unfit to play after offseason knee surgery, received a rousing ovation when he walked onto the field to lead the Saints’ traditional pregame “Who-dat” chant.
Instead of riding that emotional high, the Saints spent much of the game trying to keep up with a Redskins offense powered by youth. Opening with several short, quick throws, Griffin completed his first eight passes. His seventh pass, released just before he was leveled on by blitzing safety Malcolm Jenkins, hit Pierre Garcon in stride over the middle for an 88-yard touchdown, tying the second-longest scoring pass by a quarterback making his NFL debut.
“It’s great for any quarterback to get a couple of easy passes at the beginning of a game so you can get into a rhythm,” Griffin said. “They were giving us those looks and I took advantage of them.”
Griffin finished 19 of 26 with no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also scrambled for 42 yards.
“Robert did an unbelievable job to play the way that he did in his first game in the National Football League,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, marveling at “the poise that he played with and some of the throws that he made.”
Rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Aldrick Robinson, a second-year pro making his NFL regular-season debut, had a 5-yard touchdown catch among four receptions for 52 yards.
Brees quickly dismissed the idea that disruptions from the bounty probe, which resulted in a season-long suspension for coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton, was to blame for New Orleans shaky start.
“Not at all. It’s the NFL. You better bring it every week,” Brees said. “We knew the type of team they were. We knew the type of defense they were. They just came in and played better than we did, made fewer mistakes than we did, made more plays than we did.”
In fact, Brees’ expectations for what remains of the season hardly seemed diminished.
“We lost the first game of year last year and finished 13-3,” Brees said. “So there’s no doubt that we can do it and we have the mentality and the guys to do it.”
The Saints pulled to 40-32 on Darren Sproles’ 2-yard reception. But when Washington required a first down to all but put the game away, Griffin delivered a 22-yard strike to tight end Logan Paulsen.
After that, the Redskins ran the clock down to 22 seconds before the Saints got the ball back. Brees desperation pass was intercepted by Reed Doughty near the Redskins’ goal line as time ran out.
That marked the second interception for Brees, who in 2011 completed a single-season record 71.2 percent of his passes, but managed to hit on only 46 percent (24 of 52) against Washington.
“That makes you angry,” Brees said, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head as he talked about completing less than half of his passes. “We’re better than that and we’re going to be better than that.”
Brees still finished with 339 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 33 yards to Lance Moore and 20 yards to Jimmy Graham. That might have been enough if not for Griffin, the former Baylor star selected second overall in the draft.
The Texas native, whose family is from New Orleans, had been to Saints games in the dome before and seemed unfazed by the noise.
In the second quarter, he danced out of the pocket to avoid pass rushers before rifling a pass across the field to tight end Fred Davis for a 26-yard gain. He punctuated another scramble with a 27-yard pass to Santana Moss, setting up Billy Cundiff’s second field goal, which made it 20-7.
Griffin finished the first half with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first time a rookie had done so with 10 or more attempts.
Still, the Saints got back within one touchdown before halftime.
Marques Colston fumbled a reception inside the Redskins 5 and the ball squirted out of the end zone for a touchback. But Martez Wilson blocked Sav Rocca’s punt and Courtney Roby scooped up the ball for a touchdown to make it 20-14.
Washington responded, aided by a pass interference call against safety Roman Harper on a long pass into the end zone. The Saints vigorously disputed the call with the replacement officials, but to no avail.
Morris scored easily from the 1.
The Saints might not have been pleased with the officials, but it was mostly their own mistakes that cost them — penalized 12 times for 107 yards.
“Today the difference was penalties,” said Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer. “It was third-and-long way too many times.”
NOTES: The Saints started the game thin in the secondary when Jabari Greer (groin) was a pregame scratch. It got worse when Johnny Patrick hurt his right leg breaking up a pass in the second quarter. … WR Devery Henderson left the game in the second half after taking a shot to the head. … Saints LB Scott Shanle left the game with an unspecified leg injury. … Garcon went out with a right foot injury. … Redskins S Jordan Bernstine hurt his right knee on kick coverage. … Washington’s 40 points were its most since Shanahan took over in 2010.
Bears 41, Colts 21: Jay Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and Michael Bush added a pair of scoring runs to spoil quarterback Andrew Luck’s debut. as the Bears beat the Colts.
Brandon Marshall had nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his first game since being reunited with Cutler, and Matt Forte ran for 80 yards and a score.
Luck finished his first NFL game 23 of 45 for 309 yards with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Donnie Avery early in the fourth quarter. He also was intercepted three times — twice by Tim Jennings — in an up-and-down effort as he steps in for the departed Peyton Manning.
Reggie Wayne caught nine passes for 135 yards. But it was a familiar result for a team with new management and a new coach in Chuck Pagano.
Eagles 17, Browns 16: Michael Vick overcame four interceptions by throwing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Clay Harbor with 1:18 left in the nerve-racking win.
Vick led the Eagles on a 91-yard scoring drive, capping it with his short toss to Harbor on his career-high 56th pass. Before Vick rallied his team, he played poorly and showed rustiness after playing just 12 snaps during preseason because of injuries.
Vick went 29 of 56 for 317 yards and two TDs.
Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden threw four interceptions, the last to Kurt Coleman with 1:05 remaining.
Vikings 26, Jaguars 23, OT: Rookie Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation time expired and another one in overtime, and Adrian Peterson returned from a left knee injury to lift the Vikings.
Peterson ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns for the Vikings, who led for most of the second half until Blaine Gabbert’s 39-yard touchdown heave with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter put the Jaguars back in front.
For the first time since the NFL’s new overtime scoring rule was installed last season, the first team on the board didn’t immediately run off the field a winner.
Lions 27, Rams 23: Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds left.
Stafford made up for a shaky game by leading an 80-yard, nine-play, game-winning possession that included three passes of at least 18 yards.
Sam Bradford directed a go-ahead drive that set up Greg Zuerlein’s 46-yard field goal and put the Rams ahead 23-20 with 1:55 left. Stafford had three interceptions before halftime for the first time in his four seasons.
g Jets 48, Bills 28: Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, including two to rookie Stephen Hill, and the Jets eased concerns about their offense.
The Jets sprinkled in their wildcat package with Tim Tebow, who was mostly quiet but recovered a late onside kick by Buffalo, and Jeremy Kerley had a touchdown catch and a punt return for a score. Antonio Cromartie also took one of New York’s three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the end zone.
It was the most points the Jets have scored in a season opener. Texans 30, Dolphins 10: Arian Foster had two touchdown runs, Matt Schaub threw a TD pass to Andre Johnson, and Houston’s defense dominated rookie Ryan Tannehill and Miami.
Tannehill threw three interceptions in a 6-minute stretch late in the first half.
Schaub threw for 266 yards in his first action since fracturing his right foot in Week 10 last year, and Johnson finished with 119 yards receiving.
Patriots 34, Titans 13: Tom Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and the defending AFC champions won easily.
Brady may have suffered a broken nose when he was sacked in the second quarter by Kamerion Wimbley, but he didn’t miss a play.
The Patriots ruined Jake Locker’s debut as Tennessee’s starter, sacking him twice and forcing two turnovers. Rookie Dont’a Hightower returned Locker’s fumble 6 yards for a TD in his own debut, and Stevan Ridley ran for 125 yards and a TD.
Also, Locker came out of the game after hurting his left shoulder when tackling safety Patrick Chung on a fumble return.
He was replaced by Matt Hasselbeck.
Broncos 31, Steelers 19: Peyton Manning made a successful NFL return from a year’s sabbatical, leading the Broncos past the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 in his Denver debut Sunday night.
The four-time MVP coming off four neck surgeries completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
He got a big assist from another free agent, cornerback Tracy Porter, whose 43-yard interception return of Ben Roethlisberger’s pass with 2 minutes left sealed the win.
Manning, jettisoned by the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing all of last season with a nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm, took just two snaps in the third quarter. But one was a 71-yard touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas, Manning’s first as a Bronco and the 400th of his career.
Manning reached the milestone in his 208th career game. Dan Marino did it in his 227th game and Brett Favre in his 228th.
Manning spent much of his night on the sideline as Roethlisberger led a clock-chewing offense that had the ball for 10 minutes longer than Denver did. At one point, Roethlisberger had taken 30 snaps to Manning’s one — a kneel-down — during two monstrous drives that spanned halftime.
“Roethlisberger was awesome on third down,” Manning said of Pittsburgh’s 11-of-19 conversion rate. “Wasn’t much fun sitting on the bench there all night. Great job by our defense in the end, getting that turnover.”
When he was between the lines, Manning was masterful.
He led Denver on three straight 80-yard touchdown drives and had the Broncos at the Steelers 8 when his next drive stalled and they settled for Matt Prater’s short field goal and a 25-19 lead with 3 minutes left.
Porter stepped in front of Emmanuel Sanders and returned an interception 43 yards for the score a minute later, and Roethlisberger was sacked three times on his last possession after going down just twice all night.
Coach John Fox called Porter’s pick “the biggest play of the game.”
The Steelers converted some very long third downs as Denver’s defense grew fatigued.
Manning was sacked twice and both times bounced right up with no issues.