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3 things we learned about the Saints

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — If there were any doubts about Carson Palmer as he returns from the second torn anterior cruciate ligament of his NFL career, he put them to rest Sunday.

The Arizona quarterback enjoyed a three-touchdown, 307-yard passing performance during the Cardinals’ 31-19 season-opening victory over the New Orleans Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium, picking right up where he left off.

After throwing touchdown passes of 10 and 17 yards to wide receiver John Brown and tight end Darren Fells, Palmer helped seal the win when rookie running back David Johnson took his screen pass and raced 55 yards for a touchdown with 1:33 remaining to pad the Cardinals’ lead.

“I hadn’t seen it (Johnson’s speed) since the (organized team activities),” Palmer said. “I was screaming at him not to go out of bounds. It looked like he was headed out of bounds, then he kind of just hit the rocket booster button and exploded down the sidelines. It’s good to see a young guy get in and make plays like that.”

In addition to Palmer helping lead an offense that totaled 427 yards, he was 19 of 32 without an interception, and he wasn’t sacked once. Palmer, 35, showed smooth agility when he left the pocket and even gained 14 yards on three carries.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, meanwhile, was 30 of 48 for 355 yards with one touchdown and one interception. As good as he was, however, the 36-year-old couldn’t help New Orleans finish enough drives, as the Saints had to settle for four field goals from Zach Hocker.

“They do some unique things on defense,” Saints receiver Marques Colston said, “but we have to be able to get six on some of our drives. … You always look to convert touchdowns in the end zone, and it didn’t work in our favor today.”

The Cardinals lost starting running back Andre Ellington in the fourth quarter with what coach Bruce Arians thinks is a right posterior cruciate ligament injury.

What we learned about the Saints:

1. Not having a star tight end like Jimmy Graham won’t slow the Saints’ offense down a lick. Quarterback Drew Brees shredded a very good Arizona secondary by utilizing an array of screens, and a handful of them went for big chunk plays. “We felt like we couldn’t sit back there and allow that pass rush to rush five and pressure the QB,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We needed something to counter that a bit.”

2. At the end of the day, the quarterback always has his coach’s back. Drew Brees said he initially wanted the Saints to go for it on fourth-and-6 from their own yard line late in the game. But given the situation and the two timeouts New Orleans still had, he agreed it made the most sense to punt the ball away and take your chances with your defense. “If we miss that,” Brees said, “pretty much the game is over. It was one of those tough ones. There was certainly a big part of me that wanted to go for it. We both agreed at the end of the day to punt.”

3. Once again, the concerning questions will be about the Saints’ defense, which allowed 427 yards and too many big plays. But according to cornerback Damian Swann, it’s no time to panic. He said the defense will sort itself out in time for next week’s game against Tampa Bay. “Once (the Cardinals) got off their script and starting their stuff we felt more comfortable with what we were doing,” he said. “… We have to move on from it, get it corrected, and get ready for next Sunday.”

Etc.:

–WR Marques Colston couldn’t hold onto a pass in the third quarter, and it deflected off his fingers and into the hands of Cardinals S Rashad Johnson for an interception. “It was huge,” Colston said. “It was a time when momentum was starting to shift and we had a chance to take the lead with that drive.”

–K Zach Hocker was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts from 37, 23, 45 and 33 yards, apparently proving the team made the right decision to choose him as its kicker over Dustin Hopkins. “Once that first one was in I just felt confident the rest of the night,” Hocker said.

–Cornerback Delvin Breaux was flagged multiple times for holding and interference, including twice on one play in which New Orleans was flagged three times overall. “You just have to learn to move on to the next play,” he said.


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