Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Pro Sports

August 6, 2012

Saints top Cardinals in Hall of Fame Game

CANTON, Ohio — Drew Brees didn’t need much time to finish off a good weekend for the New Orleans Saints.

Brees smoothly led a touchdown drive on his only series Sunday night, and the Saints beat the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 in the Hall of Fame game, officiated by a crew with college experience.

The game was canceled last year for the first time in 45 years, a casualty of the NFL’s lockout of players. Labor issues also came into play in Sunday night’s game — the seven officials were replacements.

The referee announced the result of the coin flip incorrectly — Craig Ochoa said the Saints won the toss and deferred, then caught his mistake and said the Cardinals had won the toss. There were some other communication problems as well on the first-time crew.

The win completed a good visit for the Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32), who needed a few smiles after their rough offseason.

Suspended coach Sean Payton got the league’s permission to attend a dinner for former Saints tackle Willie Roaf and the other five Hall of Fame inductees on Friday night. Payton isn’t allowed to have any contact with the team this season as punishment for the team’s bounty program.

Players got to tour the hall and sat in the back three rows of the stadium for Roaf’s induction on Saturday, wearing black t-shirts with his No. 77. It was a proud moment for a franchise that’s been overshadowed by the bounty scandal all offseason.

Brees was sharp on the opening 10-play drive, completing 4 of 5 passes for 41 yards with one off-target throw. Brees skipped offseason workouts and minicamp because he was unhappy getting the team’s franchise tag. He later agreed to a five-year, $100 million deal.

The Cardinals (No. 23) are using the preseason to pick a quarterback, with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton competing for the starting job. Kolb got to start the game but had a tough time, throwing an interception on his first pass and leaving after bruising his ribs on the third series.

“You never want to have an injury in the preseason, especially an early game like this, having to play that fifth preseason game,” said Skelton, who was 4 of 6 passes for 32 yards. “But he will be OK.”

The Cardinals finished 8-8 last season, Kolb’s first in Arizona. He started nine games and threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions while learning a new offense on the fly because of the lockout. Skelton filled in when Kolb was hurt and went 5-2 as a starter.

After the opening series for each team, the backups got into the game and things got ragged.

The fill-in officials had a few rough moments, too.

Ochoa, who has eight years of experience with BCS leagues and 16 years at Division III, flipped the ceremonial coin and announced that New Orleans had won and deferred. As he started walking away, he caught his mistake.

“Correction,” he said. “Arizona won the coin toss.”

After New Orleans scored on its first possession, several Saints came in to block for the extra point and gestured to the officials to point out that they had reported for the play. Coming out of the 2-minute warning in the first half, Ochoa announced that the previous play was under review, then corrected himself and said it was not.

The officials had trouble spotting the ball after a punt that involved a penalty, repeatedly moving the ball after consultations.

The league has locked out its officials and hired replacements in case the labor dispute extends into the season. They’ve trained them for the last two months. The league used replacement officials for the opening week of the 2001 season before reaching agreement with the union.

Notes: It was the Saints’ fifth appearance in the Hall of Fame game, their first since 2007. The Cardinals made their fourth appearance, their first since 1986. ... Arizona’s Dave Zastudil had a 79-yard punt, a record for the Hall of Fame game. ... Saints rookie Laron Scott had a 67-yard kickoff return. ... Arizona LB Paris Lenon limped off with an ankle injury after the opening series and didn’t return.

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