The 2023-24 NFL season kicked off for the New Orleans Saints with a home opener against the Tennessee Titans. All of the preseason optimism and hype behind the Saints acquisition of veteran, 4x Pro Bowler QB Derek Carr was set to take center stage for the first time that it would truly count for something. Dennis Allen’s second act as Head Coach in the Crescent City, which was sure to be a highly magnified one, had officially begun as well. Coming in with the second weakest strength of schedule, Who Dat Nation had strong expectations for a team it felt had underplayed to the depth of their talent the previous season.
If the opening kickoff was any indication of things to come, we should have braced ourselves for quite the roller coaster ride this past season. Now All-Pro return man, Rasheed Shaheed took the kick toward the left sideline and was stripped of the football before going out of bounds, with Tennessee recovering it within the field of play. The Defense was able to adjust on the quick change and hold the Titans to only a field goal off the turnover, making it an early 3-0 deficit. On the Saints first actual offensive possession of the year, Derek Carr went 4 of 7 leading the offense down inside the Titans 10-yard line before stalling and allowing Rookie kicker Blake Grupe to tie the game at 3 apiece with a 26-yard FG himself. The teams would trade a couple more field goals with the Saints going deep into Tennessee territory before Carr was picked off at the 13, sending it to halftime with the Titans up 9-6.
In second half action, both defenses maintained their stingy play as the teams continued their “Battle of the Uprights” at Caesars Superdome. Dennis Allen’s defense was able to pick off Ryan Tannehill 3 times, while Coach Mike Vrabel’s defense was able to keep consistent pressure on Derek Carr, sacking him 4 times. The game was knotted up at 9-9 before WR Rasheed Shaheed caught a touchdown with 1:23 remaining in the 3rd quarter, marking not only the Saints first TD of the game and year, but also Carr’s first as the Saints QB. That score would provide the lone touchdown and prove pivotal in this NFC/ AFC clash.
The fourth and final quarter provided much of the same narrative as the first 3 chapters had for the Titans and Saints, with defense ruling the day. Though the Tennessee offense was able to add 2 more field goals, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the “bend but don’t break” performance by the New Orleans Saints defense. Derek Carr was able to connect again with Shaheed on a critical 3rd & 6 for a 41-yard throw and catch to put the game away. Who Dats would come away with the narrow “W” in the home opener 16-15 over the Titans with Carr throwing for over 300 yards and defensively holding Tannehill to a 9.8 QBR.
After going back and watching this one in its entirety for the third time, many of the issues that hindered the Saints for a great portion of the season started in Week 1. From lackluster pass protection to “vanilla” play calling, down to red zone execution, these would all become plaguing components of what would eventually become a 9-8 team. On the contrary, there were also some positive takeaways with good performances by DE Carl Granderson, LB Demario Davis and WR’s Chris Olave and Rasheed Shaheed. Despite the imperfections, New Orleans would now take their 1-0 record on the road against the division rival Carolina Panthers.