CARSON, Calif. (AP) — After a valuable week of joint practices with the Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton felt comfortable extending that open approach to their preseason game by calling everything from a fake punt to multiple 2-point conversions.
Alvin Kamara ran for a 2-yard touchdown, and the Saints capped a productive visit to Southern California with a 36-7 preseason win over the Chargers on Saturday night.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was 7 of 9 for 59 yards with an interception in three series, while Philip Rivers was 5 of 7 for 29 yards in a brief tuneup appearance for the Chargers.
This was the second consecutive year the Chargers hosted the Saints in a preseason game at StubHub Center following practices between the teams in Orange County. While the workouts came later in training camp than usual, the Saints built off two productive days with a strong performance in the traditional dress rehearsal for the regular season.
“It benefits both of us and I think both teams understand that,” Payton said. “The relationship between the staffs is good, and you see it in the type of work we got. It’s something that benefits both teams, so hopefully it’s something we can continue to do.”
Third-string quarterback and special teams contributor Taysom Hill became the embodiment of Payton’s willingness to experiment, giving New Orleans its initial first-down late in the first quarter by running a direct snap on a fake punt around the left side. That helped set up Kamara’s short touchdown plunge seven plays later.
The Saints took an 8-7 lead on a 2-point pass from Brees to Michael Thomas, one of four 2-point attempts called by Payton and the last throw Brees would make before giving way to Tom Savage.
Hill did it all for New Orleans, completing 7 of 8 passes for 66 yards with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith in the fourth quarter. Hill also rushed for 35 yards and a touchdown scramble, adding a 2-point conversion on a keeper, and had one tackle on special teams.
“Imagine the load that’s on you as a quarterback, and then couple that with being a four core special-teams guy,” Brees said. “There’s a lot on that guy’s plate, and he has handled it as well as anybody can handle it.”
Wil Lutz kicked field goals of 25 and 35 yards in the final two minutes of the first half, and cornerback Marcus Williams added a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, which came seven plays after a pass interference penalty against Williams negated a ricochet TD return by linebacker Craig Robertson.
But the start of the game belonged to the Chargers, with first-round draft pick Derwin James intercepting a pass from Brees on the first possession of the game. James, the safety from Florida State, picked off a third-down throw by Brees that he admitted forcing into double coverage with Desmond King defending Ted Ginn Jr.
The ensuing possession did not end in points, but Los Angeles fared better on its second possession, with rookie Detrez Newsome scoring on a 5-yard run off left tackle. That marked the end of game action for Rivers, replaced by Cardale Jones early in the second quarter.
“The second half, that’s a different story,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I thought our reserves, I thought we got outplayed. We couldn’t run on third downs. We couldn’t stop them on third downs. We’ve got a lot of work to do right there.”
Saints first-round draft pick Marcus Davenport had three tackles in his first preseason action, getting credit for a half-sack as one of four New Orleans defenders to drop Jones late in the second quarter. The defensive end from UTSA missed three weeks of training camp because of an unspecified injury and also had surgery on his thumb in June.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler finished with 50 yards rushing on six carries and added three receptions for 13 yards. With starter Melvin Gordon not with the team because of a family matter, Ekeler ripped off runs of 21 and 12 yards to his first two carries to get the Chargers moving on a drive that ended at the Saints 4.
“He’s arguably the strongest guy, pound for pound, on our team,” Rivers said. “So he’s definitely a between-the-tackles guy, and he and Melvin really complement each other well.”
There were no apparent protests during the national anthem.
Saints: DE Trey Hendrickson was able to return after hobbling to the sideline early in the first quarter. A second-year player from Florida Atlantic, Hendrickson has been a pleasant surprise in training camp as the Saints look to bolster their pass rush.
Chargers: DE Joey Bosa (foot) did not play, but went through a series of agility drills prior to the game. Lynn said Bosa, who has not practiced since sustaining the injury to his left foot on Aug. 7, would have been available if it was the regular season. . Jones was removed from the game earlier than planned because of a minor groin strain. Lynn said Jones, who was 1 of 3 for 13 yards as he competes with Geno Smith to back up Rivers, will play in the preseason finale.
Saints: Finish the preseason at home against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday.
Chargers: Finish the preseason at the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday.