Motivated Saints eagerly await Redskins, Griffin

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Long before the bounty scandal overshadowed the Saints' offseason and Hurricane Isaac pushed flood waters across south Louisiana, Drew Brees wrote a memoir which dealt with "unleashing the hidden power of adversity."

If that is indeed an art that Brees has mastered, he should be feeling particularly empowered heading into New Orleans' regular-season opener Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

"It's been a tumultuous offseason. It's been a lot of struggles, a lot of adversity, but if there's one thing I know about with this community is that there's nothing that can keep us down. We find a way to overcome and to fight back," Brees said this week. "We find ways to lean on each other and help each other out, and I think we've developed this mindset around here as a community, as a team and as a city, that we will overcome, we will be successful and we will do it together."

In other words, Brees and the Saints intend to bring an ever-defiant swagger inside the Superdome, which they expect to be energized by their fans and excruciatingly loud - particularly when Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is trying to make calls at the line of scrimmage.

"We're looking for the fans to be motivated by the things that have happened in the offseason," Saints interim head coach Aaron Kromer said. "We hope that motivates our fans to be even more raucous than they normally are. We can't wait." The Saints were unbeaten at home last season: 9-0, including their playoff victory over Detroit. T

hey're favored again this week, by a touchdown, in spite of unprecedented bounty sanctions which have affected New Orleans' roster, coaching staff and front office. Head coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jon Vilma are suspended the entire season.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended six games, after which he will resume the interim head coaching role he had during the preseason.

Starting defensive end Will Smith is suspended four games, while general manager Mickey Loomis is out for the first half of the regular season. Yet the Saints still have plenty of experience on their coaching staff and plenty of talent left on the roster.

That includes all the leading figures from an offense that set NFL records, including total yards on offense yards (7,474), yards passing by a team (5,505) and yards passing by a quarterback (Brees' 5,476).

The Saints also sought to fill the void left by Vilma's suspension with Curtis Lofton, a starter in his first four NFL seasons who registered a career-high 167 tackles in Atlanta in 2011. Meanwhile, at defensive end, the Saints hope 2011 first-round pick Cam Jordan is ready to emerge as a leader, and that Turk McBride, Junior Galette and converted linebacker Martez Wilson can help compensate for Smith's absence.

Washington coach Mike Shanahan isn't dealing with any scandals, but he is trying to turn around a team that went 5-11 last season. So opening in New Orleans against a Saints squad gunning for a fourth straight playoff appearance might not be quite as appetizing as barbecue shrimp at a French Quarter bistro.

"There's pressure on everybody. You've got pressure on your defense with an offense that put up numbers last year that's never been seen," Shanahan said. "What a great challenge for us, going to New Orleans and playing an excellent football team that's pretty well balanced. ... It is tough, going into that type of environment. I picture that we won't be able to hear anything." That will present an additional challenge for Griffin, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.

The environment won't be entirely foreign to him, though. His parents grew up in the Big Easy.

"I know what it's like to be a fan of the Saints and the atmosphere that it will be like once we step into that stadium," Griffin said. "My whole family lives in that city. ... Before I got drafted, they were Saints fans. We'll see who they're fans of when I get there."

The bigger question is how Griffin's style of play will translate in the NFL. He can scramble well, but sees himself as more of a passing quarterback who happens to be able to run when needed. "I'm beyond the days of trying to argue whether I'm a running quarterback or not," Griffin said. "The thing you have to do is go prove it on the field. Last time I checked, I've thrown for a lot more yards than I've run for."

Shanahan describes Griffin as a quarterback with exceptional talent and a strong work ethic, but added that every young quarterback needs help.

"If you are going to have a quarterback that is successful early, especially in his first year, if you go through history ... they have a great running offense and they have a great defense," Shanahan said. "You can't put all of the pressure on the quarterback, not in his first year." Shanahan is hoping second-year running backs Roy Helu and Evan Royster will take pressure off Griffin after showing promise last season.

But Washington's defense suffered a blow this week when safety Brandon Meriweather went out with a left knee injury.

That will only make things tougher for a defense trying to stop Brees from throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham, receivers Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson, or even speedy running back Darren Sproles, whose 86 receptions last season ranked second on the squad.

If Washington can somehow slow down that offense, it'll have a chance to buck the trend of visiting teams looking like sacrificial lambs in the Superdome when the Saints are trying to lift spirits. As Brees noted, the Saints won the first games played in New Orleans after hurricanes Katrina in 2006 and Gustav in 2008.

Now comes another on the heels of Isaac. "We've been in this situation before," Brees said. "It's quite emotional and obviously a lot of people are still recovering and struggling, with us as a team recognizing what it means to them for us to be out there and our motivation to play for them."