Robert Griffin III brought his Heisman Trophy swagger to New Orleans and made his NFL debut look like a Big Easy.
Showing a veteran's composure by scrambling only when necessary, the dynamic Redskins rookie quarterback tormented New Orleans defense with 320 yards passing and two touchdowns, and Washington held on for 40-32 victory against the Saints on Sunday.
"I've won a high school state championship and a bowl game in college, but to play in the NFL, the pinnacle of it all, and win your first game against a Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, it's at the top," Griffin said while cradling the game ball he had just been given.
New Orleans hoped to open the season with a defiant show of force in the wake of the bounty scandal that overshadowed its offseason. The Saints also got a boost Friday when a three-member appeals panel reinstated defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jon Vilma, who had been suspended for their roles in the Saints' alleged pay-for-pain bounty program.
Smith started, while Vilma, deemed unfit to play after offseason knee surgery, received a rousing ovation when he walked onto the field to lead the Saints' pregame "Who-dat" chant.
Instead of riding that emotional high, the Saints spent much of the game trying to keep up with a Redskins offense powered by youth. Opening with several short, quick throws, Griffin completed his first eight passes.
His seventh pass, released just before he was leveled by blitzing safety Malcolm Jenkins, hit Pierre Garcon in stride over the middle for an 88-yard touchdown, tying the second-longest scoring pass by a quarterback making his NFL debut.
"It's great for any quarterback to get a couple of easy passes at the beginning of a game so you can get into a rhythm," Griffin said. Griffin finished 19 of 26 with no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also scrambled for 42 yards.
"Robert did an unbelievable job to play the way that he did in his first game in the National Football League," said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, marveling at "the poise that he played with and some of the throws that he made."
Brees quickly dismissed the idea that disruptions from the bounty probe, which resulted in a season-long suspension for coach and offensive mastermind Sean Payton, was to blame for New Orleans shaky start.
"Not at all. It's the NFL. You better bring it every week," Brees said. "They just came in and played better than we did, made fewer mistakes than we did, made more plays than we did."
• Jets 48, Bills 28: With a whole lot of Mark Sanchez, a sprinkling of Tim Tebow and a dominant first-half effort by the defense, New York manhandled its AFC East rivals from Buffalo. Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, including two to rookie Stephen Hill. Antonio Cromartie took one of New York's three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick to the end zone.
• Patriots 34, Titans 13: Tom Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and defending AFC champion New England routed Tennessee in Nashville for its ninth consecutive season-opening win. It's the longest current streak in the league.
• Bears 41, Colts 21: Jay Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and Brandon Marshall added 119 yards receiving with a touchdown as Chicago spoiled Andrew Luck's debut by beating visiting Indianapolis. Matt Forte ran for 80 yards and a touchdown for the Bears.
• Texans 30, Dolphins 10: Arian Foster had two touchdown runs, Matt Schaub threw a touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, and Houston's defense overwhelmed rookie Ryan Tannehill and visiting Miami in Houston's win against the Dolphins.
• Lions 27, Rams 23: Matthew Stafford threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Smith with 10 seconds remaining. Stafford made up for a shaky game by leading an 80-yard, nine-play, game-winning possession that included three passes of at least 18 yards.
• Vikings 26, Jaguars 23: Rookie Blair Walsh kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder as regulation expired and another in overtime, and Adrian Peterson returned from his left knee injury to lift the Vikings to the victory against visiting Jacksonville. Peterson ran 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
• Falcons 40, Chiefs 24: Matt Ryan threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, one of them to tight end Tony Gonzalez in his return to Kansas City, and Atlanta used a second-half surge to pull away at Arrowhead Stadium. Julio Jones caught six passes for 108 yards and two scores.
• Buccaneers 16, Panthers 10: Quarterback Josh Freeman threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams and Connor Barth kicked three field goals to help host Tampa Bay stop a 10-game losing streak by beating Carolina.
• Cardinals 20, Seahawks 16: Kevin Kolb replaced injured John Skelton and led Arizona on the deciding touchdown drive, throwing 6 yards to Andre Roberts for a score with 4:59 to play, and the Cardinals held on to beat visiting Seattle.
First Published September 10, 2012 4:45 AM