ABOVE: NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – AUGUST 27: Mike Boone #22 of the Houston Texans runs the ball for a touchdown during the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at Caesars Superdome on August 27, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Texans defeated the Saints 17-13. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
In the final game of the NFL preseason, the Houston Texans squared off against the New Orleans Saints. Inside Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, the Saints and Texans slugged it out through a gritty game that showcased both defenses. Though there were some offensive fireworks, two of the most memorable plays were on the defensive side.
Neither team had much offensive momentum until about midway through the first quarter, when rookie receiver Tank Dell took off for a 26-yard return. Rookie quarterback CJ Stroud completed passes to tight end Dalton Schultz and to running back Dameon Pierce, who powered his way past the 10 yard line for first and goal. Then he rushed inside the five. Stroud tossed a TD pass to wide receiver Nico Collins – Stroud’s first NFL career touchdown.
Texans kicker Kaimi Fairbairn sent the ball sailing through for an extra point. The Texans jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 7:17 remaining in the first quarter.
New Orleans’ offense was near non-existent until the final 47 seconds of the first quarter when quarterback Jameis Winston threw to tight end Jimmy Graham. As the ball came his way, Graham leapt into the air making a catch despite strong coverage from Texans defender Christian Harris. Graham crashed to the ground but held on to the ball; even after Harris tried to snatch the ball out of his hands, Graham held on, bringing his team to first and goal. Three plays later, Graham leapt up in the end zone to catch the touchdown – his first Saints touchdown in nearly a decade.
The moment was a homecoming of sorts for Graham, who had played in New Orleans for years. Graham, 36, spent the first five years of his career as part of the Saints; from 2010 to 2014, he racked up 51 touchdowns. “He was on a historical clip to be one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history,” said commentator (and fellow legendary tight end) Greg Olsen.
After the touchdown, both teams made changes at quarterback. The Texans brought in Davis Mills at QB; the Saints brought in rookie Jake Haener. (By then, Stroud’s day was done; he was 2-for-4 for 16 yards and a touchdown.) Mills made some moves himself as he helped the team down the field. Running back Devin Singletary rushed forward for first and goal for the Texans. On 2nd and goal, he skirted past opponents for a touchdown – but referees flagged a Texans tight end for holding.
Former Buccaneers receiver Adam Humphries compensated with a catch that took him and the Texans near the two-yard line. But Mills got sacked by Saints defenders on 3rd and goal. So the Texans settled for a field goal. Fairbairn kicked through a 28-yard attempt to give the Texans a 10-7 lead with 1:49 left. Texans maintained their three-point lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, New Orleans began a late rally. On 3rd & 6, Haener took off, running for his life inside the 35-yard line and taking out some sideline equipment on his way out of bounds. That 26-yard scamper brought this stagnant offense to life, and the Saints cashed in on that later, with a 38-yard field goal by kicker Chase Grupe.
Now tied at 10, the game continued. The Texans launched a drive that took them through the third quarter. On 3rd & 3, the Texans’ brought in a new quarterback. E.J. Perry hurled a pass to wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, who made a dramatic diving grab near the 10-yard line. Then Perry handed the ball to running back Mike Boone, who ran his way to the end zone – spinning out of one tackle by a Saints defender and then spinning away from two more. He rushed for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Texans a 17-10 lead.
Haener was sacked on New Orleans’ next drive. But the Saints still converted their efforts into points, as Chase Grupe drilled a 50-yard field goal to make it 17-13 with 9:03 left. That would be the last points of the game, as neither team’s offense delivered in the fourth quarter. The Saints tried their luck with a 60-yard attempt by Grupe, but the kick was no good.
As the clock ticked away towards the two-minute mark, it seemed as though the Saints might take the lead. They were driving down the field; Haener was making good throws. But in a fatal mistake, Haener’s pass intended for tight end Lucas Krull was intercepted by Texans safety Grayland Arnold. Several minutes later, Haener was again intercepted by cornerback Cameron Dantzler, sealing the game. The Texans won, 17-13.
Texans coach Demeco Ryans was enthused by his team’s energy. “To see the energy that our guys had on the sideline, that’s who I want our team to be,” Ryans said after the game. “That’s what I want our team to represent.”