NEW ORLEANS -- Robert Griffin III brought his Heisman Trophy swagger to New Orleans and made his NFL debut look like a Big Easy.
"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. "After the game, (Brees) told me he was proud of me. That's big for him to say after he just lost the game."
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' traditional 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 on 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. "They were giving us those looks and I took advantage of them."
Griffin finished 19-of-26 passing with no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also scrambled for 42 yards.
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. "We knew the type of team they were. We knew the type of defense they were. They just came in and played better than we did, made fewer mistakes than we did, made more plays than we did."
In fact, Brees' expectations for what remains of the season hardly seemed diminished.
"We lost the first game of year last year and finished 13-3," Brees said. "So there's no doubt that we can do it and we have the mentality and the guys to do it."
That marked the second interception for Brees, who in 2011 completed a single-season record 71.2 percent of his passes, but managed to hit on only 46 percent (24 of 52) against Washington.
"That makes you angry," Brees said, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head as he talked about completing less than half of his passes. "We're better than that and we're going to be better than that."
The Texas native, whose family is from New Orleans, had been to Saints games in the dome before and seemed unfazed by the noise.
Griffin finished the first half with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first time a rookie had done so with 10 or more attempts.
Morris scored easily from the 1.
The Saints might not have been pleased with the officials, but it was mostly their own mistakes that cost them -- penalized 12 times for 107 yards.
NOTES: The Saints started the game thin in the secondary when Jabari Greer (groin) was a pregame scratch. It got worse when Johnny Patrick hurt his right leg breaking up a pass in the second quarter. ... wide receiver Devery Henderson left the game in the second half after taking a shot to the head. ... Saints LB Scott Shanle left the game with an unspecified leg injury. ... Garcon went out with a right foot injury. ... Redskins S Jordan Bernstine hurt his right knee on kick coverage. ... Washington's 40 points were its most since Shanahan took over in 2010.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press