NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Drew Brees led the Saints' offense onto the field with a chance to complete an unlikely comeback in the final minutes, only to throw another errant pass.
Washington safety DeJon Gomes snagged Brees' overthrown ball for receiver Lance Moore and returned it to the New Orleans 4, setting up the decisive touchdown in the Redskins' 40-32 victory over the Saints on Sunday.
Brees completed fewer than half his passes for the first time since Dec. 24, 2006, part of a sloppy, penalty-marred performance as New Orleans lost at home for the first time since 2010.
"It's hard to believe we even had a chance to tie it at the end," Brees said. "When you make that many mistakes, you don't deserve to win."
Brees still finished with 339 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 33 yards to Lance Moore, 20 to Jimmy Graham and 2 to Darren Sproles. That might have been enough if not for Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III, the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor selected second overall in the draft.
Showing a veteran's composure by scrambling only when necessary, Griffin tormented New Orleans' defense with 320 yards passing and two touchdowns, a performance that drew compliments from Brees.
"You can win 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.
Griffin completed his first eight passes. His seventh, 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.
Griffin finished 19 of 26 with no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also scrambled for 42 yards.
Rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Aldrick Robinson had a 5-yard touchdown catch.
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, were to blame for New Orleans' shaky start.