NEW ORLEANS -- 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, the dynamic Redskins rookie quarterback tormented New Orleans' defense with 320 yards passing and two touchdowns, and Washington held on for a 40-32 victory over 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. "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' 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 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-for-26 with no interceptions and a passer rating of 139.9. He also ran 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."
Rookie Alfred Morris rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Aldrick Robinson, a second-year pro making his NFL regular-season debut, had a 5-yard touchdown catch among four receptions for 52 yards.
Brees finished with 339 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 33 yards to Lance Moore and 20 yards to Jimmy Graham. That might have been enough if not for Griffin, the former Baylor star selected second overall in the draft.
The Texas native, whose family is from New Orleans, had been to Saints games in the dome before and seemed unfazed by the noise.
In the second quarter, he danced out of the pocket to avoid pass rushers before rifling a pass across the field to tight end Fred Davis for a 26-yard gain. He punctuated another scramble with a 27-yard pass to Santana Moss, setting up Billy Cundiff's second field goal, which made it 20-7.
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.