Derek Carr’s story coming into Sunday’s opener against the Titans was an interesting one—the nine-year Raider is now starting for the Saints, with a team taking its third swing at replacing franchise icon Drew Brees.
But the truth is, his is just one of many for that team. And even his offense alone.
Out there on the Superdome turf was Michael Thomas, the star receiver who’s played in just 11 games over the now four seasons since he set the NFL receptions record in 2019. There was tight end Jimmy Graham, returning a decade after leaving New Orleans and a year after walking away from football. There was Chris Olave, the burgeoning star. There was Jamaal Williams, the old Detroit fan favorite whom the Lions moved on from, and who has an important role with Alvin Kamara suspended three games. And with all of it, there was also an acknowledgment.
“I mean, it’s really cool—stories are fun,” Carr told me postgame. “But it’s only a fun story, as you know, Albert, when you win. And that’s when the stories feel good. And so, hopefully we can do that because there’s a lot of good stories that people can tell with their platforms at the end of this thing. Hopefully if we just keep doing what we’re doing. But there is a lot, a lot of emotion, a lot of cool moments for guys today. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
So far, so good.
And as it is with any good story, the Saints’ nail-biting 16–15 win over the Titans came with a twist—Sunday’s best story came from a guy you may not have heard of.
Rashid Shaheed arrived in New Orleans in 2022 as an undrafted free agent out of Weber State, landing with the Saints more on his prowess as a return man than what he might grow into as a 5'10", 185-pound receiver. He was released at the final cutdown last summer, signed to the practice squad the next day then promoted to the active roster in mid-October. He scored a 44-yard rushing touchdown in his debut and a 53-yard receiving touchdown the following week. He wound up with 28 catches in what became a lost season for the Saints. But he turned plenty of heads in the process.
And while the general public might’ve figured out who he was then, the Saints, and in turn Carr, have known for a while what he brings to the table.
“They for sure have,” Carr says. “Yeah, they’ve known. When I showed up, I was like, Who is this guy? He just proved it to me every single day that he’s not just a speed guy. He can run routes, he can get open and go across the middle for big plays and tough catches. He proved that today, which was everything we believed in him. So, we knew and now everyone is starting to find out. Hopefully, not too much, though.”
Carr laughed with that last line, but Shaheed’s impact wasn’t a joke for the Titans.
After the teams slogged through the first half and into the second, with the game tied 9–9, Shaheed scored the game’s first touchdown on a third-and-7 with 1:23 left in the third quarter and the ball at the Tennessee 19.
“He did a great job on the touchdown of a double move, getting the guy to freeze his feet at the sticks and ran right by him,” Carr says. “And he’s so fast that when a corner freezes his feet, it’s really hard for them to keep up with it. And he ran a great route right there.”
A quarter later, after Mike Vrabel decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-6 from the Saints’ 11 with 2:20 left, New Orleans was in third-and-6 on its own 33 with 1:55 showing. And where Dennis Allen and Pete Carmichael could’ve played it safe there—forcing the Titans to burn another timeout, or throwing it underneath—the coaches instead showed what sort of trust they had not just in their new quarterback, but the receiver whom few knew much about before Sunday.
“Pete Carmichael just trusted us,” Carr says. “We told him that it was a play that we liked and he just let us go to work, one on one. And I was really proud of Rashid getting that ball. I know how the game started. He was frustrated, but he bounced back and kept emotions in check and was able to make the play that sealed it for us.”
Indeed, Shaheed toasted Kristian Fulton one on one—simply running by him for a 41-yard gain. Shaheed added another six yards on an end-around two plays later to help the Saints churn out the last first down they needed to get into victory formation and to 1–0.
And in case you’re wondering, along the way, Olave had eight catches for 112 yards, Thomas had five for 61, and Williams had 20 touches, if for just 52 total yards.
As for Carr, it’s safe to say 305 yards, that touchdown pass and a win helped to ease the awkwardness of being in a new place after nearly a decade as a Raider.
“It was a lot of emotion,” Carr says. “Wearing a different jersey, wanting to get off on the right foot, get a win, start off right. And we were able to do that, man. Honestly, I was so jacked. I was so excited to be able to do that. But the thing that was important to me was keeping my emotions under control and making sure that I just played the best that I could to help us try and get that win. And I’m glad we did for the city of New Orleans.”
And as Carr said, if they can keep it going, there’ll be a lot more stories to tell.