Drew Brees wore a uniform — and even eye black — but never played. Ryan Tannehill also watched from the sideline, laughing at the Kiss Cam when it showed during a timeout on the scoreboard video screen.
The final preseason game for the Saints and Dolphins was for reserves, and Miami third-string quarterback Pat Devlin rallied his team to a 24-21 victory Thursday night.
Devlin threw for 259 yards, including a 56-yard pass to Marvin McNutt on fourth-and-4 with 3:02 left for the winning score.
"A lot of games in this league are decided inside five minutes," coach Joe Philbin said. "It was nice to see our guys step up and make some plays."
Many of the players who took part will be out of work by Saturday, when teams must reach their 53-man roster limit. The fans knew it, which is why the stadium was two-thirds empty for the wrapup to the exhibition season.
"You're glad it's over," Saints backup quarterback Luke McCown said. "The hay's in the barn. Now it's time to get down to what really matters."
The Saints (3-1) open the season Sept. 8 against Atlanta eager to rebound from a 2012 season that went wrong from the start following their bounty scandal. The Dolphins (2-3) open at Cleveland the same day, hoping to end a streak of four consecutive losing seasons.
Philbin said the Dolphins are better than a year ago, when they went 7-9 in his first season as an NFL head coach.
"We had an excellent training camp," he said. "We've covered a lot of ground and a ton of different situations."
By the start of the season, the final exhibition game will be long forgotten. A neutral zone infraction by the New Orleans defense on the first play signaled the quality of what was to come.
The game was the Saints' first in Miami since they beat Indianapolis in the Super Bowl four years ago, but this New Orleans team bore little resemblance to that one. The only first-teamers to start were receiver Marques Colston and center Brian de la Puente.
McCown played one series, directing a 14-play touchdown drive, and went 4 for 7 for 44 yards. Ryan Griffin, an undrafted rookie, went 15 for 31 for 198 yards and one interception to end the Saints' final scoring threat.
Undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson ran for 115 yards in 22 carries and caught six passes for 50 yards, while Mark Ingram scored on an 8-yard touchdown run. Both lost a fumble.
New Orleans had four turnovers and committed 11 penalties.
"We did some good things, but we killed ourselves in a lot of ways," Ingram said. "We have to clean that up. We've got to take care of the ball."
Robinson said he didn't know whether he helped his chances of making the team.
"I'm just waiting to see what's going to happen, waiting and praying," he said. "I went out there and gave it all I had. It's a numbers game. You never know."
Right guard John Jerry was the only Miami first-teamer to start. Devlin, just hoping to make the roster, went 22 for 38 with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Pat has an excellent mastery of the system," Philbin said. "He has very good poise, and he stepped up and made a play when we had to have one."
McNutt caught four passes for 99 yards. He's also battling for a spot on the roster.
"I don't know what they're thinking," McNutt said. "You just have to pray for the best."
Rishard Matthews helped his chances of winning the No. 4 receiving job by making three catches for 37 yards. Rookie Dion Sims, who is challenging Charles Clay for playing time at tight end, caught four passes for 36 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown.
Rookie Mike Gillislee ran for 47 yards in 14 carries. Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis, who won a job in training camp, went 3 for 3 on field goals and finished 9 for 9 in preseason.
Top draft pick Dion Jordan missed his third consecutive game because of a lingering shoulder injury but said he hopes to play in the opener.
"It's really testing my patience," said. "It's a hill to climb. I'm climbing that hill."
Notes: The Saints had 24 first downs and outgained Miami 417-289. ... The Dolphins had fewer penalties than their opponents in every exhibition game.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine