NEW ORLEANS -- Carson Palmer's return provided the promise of a productive passing game for Cincinnati.
Playing for the first time since an elbow injury sidelined him early last season, Palmer completed seven of 11 passes for 133 yards in the Bengals' 17-7 loss to New Orleans on Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
Palmer's only mistake came on Jonathan Vilma's interception. Palmer left the game late in the first quarter, moments after his quick sideline throw to Chad Ochocinco produced a 55-yard gain. Palmer was playing with a mild left ankle sprain at that point, but he said afterward the injury was minor.
Brees, who passed for 5,069 yards last season, started slow but finished with six completions on nine attempts for 88 yards, with 61 of those yards coming on three passes to Shockey. Shockey, who did not score a touchdown last season, his first with the Saints, gained 33 yards on his first catch, setting up his TD later in the drive.
Reggie Bush played early, but had only three carries for 5 yards.
Palmer missed 12 games during Cincinnati's 4-11-1 2008 season because of a partially torn ligament and tendon in his passing elbow. He could have opted for reconstructive surgery, but chose to see if it would heal on its own.
On his first-play, he slightly underthrew a deep pass, allowing safety Roman Harper to knock the ball out of Ochocinco's hands. Palmer's next throw was on the money, though, as he found Chris Henry in a seem between the Saints' short and deep coverages for a 27-yard gain.
That drive ended a few plays later, however, when new Saints safety Darren Sharper jarred the ball loose from running back Cedric Benson. Vilma scooped up the fumble and rumbled 47 yards to the Bengals 6.
New Orleans failed to score, gaining only 4 yards on three plays before Garrett Hartley hooked a 20-yard field-goal attempt wide left.
On Cincinnati's third drive, Vilma cut in front of Palmer's short pass in the left flat. With open field in front of him, Vilma ran 65 yards to the Cincinnati 4 before receiver Andre Caldwell stripped him. Bengals' lineman Andrew Whitworth recovered, marking the second time in the game that New Orleans got inside the 5 without scoring.
Palmer then marched Cincinnati back downfield, beginning when he quickly unloaded an 18-yard, third-down pass to Ochocinco as blitzing linebacker Scott Fujita arrived in the backfield.
Palmer left a few plays later, after Ochocinco's long gain to the Saints' 13, but that drive stalled on Shayne Graham's missed 30-yard field goal.
The Saints took a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter on Shockey's TD.
Cincinnati tied it at 7 before halftime on J.T. O'Sullivan's 14-yard pass to Henry, who caught the ball despite being the victim of cornerback Jason David's illegal contact penalty.
O'Sullivan completed nine of 11 passes for 100 yards. Jordan Palmer finished at quarterback for the Bengals, playing most of the second half. He was 7-of-11 for 59 yards. Henry, playing into the fourth quarter, led all receivers with seven catches for 100 yards.
Brunell, now 38-years-old, looked sharp as Brees' backup, particularly on his long scoring strike to Meachem, which hit the receiver in stride behind the secondary. He also fired a pair of strikes over the middle to Rod Harper for gains of 35 and 13 yards. He completed nine of 13 passes for 128 yards and was not intercepted.