Patriots Outlast Saints in Preseason Opener, Win 27-24

FOXBORO MA - AUGUST 12: Tom Brady # 12 of the New England Patriots throws a pass during the preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on August 12 2010 in Foxboro Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Patriots opened the 2010 NFL preseason with a win over the defending world champion New Orleans Saints.

From the get-go, the intensity was high and the defense came out and held the Saints to a quick three and out.  The first play, Jerod Mayo stuffed Pierre Thomas for a three yard gain.  Play two, a blitz that was led by a charging Gerard Warren and Marques Murrell, causing Drew Brees to essentially throw the ball into the ground.  The final play of the series: a beautiful rush off the edge by Marques Murrell who sacked Drew Brees, with help coming from Tully Banta-Cain coming up the middle.The first team defense applied constant pressure, and played a few solid series, before handing the reigns over to the 2nd team.

Following the 3-and-out, Julian Edelman got things going with a 41 yard punt return, setting up the Patriots in great field position.  However, the offense couldn't get going and the team settled with a field goal.

Speaking of Edelman, he had an exceptional game.  While the offensive numbers are impressive, six catches for 90 yards, they don't illustrate how quick this guy is.  Honestly, he may be as shifty as Welker.  My favorite play of the day came on the second drive, when Edelman, who was essentially at a stand-still, juked a charging Saints corner off a screen pass, coming up with a first down in the process.  As quick and shifty as he is, Edelman also has great acceleration, something a lot of people have really looked past.

On the Saints second drive, they were shut down on the ground the first two plays on stops by Vince Wilfork and a combined stop by Darius Butler and Brandon Spikes.  On third down, Drew Brees found Lance Moore on a quick out near the right sideline, but Patrick Chung quickly closed and made a beautiful tackle.

The second offensive drive for the Patriots went a lot better. Tom Brady led the team straight down the field on the team's second drive, including a pair of long completions to Randy Moss and a great twenty yard grab by second year receiver Brandon Tate.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis also had some solid running.  While he isn't flashy and certainly isn't the most talented, he is tough, decisive, and takes everything he can get.  Green-Ellis finished off the drive with a nice run on a stacked goal line set that had all three of the Patriots tight ends stacked on one side.

Once Brian Hoyer took over, the team continued to press the gas pedal.  Hoyer guided the team to a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter.  Hoyer looked very poised in the pocket, stepping up when the rush came from the edge and making nice throws.  There is no competition for the 2nd string quarterback spot, Hoyer looks like the real thing.

While the wheels came off a little bit following a Saints kick return touchdown as well as a touchdown drive led by Patrick Ramsey, the Patriots pulled it together when it mattered most.  The Saints had the ball first and goal on the two yard line, down 24-21 with four minutes remaining.  On first and goal, Chase Daniel threw a quick slant to Adrian Arrington which was broken up by Terrence Wheatley with a nice hit coming in from Dane Fletcher.  On second down, Kyle Love, Tyrone McKenzie, Devin McCourty and other combined to stop a Saints running play at the one.  Then on third and goal, cornerback Terrence Wheatley came up with another big play, stuffing Chase Daniel five yards behind the line on a designed quarterback keeper.  With the goal line stand, the Saints settled for the field goal, leaving the game tied with under three minutes to play.

The final drive wasn't pretty for the Patriots.  Rookie Zac Robinson, who had terrible protection from the 3rd team offensive line, was almost strip sacked on the opening play (with a terrible "attempt" at a block by Thomas Welch, who looked extremely slow on the play).  The team finally got going with a couple of nice runs by the recently re-signed Thomas Clayton.  On third and 11, still in their own territory, Robinson threw a screen to Darnell Jenkins, who used his speed and quickness to blaze 52 yards down the field and into field goal range.  A few plays later, Stephen Gostkowski booted through a field goal, and the Patriots were up 24-27 with less than a minute left.

The Saints got one final try to tie up the score, but ended up turning it over on the opening play of the drive.  Chase Daniel fired a pass to receiver Montez Billings.  Billings had the ball, but was absolutely rocked by rookie free agent Sergio Brown, the ball popped into the air, and Eric Alexander grabbed the interception, thereby sealing the game and the Patriots victory.

More of my thoughts after the jump!

  • Aaron Hernandez looked quick, but we didn't get to see much of him.  Still, we got the idea that he will be used in a variety of roles, including catching screen passes, in the backfield, etc.  His rookie counterpart, Rob Gronkowski, had a sub-par performance, in my opinion.  He blocked well in the first half, but in the second, just didn't look good as a blocker.
  • Veteran newcomer Gerard Warren had a good game.  He provided some nice pass rush, showing surprising athleticism, getting the start at defensive end.  It looks like he should be a nice player along the defensive line for the Patriots this season, possibly in the form of an Anthony Pleasant from earlier last decade.
  • The Patriots got some nice result from their two third year cornerbacks Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley.  Wilhite showed that he still has those tools, he's got some of the best change of direction and closing speed I've seen in a cornerback, he just needs to put it together (hence why he was a 4th round pick).  He made a couple of nice breakups tonight.  Terrence Wheatley stepped up on special teams, and in run support.  He also had a nice breakup in that goal line stand in the fourth quarter.
  • Brandon Spikes is the real deal.  He was really impressive, combining on eight tackles, showing great instincts and was always around the ball.  He was also a fiery leader.  Next to him, Jerod Mayo also played well in the few snaps he played.  He looked back to 2008 form.
  • Tom Brady and Randy Moss are going to be back to their 2007 ways in 2010, except without 23 touchdowns.  Still, these two are playing with a purpose.
  • Rookie defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick had a great debut.  He was able to hold up well against double teams, but he also got some great pass rush when attacking.  I'm thinking big things for him.  He really impressed me with his one on ones.
  • Patrick Chung had a nice game.  He was always around the ball, made some nice tackles, and played all over the field, from a linebacker type position, to a deep safety.
  • Devin McCourty is your kick returner, Julian Edelman is your punt returner.  Enough said.
  • Speaking of special teams, Zoltan Mesko had a solid debut as a punter.  He also brought down a shaky snap on Stephen Gostkowski's first field goal.
  • Not to be cocky because it was a complete guess.... but, my pre-game prediction was Patriots 27, Saints 23.  I was as close as I'm ever going to get.

Overall, a great opening game.  And although it's preseason, it's nice to start things off with a win.  Next week, the Patriots will have another bundle of joint practices, this time in preparation for the Falcons and their Thursday match-up.  

Stay tuned for more preseason over-analysis tomorrow.

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