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Patriots 34, Saints 22: Standout Performances and Plays

In the Patriots' first preseason game of the year, which plays and individual performances stood out?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots defeated the Saints 34-22, on the heels of a rather strong showing from the defense. The defense allowed three touchdowns on the day, but also scored a pair by themselves. I said multiple times in the Game Day Thread that preseason success does not always translate to regular season success, but there was a lot to like from this game. This was one of the most talented 90-man rosters that I can remember and it showed in this game.

Standout Performances

Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard star on defense's top unit: The Patriots need both Collins and Sheard to have big years to help carry the defense and they looked sharp as ever. Sheard was a monster up front at left end and Jamie Collins was a nightmare up the middle. Collins picked up a pick 6 in the game on a ball deflected when Patrick Chung closed in on a receiver and also a jaw-dropping run stuff where he ran through the line and stopped Mark Ingram right after he received the hand off.

Trey Flowers shines in 2nd half: Trey Flowers is a player who I have high expectations for coming into this season and he exceeded them for at least this game. Flowers mainly played right defensive end against the Saints, but showed up in both the run and pass game. Flowers isn't a quick-twitch rusher, so he has to win with power and maintain his gaps. Flowers generated 4 pressures, including a play where he got the sack, fumble, recovery, and scored a touchdown. The Patriots need Flowers to step up and provide depth behind Sheard, Chris Long, and Rob Ninkovich when he returns from his injury.

Malcolm Mitchell shined on offense in 2nd quarter: The Patriots top offensive unit for this game struggled a bit, although 4/5 of Garoppolo's Week 1 receivers were held out of the game. In the 2nd quarter, the Patriots put Malcolm Mitchell in at receiver and the offense started rolling. Mitchell caught 4 balls for 55 yards including an impressive 24-yard catch on a sideline fade. Unfortunately, his preseason was cut short by an ugly-looking elbow injury that may keep him out until the regular season at the minimum. Hopefully once Mitchell is healthy and back in action he picks up where he left off because I think Mitchell will turn into a very good receiver in New England.

Joe Thuney may be the best OL on team, Stork may get center job back: The Patriots drafted Joe Thuney out of NC State in May, but he played more like a 5-year veteran in this preseason game. Thuney wound up playing the first six series for the offense in the first half. The starting OL had communication breakdowns in the first quarter, although that was mainly on the right side of the line and the line got its act together in the 2nd quarter a bit. Another note is the Patriots offense struggled to score with David Andrews at center and was replaced by Bryan Stork in the 2nd quarter. The OL with Stork on the field scored 10 points on their first 2 drives.

Notable Plays

Chung Tips Ball, Collins Catches Deflection and Returns it for a Pick 6

This was a matchup of Malcolm Butler against Brandon Coleman. The Patriots are running a Tampa Cover 2 zone on the play. Butler allowed for an inside release on Coleman's slant route, which gave room for a possible completion. However, Garrett Grayson hesitated for a beat, a big no-no for QBs, and was late on the pass which allowed Patrick Chung to close in and lay a hit on Coleman. Coleman is unable to hold on through the hit and the ball deflects straight into the air where Jamie Collins flags it down for the interception. On the return, Collins is able to beat the guard Senio Kelemete to the sideline and Malcolm Butler gets in Grayson's way to clear up a path to the end zone.

56 Yard Screen to White

The Saints showed a blitz during the pre-snap phase of the game, so the Patriots checked into a slip screen to the back. The right side of the line sets it up, although Marcus Cannon allows his blocker a free release at Jimmy Garoppolo. I'm not sure if that's by design or not, but the defender ran himself out of the play although he did a free shot at Jimmy G. The play design works beautifully as it became a 10 vs. 7 game for the Patriots. RT Cannon delivers the first big block on DE Bobby Richardson on the back side of the play, followed up by C Bryan Stork getting in the way of CB De'Vante Harris to give James White running room after the catch. RG Shaq Mason delivers a killer cut block in the open field to Spring the play loose. Downfield, Martellus Bennett gets a push on S Erik Harris to move him out of the play and it looked like nothing but open field for White. Unfortunately, White slipped a little at the 10 yard line, which gave Harris a shot at White inside the 5 yard line. White would be down at the 1/2 yard line and the Patriots would score a 1-yd TD anyway.

Cre'Von LeBlanc Makes 1-Handed INT

Goal line situation, the Saints have RJ Harris matched up against Cre'Von LeBlanc on the right side of the field. The Saints called for a fade route, but LeBlanc jumps all over that. Both LeBlanc and Harris were hand-fighting for position, with LeBlanc ultimately winning inside leverage to force Luke McCown to have to make a near impossible throw for a TD. The ball is thrown horribly and right at LeBlanc's left-shoulder. The Patriots defensive back reads the receivers hands and turns back as the ball arrives to make the 1-handed INT. You can make a case for pass interference on both players, with LeBlanc pushing off to get inside leverage (not called because he didn't fully extend the arm) and Harris trying to tackle LeBlanc (offensive penalty is always better than a turnover) before the ball arrived, which is why I liked the no-call. LeBlanc is battling against EJ Biggers, Darryl Roberts, and Jonathan Jones for what could be the final roster spot at the CB position.

44 Yard TD Run by Gaffney

A big TD run starts with the blocking up front. The play is designed for the Patriots offensive line to move the Saints front to the left, but create a cutback lane to the right. TE AJ Derby seals the edge on the backside by cutting the edge defender. RT Cameron Fleming then creates a giant hole by blocking LB Dillon Lee to the ground (more like a push on a defender off balance). Gaffney cuts back into that wide open lane and is able to force a missed tackle in the hole when two Saints got too close to each other and just outruns Jeff Schoettmer to the boundary. For a guy who's had to endure two injuries in camp the last two seasons, it was a nice sight to see.

Trey Flowers Strip-Sacks QB, Recovers the Fumble, and Takes It to the House

With the Patriots up 24-22 the Saints had a 3rd and 8. The Patriots were in press-man coverage and rushed 4 with Flowers rushing from an interior spot. The LG winds up over-setting towards his right and Trey Flowers winds up running through him like a saloon door. Flowers quickly gets to the QB, only needing 2 seconds to get there and causes QB Luke McCown to panic. McCown runs backwards, but Flowers is able to fall on top of him and swings at the football with the right hand as the two are going to the ground. The ball bounces right in front of Flowers, who alertly picks it up and starts hightailing it towards the end zone. Flowers slips a little at the 10 but is able to maintain his balance and takes it back for the defense's second score of the night.