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Let’s Go: Patriots Open Up Preseason with 7-6 Victory over New Orleans

Bill Belichick (Photo from sportsillustrated.cnn.com)

After months of updates, signings, and analysis, the New England opened up the 2012 campaign last night, squeaking past the New Orleans Saints 7-6 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

The game was sloppily played, marred by turnovers, and inundated with mistakes.  There were a total of four turnovers (two from each squad), and 15 penalties (NO-10, NE-5) for 147 yards.  Both teams struggled on third down, as the Saints went 5-15 while the Patriots were 5-17.

The foibles were not just limited to offense and defense, as both place kickers got into the action.  Stephen Gostkowski missed a 53-yarder just before halftime, and John Kasay’s 41-yard winning attempt was pushed right. Below are the studs and duds from last night’s contest.

Three Studs

Running game
Training camp sensation Stevan Ridley shouldered the first-team snaps on Thursday, rushing for 40 yards on eight carries.  Fellow sophomore rusher Shane Vereen shined as well, carrying the rock 11 times for 64 yards.  While Brandon Bolden did not have a great game (eight carries for 23 yards), the overall play out of the young rushers is a great sign to begin the season as other phases of the offense struggle early.

Chandler Jones
First round pick Chandler Jones lived up to the hype on Thursday, consistently pressuring Saints’ QB Drew Brees throughout the first quarter.  While the rookie from Syracuse’s box score may look ineffective, his constant collapsing of the pocket forced several holding calls, and disrupted the rhythm of the vaunted New Orleans’ offense.

Defensive Improvements
Much maligned throughout all of 2011, Coach Bill Belichick and the front office set out to revamp his defensive unit in the offseason.  And after 60 minutes of preseason action, the fruits of that labor is starting to bloom.  Offseason signee Steve Gregory recorded a juggling interception, Pat Chung added his own pick, Bobby Carpenter and Donta Hightower (a free agent and first round pick respectively) each registered four tackles, and the team totaled two sacks. In fact, the defense allowed just 188 passing yards.

Three Duds

Quarterback play
Neither Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, or Ryan Mallett looked to be comfortable under center for the first time. Brady finished the day 4-7 passing for 30 yards, and never seemed to be on the same page with his receivers.  Whether it be a missed pass to Brandon Lloyd or Rob Gronkowski, or failing to recognize the pass rush, the offense clearly has hurdles to overcome in the future.  Hoyer finished the contest with 85 yards on 8-15 passing, while Ryan Mallet threw for 85 yards on an inefficient 8-19 and a pick.

Pass protection
Protecting the quarterback was also an issue for the retooled offensive line.  Missing three starters off last year’s Super Bowl appearance (Logan Mankins PUPed, Brian Waters in limbo, and the retirement of  Matt Light), this offensive line looked out-of-place. Brady got walloped by Will Smith on a first quarter strip sack, while the other QBs had minimal time to make reads and deliver the ball accurately.

Dane Fletchers luck 
The first casualty of the 2012 campaign was inside linebacker Dane Fletcher, who suffered what is being reported as a torn ACL.  The play happened on special times only ten minutes into the opening frame, but will have repercussions throughout the year. However, Carpenter and Hightower looked good in his place, and with the return of Brandon Spikes before the regular season, the LB corps should be all set.

Coming up

The Patriots will remain at home until they face the Philadelphia Eagles in their next postseason game, a Monday Night tilt against the Eagles on August 20 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

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