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The 2009 seasons for the Patriots and Saints could not have ended any more different. The Patriots were obliterated out of the playoffs by the Ravens at Gillette Stadium 33-14 back in January, while the Saints won their first Super Bowl, beating Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts a month later.
Moving on to 2010, the Patriots are a year older on defense, and unfortunately a year older on offense too. It would seem that the experience is helping the Pats, as Bill Belichick was so impressed with the team’s efforts after a couple joint practices this week with the Saints, that he said it was one of the most productive practices of his career. Yes, his entire career.
The two teams took the field Thursday night in their preseason openers, and it appears that practice is paying off. The Patriots looked really sharp on both sides of the ball, and with the starters on the field (because that’s all that really matters in the preseason), the Patriots held a 17-7 lead. The second and third strings held their own as well, and Stephen Gostkowski booted the Patriots to a 27-24 victory with a field goal in the final minute of the game.
Tom Brady started the game, and finished 5-8 with 67 yards. He looked comfortable in the pocket, and the offensive line (minus Logan Mankins) did their part to make sure Brady had time to throw, which showed as Brady was not sacked.
Brian Hoyer was good in Brady’s place, and posted an strong 8-13 with 106 yards. He showed a good chemistry with his receivers, and is really developing into a fine backup quarterback. Whether or not he’d be as good as Matt Cassel was if he was called to duty, it’s good to know the Patriots have a poised QB ready if necessary. Let’s just say we definitely don’t want to see him once the regular season begins. Rookie Zac Robinson completed the game, finishing 3-8 with 48 yards while leading the team on the winning drive.
Thought to be buried on the running back depth chart before the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was strangely the running back of choice. The Law Firm carried the rock 11 times for 31 yards, including a touchdown. Laurence Maroney also was impressive, as he racked up 30 yards on eight carries and finished with two touchdowns.
Julian Edelman was the star wideout in place of the injured Wes Welker. He collected six catches for 90 yards, and showed a pretty juke move on a couple occasions to evade tacklers in the open field. Welker, meanwhile, was inactive as he continues to recover from offseason knee surgery. I would expect to see Welker play a little in Week 3 of the preseason, maybe. If that’s the case, he should be ready for Week 1 of the regular season in September.
Randy Moss was quiet with two grabs for 30 yards, while rookie TE Aaron Hernandez finished with three catches for 26 yards. Brandon Tate made an appearance too, finishing with one catch for 20 yards.
For what it’s worth, the Pats D held their own against Drew Brees and the explosive Saints. The New Orleans starters scored just seven points against the defense, which even in a preseason game, it says something may be working.
The D collected one sack, thanks to a solid rush from Marques Murrell, and one interception, a late grab by Eric Alexander off of the Saints’ third string QB, Chase Daniel. Terrence Wheatley led the team with six solo tackles, while Pat Chung chipped in five solo tackles and two assists out of the safety slot.
New linebacker Brandon Spikes was all over the field, finishing three solo tackles and five more assisted tackles. It looks like he’ll be able to help right away as other linebackers Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, and Pierre Woods continue to mature. Without Derrick Burgess in the mix, Spikes may need to come up with a nice rookie season if the Patriots want to make a real improvement on defense.
Hey, there are three parts of football! First, rookie Devin McCourty may become the team’s primary kick returner. On Thursday night, McCourty took the ball three times on kickoffs for 111 yards, including a nifty 52-yarder.
On the kickoff defense…well that could use some work. Last year the kick coverage wasn’t great, and it didn’t seem to improve (though it’s early). You never want to allow someone go all the way on a kickoff in the first preseason game, but that’s just what happened. Saints returner Larry Beavers did the honors on a 97-yarder.
Stephen Gostkowski stayed very consistent, booting two field goals and three extra points like it wasn’t a problem.
Newcomer Zoltan Mesko impressed as well, knocking three of his five punts inside the 20-yard line.
There was a lot to be impressed with in the Patriots performance. But, as Edelman told Scott Zolak and Steve Burton after the game, there’s “always room for improvement.” Looks like Edelman is catching on with the Patriot Way.