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Quick hits from a Patriots’ win

08.12.10 at 10:29 pm ET
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The Patriots and Saints just wrapped up their first preseason contest, with the Pats coming away 27-24 winners on Thursday night in Foxboro thanks to a 28-yard field goal with 53 seconds remaining. Laurence Maroney had a pair of touchdowns and Devin McCourty had two returns of over 50 yards, but it was perhaps Julian Edelman that was most impressive. Here are some quick observations in a game that featured zero interceptions from six quarterbacks:


- There was a lot to like about Julian Edelman in the Pats’ first preseason game and it would be hard not to give him player of the game honors. His numbers (six receptions for 90 yards and a 21.5 yard average on two punt returns) looked good, but seeing was believing with Edelman, who displayed the shiftiness that made him a fan favorite in his rookie year.

While Saints punter Thomas Morstead was hurt on Edelman’s first notable play, the second-year receiver nearly broke Jabari Greer’s ankles in the very same quarter on a screen pass. Edelman made the catch and promptly juked the cornerback out of his cleats before taking off for a 21 yard gain.

As good as he looked with the rest of the starters out there with him, Edelman’s big night didn’t just consist of the first quarter. The former quarterback had a 14 yard gain on a crossing pattern with Brian Hoyer under center in the second quarter and just plays later picked up 25 more.

- The  right side of the offensive line looked solid for the Patriots, especially on their first touchdown. BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ score in the first quarter was a great example of that. The right side opened up beautifully and with Dan Connolly as the lead blocker, Green-Ellis went in untouched. Jonathan Vilma, who looked a bit suspect at times during joint practices, took the brunt of Connolly’s fury.

- Brandon Spikes looked very good stopping the run, but everyone knew he could do that coming in. He impressed where many doubted him in the pre-draft process. Spikes’ biggest question throughout camp was how he could handle route-runners over the middle. After a camp in which he had occasional struggles in coverage, he looked good when he had to go up against Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, who is one of the tougher guys at his position in the league to cover.

- Terrence Wheatley did a great job of reading a rollout from Saints quarterback Chase Daniel late in the game on third down when New Orleans had the chance to take the lead. Wheatley quickly diagnosed the play and came out of coverage, leaving Adrian Arrington unattended as the third-year corner took down Daniel. The Saints had to settle for a game-tying field goal as a result. Wheatley nearly also had a fumble recovery on a Larry Beavers punt return earlier in the quarter.

- Brandon Tate made a nice 20-yard reception along the sidelines in the first quarter. The second-year receiver did a good job of bringing in the ball while dragging his left foot.


- The special teams play was good as far as returns went for the Patriots, but they didn’t do such a great job stopping the Saints. After Devin McCourty’s 52-year kick return to open the second half put the Pats in good enough scoring position to set up Maroney’s second touchdown, they let up the biggest special teams play of the night. Beavers, whose short time with the Panthers last season got him nowhere, had a 97 yard kick return for a touchdown in the third quarter. The play should have been over before it really took off, as Darnell Jenkins had Beavers all but wrapped up between the 20 and 21 yard lines but let him escape his grasp, allowing Beavers to take it the distance.

- Zac Robinson should have had a lost fumble on just his third play of the day but was let off the hook when the Saints were called for illegal hands to the face. The seventh-round pick looked quite dreadful with his throws in training camp but it’s hard to gauge in camp just how they will do with dropping the ball under pressure.

The good of the night for Robinson was that Darnell Jenkins turned a screen from Robinson late in the fourth quarter into a 52-yard play. This allowed the team to milk the clock until bringing in Gostkowski for the game-winner. Robinson went 3-of-8 for 48 yards on the day.

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Third quarter: Patriots 24, Saints 21

08.12.10 at 9:46 pm ET
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Some third-quarter highlights …

Devin McCourty started the second half with a 52-yard kickoff return. McCourty was a standout special teams player at Rutgers and could play a key role for that unit this season. A solid night to that point for the special teams, with big returns from Edelman and McCourty and a 35-yard FG from Gostkowski. McCourty would add another 51-yard kickoff return later in the quarter. With Edelman and McCourty the Patriots look to be in good shape in the return game.

–That initial McCourty return gave the Patriots a short field, and they took advantage with an eight-play, 45-yard TD drive to take a 24-7 lead. Brian Hoyer was sharp during the drive, completing both of his pass attempts for 33 yards.

–But it was Laurence Maroney – who had just one carry in the first half — scoring on the drive with a one-yard rush. Maroney was on the field for the entire TD drive, carrying the ball six times for 11 yards.

– The special teams took a giant step back on the ensuing kickoff, however, as Larry Beavers took the Gostkowski kick 97 yards for a score. A terrific return that saw the Delaware alum elude an Ellis tackle attempt at the 10-yard line before weaving toward the Saints sideline and beating a diving (why?) Gostkowski to break free for the TD to trim the lead to 24-14.

– Following a stallled four-play drive by the Patriots, the Saints added a TD on a four-play, 68-yard drive that took just 1:24. Patrick Ramsey connected with Adrian Arrington on a 51-yard pass play that was aided greatly by sloppy tackling from James Sanders and Jonathan Wilhite. That play took the Saints to the NE 17, and three plays later Chris Ivory found the end zone from two yards out. 24-21, Saints.

Zac Robinson got into the mix in the third quarter, completing both of his passes.

– Taylor Price also played his first snaps of the night in the third quarter, but had no passes thrown his way. He also returned a punt for a yard.

– Seven carries in the quarter for Chris Taylor for 33 yards. The Patriots have carried the ball 29 times for 107 yards through three quarters.

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Halftime analysis from Patriots-Saints

08.12.10 at 8:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Just reached halftime here at Gillette Stadium in the preseason opener between the Patriots and the Saints. Here are a few quick notes:

•The Patriots have gone predominantly with BenJarvus Green-Ellis at running back throughout most of the first half, and he has responded nicely, finishing with 11 carries for 34 yards and one touchdown. (Laurence Maroney got some run at the end of the second quarterback and tacked on a touchdown of his own.) Green-Ellis was a beneficiary of a tight-end heavy offense — the Patriots played three tight ends at the start of the game. Without Wes Welker in the lineup, Julian Edelman has seen a lot of time and he has responded nicely, finishing the first two quarters with five catches for 78 yards, as well as a 40-yard punt return in the first quarter.

•Through the first two quarters, left guard Dan Connolly was a bit of a mixed bag. He was dominated on a pair of back-to-back plays — one, where he was tossed aside by New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, and a second where he swung and missed on a block on Al Woods. But he bounced back on that same drive, delivering a pair of key blocks — the first on a five-yard run by Kevin Faulk and the second on a six-yard touchdown run by Ellis where he took Jonathan Vilma out of the play. Connolly came out of the game just over halfway through the second, giving way to Ryan Wendell.

•The Saints were able to put together an impressive 20-play, 86-yard drive late in the first and into the second quarter that saw them convert several third down opportunities. It was a bad stretch for the New England defense, which struggled to contain the New Orleans starting offense. (The Saints cashed in when Reggie Bush went around left end on a two-yard touchdown run that made it 10-7 with 9:32 left in the second quarter.)

•The Patriots did answer that with a 10-play drive that took 79 yards and consumed 4:24, and ended with a five-yard touchdown run from Maroney with 5:08 left in the half to give New England a 17-7 edge. The highlight of the series was a 25-yard completion from Brian Hoyer to Edelman.

•On defense, the Patriots played mostly a 3-4, sticking with the following lineup for most of the first quarter and a half: Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright up front, Tully Banta-Cain and Marques Murrell on the outside and Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes on the inside. In addition, it was rookie Devin McCourty and Darius Butler at corner and Pat Chung and Brandon Meriweather at safety. The two rookies — Spikes and McCourty — more than held their own in a quarter and a half of action. Spikes played 25 snaps (he came off the field on 3rd and long situations) and McCourty was on the field for the first 27 defensive snaps of the night.

•The Patriots’ starting defense was able to generate some heat on New Orleans starting quarterback Drew Brees (who was yanked in favor of Patrick Ramsey late in the second quarter), with Murrell collecting an 11-yard sack on the first series of the evening.

•Tom Brady went 5 for 8 for 67 yards in preseason opener, taking 17 snaps in all and turning the offense over to backup Hoyer roughly midway through the second quarter. Brady ended up with three passes of 20-plus yards, including a 23-yarder to Randy Moss and a 20-yarder to Brandon Tate, the latter of which included a nice tip-toe job along the sidelines by the receiver.

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First quarter: Patriots 10, Saints 0

08.12.10 at 8:13 pm ET
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Solid all-around opening quarter for the Patriots, totaling 96 yards to just 42 for the Saints to help open a 10-0 lead.

Some highlights:

– Great first series for the Pats defense. Opening in a 3-4 set, they forced a three-and-out, with Marques Murrell picking up a sack on Drew Brees on third down.

Julian Edelman nearly broke the ensuing punt for a score, returning the kick 40 yards to the Saints’ 19-yard line. They were unable to take advantage of prime field position, however, managing just a three-yard rush from BenJarvus Green Ellis and two Tom Brady incomplete passes. Stephen Gostkowski was able to convert on a 35-yard field goal to give the Patriots a 3-0 lead. Not the kind of start fans were hoping for after the red-zone struggles of 2009 (ranked 13th).

– After another three-and-out from the Saints (highlighted by a nice open field tackle by Patrick Chung on Lance Moore on third-and-short), the Patriots took over at the NO seven-yard line. Fourteen plays and 93 yards later Ellis found the end zone on a six-yard rush to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead. Brady was five-of-six for 67 yards on the drive, including a 23-yard pass to Randy Moss, a 20-yard pass to Brandon Tate (on 3rd-and-14) and a 21-yard toss to Edelman. That pass to Edelman took the Patriots to the NO 16-ayrd line, and it was five rushes (zero throws) from there, with Dan Connolly throwing a terrific block on Green’s six-yard score. The Patriots had three tight ends (Aaron Hernandez, Alge Crumpler and Rob Gronkowski) in on the TD play.

– 17 snaps for Brady in the quarter.

– No Laurence Maroney on the field in the first quarter. Eight carries for Ellis (24 yards, a TD) and one rush for Kevin Faulk.

Aaron Hernandez lined up at fullback on third down in the first series.

– No problems for Zoltan Mesko holding for Gostkowski on the field goal or extra point.

– Connolly had a so-so first quarter (was beat twice on the opening drive) but he made the play of the quarter with the block on Jonathan Vilma to set up the Ellis TD rush. He was in for all 17 snaps at left guard.

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Patriots starting defense

08.12.10 at 7:47 pm ET
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The following players got the start on defense for the Patriots:

DL: Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Wright
OLB: Tully Banta-Cain, Marques Murrell
ILB: Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes
CB: Devin McCourty, Darius Butler
SL Pat Chung, Brandon Meriweather

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Patriots starting offense

08.12.10 at 7:43 pm ET
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The following players got the start on offense for the Patriots:

QB: Tom Brady
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
TEs: Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Alge Crumpler
WR: Randy Moss
OL: Matt Light, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Sebastian Vollmer

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Welker among 12 Patriots not in uniform

08.12.10 at 7:25 pm ET
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The following Patriots are not in uniform for tonight’s preseason game against the Saints: Matthew Slater, Leigh Bodden, Bret Lockett, Terrence Johnson, Gary Guyton, Logan Mankins, Nick Kaczur, Wes Welker, Torry Holt, Ty Warren, Jermaine Cunningham and Ron Brace.

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