August 12, 2010

Saints 24, Patriots 27: Down to the wire in preseason opener

The Saints and Patriots kicked off their preseason schedules in Foxboro on a Thursday night with a game that threatened overtime and was mercifully saved from such a fate with a late Steven Gostkowski field goal to win, 27-24.

Coverage teams were a big sore spot for the defending Super Bowl champions.  The Saints suffered an early sack which foiled their opening drive, then punted to Josh Edelman, who returned it 40 yards inside the Saint 20.  The tackle was made by punter Thomas Morstead, who tumbled and remained down with an apparent left shoulder injury.

Morstead had x-rays which showed no serious injury, and returned to the sideline with an ice wrap.

Edelman had a 40 yard punt return, then Patriots rookie Devin McCourty ripped off kickoff returns of 52 and 50 yards in the third quarter.  But the Saints' biggest play of the night was along those lines- rookie wide receiver Larry Beavers' 97-yard kickoff return touchdown was electric.  With the top four wide receiver jobs set, Beavers is gunning hard for a fifth or sixth roster spot at the position, and could unseat veteran return man Courtney Roby.

Without a reserve punter on the roster, placekicker Garrett Hartley immediately assumed punting and kickoff duties, and did remarkably well.  Hartley drove his first punt, minutes later, 55 yards into the coffin corner, pinning at the sideline at his own 10 yard line.  The hero of the NFC Championship game followed it with punts of 46, 33, 45, and 56 yards.  His five kickoffs left something to be desired, never reaching the end zone and twice not reaching past the nine yard line. Meanwhile, he was also perfect on three extra points and a late, game-tying 23-yard field goal.

The first string offense didn't look great, punting after three and out on their first two drives.  With 4:33 left in the quarter and down 10-0, Brees and the starters finally got on track, aided by an illegal contact penalty on a fourth down pass and three big-time third down conversions from the arm of Drew Brees.

Reggie Bush also converted a 3rd and 10 with a tough run up the middle, and later capped off the 20-play, ten minute drive with a two yard dash to the left pylon, stiff-arming cornerback Darius Butler on the way.  A solid game by Bush.

That drive led to the Brees staying on the field much longer than expected, as Sean Payton explained that he didn't want to interrupt a drive but did want the starters to get more playing time than the two opening three-play drives.

Brees' extended playing time led to backup Patrick Ramsey taking the field with only five minutes left in the first half.  Ramsey hit three of six passes in the first half but finished 7 of 11 for 111 yards, oftentimes making a play outside the pocket.  Ramsey showed enough mobility to roll to the right at his own goal line and zip a comeback pattern completion to Courtney Roby for a first down gain.  Ramsey also found Adrian Arrington downfield, and the lanky receiver rumbled downfield for a 51-yard gain to set up Chris Ivory's touchdown plunge.

Chase Daniel entered the game with just over nine minutes left in the game, hit six of his first seven pass attempts and made plays with his feet. Down at the goal line, the Saints under Daniel blew it, with Daniel firing incomplete then losing ground on two running plays, including one that the Saints had to recover their own fumble.

The two runningbacks vying for the third hat on the depth chart, with Lynell Hamilton out of the season, are PJ Hill and Chris Ivory.  Both had limited playing time in the second half and both finished with 30 yards rushing.  Though, Ivory did it in six carries to Hill's nine carries, and Ivory scored in the third quarter.  It is presumed that the Saints will return to New Orleans and add a runningback before their preseason home opener against the Texans next Saturday night.

It was also Ivory as the last man downfield blocking for Beavers' kickoff return, a good sign.

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