The Saints held a 3-0 at halftime in a game that started Drew Brees and Tom Brady at quarterback. A spark of offense from New England in the third quarter, led by third string QB Brant Hoyer, was enough to win 7-6 after John Kasay's 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 3:12 left in the fourth quarter.
But it was a game that saw good performances by a young group of rising Saints reserves, including DT Akiem Hicks, RB Travaris Cadet, CB Johnny Patrick and DE Junior Galette.
Both starting offenses had poor showings against stout starting defenses. Brees fired incomplete on his first three passes and hit RB Darren Sproles for a short gain on his fourth and final pass attempt with 9:13 left in the first quarter. He finished with a statline not unlike Arizona QB Kevin Kolb's last week - 1/4, 4 yards.
Brees' second throw was a masterful showing of footwork in a busy pocket then a rocket down the left sideline where diving, double-covered TE David Thomas put one hand on the spiral. He spent more time running than throwing tonight and a pair of three-and-outs certainly couldn't have been satisfying.
Tom Brady, facing the Saints' injury-depleted second missing its top two cornerbacks, opened the game in an empty backfield set and deep down the left seam for Gronkowski incomplete. LSU product runningback Stevan Ridley did most of the damage for the Patriots, picking up 40 yards on 8 carries. He found himself leveled by Saints MLB Curtis Lofton early in the game when Lofton tore across the field and smashed him to the turf.
Steve Spagnuolo had to be proud of his defense tonight, they got to Tom Brady to snuff out the Patriots' first drive. Brady was flushed from the pocket with DE Junior Galette at his ankles, then ran right pursue by Cam Jordan. Brady was blindsided by Will Smith and sandwiched by Jordan, the ball popped out. Lofton jumped on the fumble at the Patriot 37 yard line for a big defensive win for the Saints starting defense. Smith, who still faces a season-opening suspension, chased Brady across the line from RDE after beating the left tackle. A great start for the Saints' defensive line, as Galette and his fearsome black beard are winning early preseason battles.
But that drive would have ended earlier if not for some pre-season boneheadedness - DE Martez Wilson jumped offsides on the Patriots' 4th and 1 punt six plays before Brady's fumble, giving the home team a first down. Later, Wilson would press the punter and run into him after the kick, drawing a running into the kicker penalty and granting another first down, that time nullifying a good return by Joe Morgan. Not a good night for Wilson, who has committed bad special teams penalties in both preseason games now.
"I am not disappointed one bit in the first team offense... You want to make sure you look at the people and you evaluation the people that you want on your 53," Vitt said, despite the nine-yard, six-play performance by the starters.
Morgan had another frustrating night, ending it with a bad drop through his arms after making a great adjustment on a tight spiral from Luke McCown, who played most of the second half. "Joe Morgan has got to be more consistent with his catching... He's around all last year after he got hurt last year, he needs to continue to grow," interim head coach Joe Vitt said after the game.
2011 third round pick Johnny Patrick, a rising player getting the start with Jabari Greer (sports hernia) and Patrick Robinson (shoulder), made a fantastic play on a deep ball intended for Brandon Lloyd in the first quarter, turning, locating the ball and slapping the pass away. That pass would be nullified by a Patriots holding call anyway, as the substitute referees were tagging both teams with drive-killing early penalties.
On Brees' second drive, former Saint draft pick Rob Ninkovich dove, fell and rolled on Drew Brees' right leg, a dirty play whether it was intentional or not. Referees should have flagged that hit and extended the drive, but did not. Shame on Ninkovich, who should know better. It could have been a disastrous play for the team, inflicted by their own fifth round pick in 2006.
The Patriots scored when Brant Hoyer led his team on a 97-yard drive capped by the three-yard pass to WR Britt Davis. Danny Woodhead muffed the kick return at the 1, retreated to the end zone then ran it out for a short return. A defensive illegal contact penalty on Isa Abdul-Quddus gave the Patriots a third down conversion a their own 25, and Shane Vereen ripped off runs of 7, 5, 18, 14, 10 and 5 yards to really motor the only offensive production of the entire night. Back-to-back encroachment penalties on Saint defensive tackles Swanson Miller and Tyrunn Walker at the goal line gave Hoyer first and goal at the three yard line.
Rookie cornerback Corey White was beaten by Brandon Lloyd for a big catch on Brady's second and final drive, but that would be nullified by a second holding call on the Patriots' Nate Solder. White played most of the game and had good and bad moments. He was out-muscled by Julian Edelman, who fought through his open field tackle to get the first down. Later, White would be a still in zone coverage when Davis caught a white open pass at the goal line in front of White and Johnny Patrick, who were footsteps deep in the end zone.
Joe Vitt pleased the second string offensive line after the game, pointing out that they played a lot of snaps and played well for Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield. Daniel had a great 19-yard scramble in his drive, but it was wiped out by the second straight offensive holding call against Jermon Bushrod, which set up 3rd and 22 with 3:08 left in the first quarter. But Daniel found the veteran surprise of preseason so far - Courtney Roby streaking down the left sideline and hauling in a 30-yard completion.
Daniel had another pass tipped that got him in trouble. After having multiple passes tipped last week, a tip this week resulted in a red zone interception by S Steven Gregory at the Patriot 12. That's not a good trend for sub-six foot Daniel, who led the Saints on 7, 7, and 8-play drives that didn't result in any points.
Travaris Cadet had another good showing. "We're still finding out about Cadet," Vitt said after the game.
Cadet had 26 yards on nine carries and 29 yards on six receptions on the game, none more difficult than when he wrestled away a lazily-thrown Canfield screen pass from 6'3, 310 pound DT Marcus Harrison, who had apparently made the interception. Cadet was awarded possession, preventing the turnover. Cadet's hard-fighting play reminds of Pierre Thomas. He did fumble once in the third quarter, but he fought the pile and got the ball back again.
Third round draft pick Akiem Hicks had a great night, playing early and late. He batted down a Ryan Mallet pass despite a double-team. Near the end of the second quarter, Hicks pushed a right guard all the way back into Mallet and got a hand on his arm to force a lame duck, intercepted by CB Marquis Johnson. Late in the game, Hicks was motoring hard, a great sign from the rookie as he dropped Patriots RB Brandon Bolden for a loss with 3:02 left in the game.
Sean Canfield and Luke McCown don't appear to be comfortable in the Saints' system or ready to play NFL football. McCown underthrew a wide-open Joe Morgan in the third quarter. Morgan came back and tried to make the catch, had it go off his chest, but was interfered with and drew a pass interference penalty. That would lead to a Garrett Hartley 27-yard field goal to bring the Saints within one.
After an 8-yard punt return by Cadet to the Saint 40, McCown used Cadet and fellow runningback Joe Banyard to get to the Patriot 37. Then on 3rd and 7 he hit Andy Tanner, another unexpected contributor, for a 10-yard gain. While Banyard did McCown a favor by making an excellent blitz pickup on that drive, his own offensive line - specifically RG Fenuki Tupou - didn't help him out, letting DE Braylon Broughton into the backfield to drop him for a loss. That would set up a 41-yard field goal by John Kasay for the win, but it was missed wide right. Kasay's first field goal try from 46 yards out was an ugly knuckleballer than snuck inside the right goal post. Listing two placekickers as #1 on the depth chart for the Saints may be changing - Garrett Hartley appears to be outperforming the veteran in preseason games.
RT Aderious Simmons helped snuff out the last Saints drive by allowing DE Trevor Scott a free pass to blindside McCown. Simmons got some redemption by recovering the fumble and preventing a turnover inside the Saint 10 yard line.