Final, Patriots Win 7-6: It wasn't the scoring fiesta that many may have been anticipating, but there was plenty to be gained from the Patriots first preseason game.
First off, the initial thought that the running back spot was simply Stevan Ridley's to lose has flown out the window. Ridley impressed during his time in the first half, with eight carries for 40 yards, but it was Shane Vereen that truly left his mark on this one.
Vereen carried the ball 11 times for 64 yards and showed off the breakaway speed, agility and even some versatility in guiding the Pats offense to their first and only score on the night.
The touchdown came from Brian Hoyer's right arm and hit Britt Davis, who had botched a few long tosses earlier in the night, on a three-yard score to give the Pats the lead.
Tom Brady only played three series, going 4 of 7 for 30 yards, and looked to have some kinks to work out.
But the defense — yes, that defense — showed out with some new names giving off hope for a revamped and far-improved defense in 2012.
Chandler Jones made life for the Saints offensive line as well as both Drew Brees and Chase Daniel miserable as he drew a pair of holding penalties and applied pressure nearly non-stop throughout the first half. Trevor Scott and Jake Bequette then finished things off, recording a sack each in the fourth quarter en route to closing out the 7-6 victory.
4th Quarter, 2:56, Patriots 7-6: The Patriots may pull out this win, yet.
Even with some pretty dismal showing on offense, Brian Hoyer's touchdown pass could prove enough to get the win.
Josh Kasay, who has made a pair of field goals on the night, just missed a near chip shot and saw the game likely slip through the Saints fingers.
4th Quarter, 3:56, Patriots 7-6: Ryan Mallett has truly been the epitome of a Jekyll & Hyde player on Thursday.
I know I've probably beaten this idea dead already, but he's had some unbelievable throws along with some god awful ones in this one.
At just 8-for-19 for 89 yards on the night, Mallett's numbers aren't terrible but he just isn't finding the consistency on his short and intermediate routes to truly show the promise anticipated with a third-round pick in 2011.
4th Quarter, 6:56, Patriots 7-6: Both first-round picks seem to be chumming it up just fine on the sidelines.
Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, who have seemed pretty close ever since first arriving at Patriots rookie camp in mid May, they have been seen chatting it up and just simply hanging out on the sidelines for much of the game.
The relationship between the two could be important, especially if they prove to be the big-impact players anticipated with their top-25 draft status.
4th Quarter, 9:56, Patriots 7-6: Jake Bequette and Trevor Scott headline yet another strong defensive stand from the Pats.
The third-round pick from Arkansas, Bequette — pronounced like the pitcher, hasn't had the greatest camp yet but he showed off that never-ending motor on a series-ending sack of fourth-string QB Sean Canfield there.
Beuqette isn't the most athletic or fastest guy up on the defensive front, but he's got a motor that just keeps on going. He's like the energizer bunny of the Patriots defense.
4th Quarter, 14:56, Patriots 7-6: Moore's penalty came back to bite the Pats, but not nearly as bad as it could have.
John Kasay netted yet another field goal, this time from 27 yards, to get the Saints within one. But it was a strong defensive effort that held New Orleans from breaking through for anything in the red zone.
End 3rd Quarter, Patriots 7-3: This one could quickly be a one-point game when the fourth quarter starts, but for now we'll just break down the 15-minutes that was.
While Sterling Moore's rawness showing through on a head-scratching pass interference call, there was some amazing play during the third quarter.
Shane Vereen was the star of the show in the third, dashing off for 64 yards on just 11 carries and nearly single-handedly taking the Pats in for a score — even though Hoyer and Davis get the credit.
But some defensive talent had a breakthrough as well, including Trevor Scott who has been disruptive on the defensive line and getting through to the backfield on numerous occasions.
3rd Quarter, 0:38, Patriots 7-3: The defensive dominance continues for the Patriots in the second half. But Sterling Moore made an awful play on a deep ball, causing for a near 50-yard gain via penalty for the Saints.
Moore, the hero during the AFC Championship game win over the Ravens, got called for a blatant pass interference call on a big toss over the top from third-stringer Luke McCown.
Some good plays on the outside from Devin McCourty along with the tough play of Dont'a Hightower have helped the Pats keep up a high level of play throughout the third quarter.
Granter it is McCown at quarterback, but either way the defense is definitely showing up here in this one.
3rd Quarter, 7:38, Patriots 7-3: Some bad news on Pats linebacker Dane Fletcher, who was taken off the field with some help from trainers.
It appears that Fletcher has a torn ACL in his left knee, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
It's a really tough break for Fletcher, but even worse it just depletes an already rather thin linebacking corps in New England.
Dont'a Hightower will likely have to take on a more prominent role in the defense due to the injury.
Tough break for #Patriots linebacking depth: I'm told LB Dane Fletcher has suffered a torn
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 10, 2012
9:32 p.m.: Some Saints fans filling out the Stadium at Gillette here on Thursday.
A couple of them even showed their support for their suspended head coach, Sean Payton.
One fan, decked out in a Saints gear, is hoisting a sign that reads "Free Sean Payton." Apparently the sanctions didn't go over too well with the Cajun faithful.
Photo via AP/Michael Dwyer
3rd Quarter, 10:02, Patriots 7-3: The first half may have belonged to Ridley, but Shane Vereen is getting his chance to shine early on in the second half.
It may have been Brian Hoyer's arm and Britt Davis leaping ability that ultimately get credit for the touchdown, but it was Vereen who truly dominated that series.
The second-year back immediately saw some run, taking handoffs on back-to-back plays and churning out 12 quick yards. He then again used his speed and lateral movement to get away from the Saint defense for 18 yards, followed by an 13-yard dash. Vereen looks to be much more like the effective back the Pats expected when using a second-round pick on him last year.
Hoyer, who started the second half under center, also has shown a great deal of promise and poise. there was an unbelievable throw about 40 yards downfield, but receiver Britt Davis was unable to come up with it. Thankfully, the two caught up for a three-yard TD pass to end the drive. More tosses like that and teams could be calling about Hoyer very soon.
End 2nd Quarter, Saints 3-0: The first half was a bit of dud, especially given the high-octane offenses involved.
The Saints managed a field goal early in the first quarter, but aside from a late drive, led by Mallett and Woodhead, at the end of the half there was nothing going for the Pats. Stephen Gostkowski ultimately missed a 50-plus yard field to end the half on that possession as well.
But while the scoring has been scarce, there have been some awfully promising signs for the Patriots. Those came primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Running back Stevan Ridley showed some unbelievable power and quickness out of the backfield, gaining 40 yards on eight carries to lead the Pats.
Chandler Jones, Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung turned out to be the stars of the show for the Patriots defense. While it's expected for Chung to make phenomenal plays, like he did on a late second quarter interception, the newcomers weren't anticipated to have as big an impact as they have.
Jones was a monster off the ball on the defensive line, forcing the Saints into two quick holding penalties and nearly getting to both Drew Brees and Chase Daniel in the backfield.
Gregory also put on a show, displaying some smarts and great instincts when intercepting a deflected ball off the hand of linebackers Jerod Mayo. It's obviously too early to call, but Gregory's play -- along with a strong camp thus far -- could give him the inside track at the starting safety job alongside Pat Chung.
Look for Hoyer and Mallett to really turn things on in the second half, and for Shane Vereen, who didn't see a lick of action in the first, as well as rookie free agent Brandon Bolden to see added work out of the backfield.
2nd Quarter, 2:00, Saints 3-0: Mallet's first series didn't open any eyes, but the second was definitely something to gasp about -- for reasons both good and bad.
The powerful right arm darted one pass into the arms of Julien Edelman as well as a sweet grab from Eric Kettani on the outside.
But while his accuracy and strength seemed to be on point, his elongated motion allowed for a tipped ball to be picked off in the Saints secondary.
There was definitely plenty of good to be impressed by, but there's obviously some mechanical things Mallet still must work out.
2nd Quarter, 3:51, Saints 3-0: The Saints offensive series wasn't much to talk about, aside from a few solid runs from Chris Ivory. But it was the play that didn't actually count that was really impressive.
Marcus Harrison, a defensive end not necessarily expected to make the Pats final roster, jumped and stretched out to grab a Chase Daniel pass out of midair. He came down with the ball, but Travaris Cadet -- a Saints halfback -- also had his hands on it.
I guess ties goes to the runner in football, too.
2nd Quarter, 8:40, Saints 3-0: Ryan Mallett joined the game in the second quarter, but he wasn't all that effective in his first series of the year.
Mallet completed just 1of 3 passes for a whopping three yards. He showed some serious arm strength with a bomb over the top of the defense, but his accuracy were not quite on point.
It will be interesting to see what the quarterback rep breakdown is throughout the rest of this one, as Hoyer has looked good in his time on the field.
8:27 p.m.: John Calipari visiting with Robert Kraft in the owner's box, tonight.
The Kentucky coach, reigning NCAA champion and former UMass head man is back home for the time and it looks like Kraft invited the talented coach to catch a game alongside him in the big box.
Check out the photo Calipari just tweeted from the box, via the coach's @UKCoachCalipari account.
2nd Quarter, 11:53, Saints 3-0: Did I tell you to keep an eye out for Steve Gregory or what?
The free-agent safety used his smarts and athleticism to get to a ball from Chase Daniel in the second, securing the Pats first interception of 2012.
Gregory has the inside track on the starting free safety job, alongside Patrick Chung.
It was Jerod Mayo who helped make that play with a great tip at the line, but Gregory's smarts and instincts are a definite plus for this defense.
8:22 p.m.: Think Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Chad Johnson --formerly of Ochocinco, and formerly Johnson -- will have a better season?
Check out Thursday's NESN Daily Poll >> Considering which receiver will have a better season with his new team.
End 1st Quarter, Saints 3-0: Chandler Jones and Stevan Ridley were really the stars of the show in the first quarter of the season opener.
The Saints may have the lead, after a 46-yard field goal from Kasay, but the Pats have shown a great deal of promise.
Brady looked a bit rusty, but then again it is the preseason. And his connection with Gronk looks to be as strong as ever.
Ridley was also an absolute beat on the ground, churning out 38 yards on seven carries and really setting the pace for the Pats offense. Woodhead has seen a decent number of snaps as well, and looks strong in pass coverage -- as usual.
Jones, though, may be the biggest star in this one as he is causing all sorts of problems for the Saints. He's using his bevy of moves off the ball, but maybe more importantly his strength and speed to get beyond the edge and into the backfield. An absolute stud to keep both eyes on.
1st Quarter, 2:15, Saints 3-0: Chandler Jones is proving to be an absolute nightmare for the Saints offensive line.
Jones has been finding his way around the edge on a number of plays and has already induced two holding penalties against Jermon Bushrod -- no slouch at offensive tackle.
After forcing the penalties, Jones proceeded to track down a running Chase Daniel -- Saints backup QB in for Brees -- and take him down just short of the 1st down marker.
A beast? Seriously, if this is any indication, Jones will be haunting quarterbacks dreams for years.
Side note: Look for Brian Hoyer to take over for Brady here.
1st Quarter, 5:24, Saints 3-0: Josh McDaniels, finally back on the sidelines with the Patriots offense, has been utilizing his weapons in the early going -- especially the running game.
Ridley has shown a quick burst off both sides of the offensive line, and he's up to 34 yards on just six carries in the Pats first two series.
Lloyd also made up for his missed opportunities early with a sweet catch across the middle, although it went for not due to a delayed holding call -- wah wah wahhhh.
The possession didn't end with any real success, though, as it was Zoltan Mesko that ultimately kicked it back to the Saints. That marks two -- or three counting the punt then penalty -- series without any tangible success for the Pats.
1st Quarter, 8:30, Saints 3-0: The turnover comes back to bite the Pats, as John Kasay boots a 46-yard field goal through the uprights.
The New England defense held Brees and Co. to nothing in their second series, but the turnover still allowed for the Saints to get on the board first.
1st Quarter, 9:45: The offense showed off some of their strengths, but Tom Brady fumbled away their chances for a score.
After completing just 2 of 5 for 16 yards in the series, Brady put the ball on the turf during a sack from the Saints defense.
Stevan Ridley added some promise though, looking like a running back on a mission and with a few solid jaunts through the defensive line. He's definitely giving off a good impression early.
Brandon Lloyd had a tough time on the series, although not entirely his fault. Lloyd had a drop along the sidelines, given it was a tough route, but also saw a sweet ball from Brady broken up by Roman Harper at the last moment. A couple tough breaks early on, but we're hoping this doesn't turn him into Ochocinco 2.0
1st Quarter, 12:41: Here are the Patriots offensive starters for this one.
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Stevan Ridley
WR: Brandon Lloyd
WR: Wes Welker
TE: Aaron Hernandez
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Donald Thomas
C: Dan Koppen
RG: Dan Connolly
RT: Marcus Cannon
1st Quarter, 14:08: The Patriots are showing flashes of a strong defensive front so far, and Chandler Jones is providing the spark.
Jones got off the line well during his first pro series, even getting close to taking down Drew Brees -- that would have been sweet.
The Pats secondary looks solid, too. There've been a lot of questions surrounding the defensive backfield after a shaky 2011 campaign, but strong coverage on a deep ball from Brees is a good sign.
7:37 p.m.: Saints win the toss and will recieve the opening kickoff.
Let's get this season underway!
7:32 p.m.: There can never be any real expectations for preseason games, especially the opener, but here's some position battles and players to look out for in this one.
First and foremost the primary position battle has to be at the running back position as Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead will be battling it out for the place atop the depth chart.
I'd say Ridley should see a good deal of time early in this oen and look for Vereen and Woodhead to share some time out of the backfield in passing downs. But rookie free agent Brandon Bolden could be a surprise to keep an eye on as well. He's looked good in training camp thus far, and following in the footsteps of fellow Ole Miss alum BenJarvus Green-Ellis it wouldn't come as a surprise to see him bruise it out for some yards.
The other big battle to keep on your radar will be in the defensive backfield, as the Pats are packed with talent but with the way last year progressed -- an NFL worst defensive rating -- there should be a lot of hardnosed guys vying for spots back there.
Will Allen should be interesting to watch as the veteran could impart some knowledge into this group, but also Stevan Gregory, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, should be fun to watch.
Otherwise, first-rounders Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones will bring some intensity and second-round pick Tavon Wilson should have something to say about being a "reach" for the Pats in the Draft.
7:03 p.m.: Just a half an hour to kickoff for the 2012 Patriots season, and the players are getting amped up out on the field.
Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo and Matthew Slater -- the offensive, defensive and special teams captains -- lead the team in stretches in lieu of kickoff.
But Danny Woodhead as well as Rob Gronkowski and the tight end crew could be seen getting in some extra work before the game as well, running some drills and getting his grind in.
Check out Woodhead, Gronk and rest of the crew during pregame warmups in the photos below, helmet slap to @Patriots.
6:32 p.m.: So with less than an hour left until kickoff, let's take a peek at the active/inactive list for Thursday night's game with the Saints.
Among the notables are Deion Branch, All-Pro tackle Sebastian Vollmer and starting linebacker Brandon Spikes.
For some of these guys, like Vollmer and Mankins, the PUP (physically unable to perform) list is a result of their continual recovery from offseason surgery or simply fighting off a recurring ailment. For other, like Spikes and Branch, it's merely a precaution and giving the guys more opportunity to rest ahead of the upcoming schedule.
Check out the full list of guys inactive for Thursday's game below, according to ESPN Boston.
FB Spencer Larsen
WR Deion Branch
TE Daniel Fells (Active/PUP)
TE Visanthe Shiancoe
TE Jake Ballard (Active/PUP)
T Sebastian Vollmer (Active/PUP)
T Matt Kopa
T Kyle Hix
T Kyle Hill
T Markus Zusevics (Active/NFI)
G Logan Mankins (Active/PUP)
G Brian Waters (did not report)
G Dustin Waldron
DT Jonathan Fanene
DT Ron Brace
DT Gerard Warren
DT Myron Pryor (Active/PUP)
LB Brandon Spikes
LB Tracy White
CB Alfonzo Dennard
5:45 p.m.: We're getting awfully close to gametime, and the Patriots are getting amped up for their first game of the preseason against New Orleans.
It should be interesting to see these two teams take the field against one another, especially after three straight days of joint practices.
One of the biggest questions heading into Thursday night was if Tom Brady would see the field at all in the opener. Well, that question was answered earlier in the day when Belichick announced that Brady would in fact see game action against the Saints.
Brady may only see a series or two before handing off to backup Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallet, but nonetheless it will be interesting to see how the now 35-year-old signal caller looks under center.
10:50 a.m. ET: The Patriots hit the gridiron for the first time since falling to the Giants in the Super Bowl earlier this year and Pats fans couldn't be more excited.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots welcome Drew Brees' high-flying Saints into town in the opener, and although the first preseason game tends to be a little tame, it's still football and that's all that matters to fans in the region.
Everyone in Pats Country will have their sights set on the team's big rookies Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones, as well as a potential battle between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
The secondary will be full of stories, too, as Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory will get their first live reps together. Fans will be interested to see how Devin McCourty bounces back from a down year, while Ras-I Dowling will be able to show the organization what he can do when healthy.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on WBZ-TV Ch. 4 and heard on 98.5 FM, The Sports Hub.