FOXBORO, Mass. — It's far too easy to overreact to things in the NFL, especially in the preseason. Even still, the Patriots should be happy about their performance in Thursday night's 27-24 victory against the Saints.
Tom Brady and the first-team offense looked fluid during a 93-yard touchdown drive against the Saints' defensive starters. New England's mass of young players took valuable strides, whether it was a jump for the second-year guys or a solid debut from the rookies. And the third-stringers led the Patriots to a last-minute field goal to propel the Pats to preseason paradise.
"There were some good things, [and] there were some not-so-good things," said head coach Bill Belichick, who was in midseason form at the podium. "I've seen worse."
After a shaky opening drive, Brady completed 5-of-6 passes for 67 yards on New England's second possession, which was capped by BenJarvus Green-Ellis' touchdown plunge. Even Green-Ellis, who earned a surprising start and plenty of playing time, ran all right, amassing 34 yards on 11 carries and the one score.
New England's dynamic offensive playmakers also showed up, with Randy Moss (two catches, 30 yards), Julian Edelman (six catches, 90 yards) and Brandon Tate (one catch, 20 yards) doing some good things early in the game.
Defensively, rookie inside linebacker Brandon Spikes played like a man possessed and led the Patriots with eight total tackles, including a big second-quarter run stuff on the goal line. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was an anchor up front, and second-year safety Patrick Chung (seven total tackles) was a missile who kept launching from the defensive backfield. Even rookie cornerback Devin McCourty held it down against the Saints' talented wide receivers.
The special teams units played well, too, garnering a 40-yard punt return from Tate and a 52-yard kickoff return (matching the Patriots' longest of 2009) from McCourty. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a pair of field goals, including a game-winning 28-yard boot with 53 seconds remaining. Punter Zoltan Mesko, of Chuck Norris–type fame, averaged 43.8 yards per punt and landed three of his five bids inside the 20-yard line.
"It's good," Chung said. "We have a long way to go. We realize it's the first game, and we've got 20-something more games to go. We've just got to build off of this."
Of course, there was some bad stuff, too. Larry Beavers' 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown might make special teams coordinator Scott O'Brien pile-drive someone during their next meeting, and rookie quarterback Zac Robinson has been really poor. Aside from the 52-yard slip screen to Darnell Jenkins, Robinson was 2-of-7 for negative-4 yards.
Still, it was a nice stepping stone and some good validation after 22 training-camp practices and three joint sessions with the defending Super Bowl champions. The Patriots can figure out where they can go from here — other than, of course, Atlanta.
"I've participated in as many preseason games as just about anybody around here, but it's still the same thing for me and everybody else," Belichick said. "It's different than what I've been doing the last six months. It's important for all of us.
"Every play is good in the preseason. Every play, you can learn from — good, bad, or whatever the situation is, whether it's four-minute, two-minute. It's all good. It's a chance to get out there and play."
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