FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ― Sean Payton stood at the post-game podium in the underbelly of the Patriots’ home stadium, a frown showing on his face and irritation coloring the sound of the voice.
Minutes after the Saints dropped their preseason opener 27-24 to New England, the Saints’ fifth-year head coach was in no mood to look for the positives.
No, regardless of this being a preseason game, Payton wanted this one and he wasn’t happy.
“Too many sloppy things that we’ve got to get corrected,” Payton said.
Indeed, the Patriots broke tackle after tackle, converted 6 of 13 third downs and gave up an average of 27.4 yards per return on kickoffs.
Drew Brees was held to two consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game and New England led 10-0 before the Saints gained their initial first down.
“Obviously, there’s a lot we can clean up and work on, which is pretty standard for a preseason game,” right tackle Jon Stinchcomb said. “We have high aspirations and goals for this year so coming out the way we did is disappointing.”
Still, it took a late field goal 35-yard field by Stephen Gostkowski with 53 seconds to play to send the Saints back south with a loss.
Chase Daniel had a chance to give the Saints the lead moments earlier, but New Orleans couldn’t score from three cracks at the end zone 1-yard line and Payton settled for a Garrett Hartley 23-yard field goal that tied the game at 24-24.
But on New England’s ensuing possession, the Saints gave up a 52-yard completion on third-and-11 that put New England in field goal territory. Four plays later, Gostkowski hit his game winner.
On the play, New England wide receiver Darnell Jenkins broke coverage and tackles. It was like the rest of the night, when Patriots’ receiver Julian Edelman was breaking tackles on his way to six catches for 90 yards.
“We definitely have to get back to the fundamentals,” right cornerback Tracy Porter said. “We had a lot of miscues with tackling, placement, where we were on the field, just being in the right place at the right time. We have to do a lot more technique-wise and tackling-wise. Just get to the fundamentals.”
Brees finished the game 6 of 9 for 102 yards, Pierre Thomas ran for 27 yards on eight carries and the first-team defense gave up 96 yards and a lengthy 20-play, 93-yard scoring drive.
The beginning of the night began ominous enough.
Thomas Morstead boomed a 49-yard punt on the fourth play of the game, but was forced to make the tackle on Edelman. Morstead, however, injured his left arm on the punt. X-rays on Morstead’s left shoulder came back negative and he’ll have an MRI on it Friday.
Three plays later, New England had a 3-0 lead when Stephen Gostkowksi nailed a 35-yard field goal.
“He had the angle on me and so I couldn’t run into him or try and push him out of bounds,” Morstead said. “I tried to put my arm out there and take him down somehow. You could tell as soon as I was on the ground, I rolled a couple of times and my arm just looked like Gumby or something.”
New England went on a 14-play, 93-yard drive that ate 6 minutes, 19 seconds off the clock and was finished off with a 6-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hit on three passes of 19 or more yards on the drive, including a 20-yard pass on third-and-14.
With less than five minutes to play in the first quarter, New Orleans was down 10-0.
But the Saints finally answered on offense. Their initial first down didn’t come until 3:23 remained in the first quarter. They followed that one with six straight and Reggie Bush’s speed rush around left end for a 2-yard touchdown run.
New England’s second-team offense didn’t blink, driving 79 yards in 10 plays to push the lead back to 10 at 17-7 when Laurence Maroney went up the gut for a 5-yard touchdown run.
The Patriots lengthened their lead to 24-7 on the opening drive of the third quarter when Maroney scored his second touchdown of the game. But Larry Beavers returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to pull the Saints back within 24-14.
After forcing a punt, the Saints cut further into the Patriots’ lead to 24-21 when Chris Ivory scored on a 2-yard run. The Saints got into scoring position when second-string quarterback Patrick Ramsey hit Adrian Arrington for a 51-yard gain.
The game, from there, was settled by the field goals.
“I know it is the first week of preseason, yet there are still a number of things that are disturbing,” Payton said. “We will get back to work when we fly back.”