FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Forget about tonight’s preseason game and forget about this week’s practices.
Where the New Orleans Saints might get the most out of their time with the New England Patriots rests not in what’s going on in the present, but what went on in the past.
When the Saints kick off against the Patriots at 6:30 p.m. in Gillette Stadium, it’ll be their second game without coach Sean Payton on the sidelines and Jonathan Vilma on the field.
The suspensions are part of the most severe penalties assessed by the NFL in its history.
Besides the suspensions of Payton and Vilma, defensive end Will Smith was docked four games, the franchise was fined $500,000, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and the club lost second-round draft picks this year and next.
The old leader in that group? The Patriots’ punishment for stealing signals by video in 2007. Head coach Bill Bellichick was fined $500,000, the club $250,000 and the 2008 first-round pick was taken away.
There are lessons to be learned from New England, who found out about the penalties during the 2007 season.
“I think the biggest thing was Dave Thomas, he was on that Patriots team,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “When everything first came down about coach and everything, we had a meeting. I think it was right when we started offseason workouts. All the players came in and Dave Thomas came up and he said he had been on that team.
“The biggest thing was it was only going to be a distraction if you let it be a distraction. That was the motto that they really took in that locker room and we really took the same thing.”
The Patriots were accused of stealing signals from the New York Jets on Sept. 10. The penalties were handed down shortly thereafter.
All that happened was the Patriots bunkered down and turned their season mantra into an “us-against-the-world.”
They played mad and ended up 18-0 and in the Super Bowl.
“Obviously we hope that we can put together the same type of result,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “But certainly it’s something we can look at and say hey, this is maybe the closest to what we’re going through and you just try to turn the negative into a positive somehow.”
Thomas, with the Saints since 2009, sees similarities in the way both franchises have been covered in the immediate aftermath of the scandals being made public.
“It’s similar in that people in the organizations are under attack and people we’re close to,” he said. “It’s hard to see people that you know and love have their name drug through the mud. I think it’s important for us to focus on what we can control and that’s showing up every day and working hard and improving and just doing our jobs.”
New Orleans watched the way the Patriots practiced and how they carried themselves this week, trying to soak up everything they can from the most dominant team of the 2000s.
The Saints will take to the field in 2012 with a chip on their shoulders, copying the Patriots’ “us-against-the-world” mantra.
And that’s something Harper said the city can identify with.
“The city is always like that,” he said. “They always think somebody is out to get them. It’s good though. I’m glad we’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulders.”