FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On a night when the two best offenses in the NFL in 2011 faced off in the preseason, it was the defenses that created the storylines on a warm, muggy New England evening.
For the second time in three years, the Saints dropped a preseason game in New England, falling to .500 with a 7-6 loss to the defending AFC champion Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
In 2010, the Saints lost to the Patriots 27-24 in an exciting, at least for preseason, game.
But Thursday night, the two teams left the record-breaking offenses at home and brought out their defenses.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ night was a simple 1 of 4 evening for only four yards while his Patriots counterpart Tom Brady ended the night 4 of 7 for 30 yards and a fumble.
By halftime, the teams had combined for only 324 yards and the game ended with less than 600 total yards; last season, the offenses combined for 896 yards per game to finish 1-2 in the NFL in 2011.
“I think we played quicker and more confident because it’s a little bit longer that they’ve been in the system now,” Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt said. “(Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) has really harped the last week on communication, pre-snap alignments and detail of your assignment. So we feel better about that. “
And it was the Saints defense that forced the first big play of the game thanks to pressure from New Orleans’ defensive line.
Defensive end Junior Galette hit New England quarterback Tom Brady first, forcing him to his right. Will Smith then hit Brady from behind, stripping the quarterback of the ball and linebacker Curtis Lofton recovered.
Four plays later, after the Saints offense couldn’t move the ball, John Kasay drilled a 46-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
New Orleans’ first-team offense finished with just six plays, both series ending in three-and-outs. But while Vitt said he was not unhappy with the result, Brees was not.
“That’s not OK with us,” Brees said of his series on offense. “When you’re not getting a lot of reps, you’re not really able to get into too much of a rhythm.”
At the half, the Saints had thrown two interceptions while the Patriots had turned the ball over twice on the Brady fumble and a Ryan Mallett interception.
The Patriots opened the second half with the game’s best drive, moving it 97 yards in 14 plays. Three penalties on the Saints defense, including an illegal contact flag on safety Isa Abdul-Quddus on third down, kept the drive alive.
New England scored its only points when quarterback Brian Hoyer hit wideout Britt Davis for a 3-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
Garrett Hartley pulled New Orleans to within 7-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter with a 27-yard field goal.
The Saints had a chance to take a late 9-7 lead, but Kasay pushed his 41-yarder wide right.
In spite of the good defense, Saints defenders echoed similar thoughts throughout the locker room – they’re not quite there yet.
“Impressed? No,” Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “We’re far from where we need to be. We’ve just got to keep putting our heads down and go to work.”