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OPINION / ANALYSIS

NEW ORLEANS ― For a little more than a year, we've heard about Sean Payton's affection for the Patriots and how their head coach Bill Belichick runs that franchise.

Payton, the Saints' now fifth-year Super Bowl-winning head coach, waxed poetic last November prior to New Orleans dominating New England on that post-Thanksgiving Monday night in the Super Dome.

He devoted an entire chapter in his recently published book about the Patriots and about how he had to emulate perfectly Belichick to make a point to his team.

And a week ago, he took the Saints up to suburban Boston for three practices and a preseason game.

The Saints lost 27-24 and looked altogether sloppy and lackadaisical.

Copying, apparently, can only take you so far.

'Last week against the Patriots, we didn't come out with our same swagger,' defensive end Will Smith said. 'We didn't play with our same intensity. We kind of focused on that all week, to try to get the ball loose and be more active and pursue.'

Saturday night, we saw exactly what happens when the Saints get back to playing New Orleans football after a week of Sean Payton-style practices, not Bill Belichick-themed sessions.

The Saints were sharp, quick off the ball and altogether dominant in a 38-20 win over Houston.

For the more than 70,000 fans who purchased tickets for the home preseason opener, that was more like it.

'We practice a certain way,' linebacker Scott Shanle said. 'We go 100 miles per hour all the time. The Patriots, they kind of backed off the day before and had their own tempo. When you go to someone else's place, you have to respect the way they want you to practice with them.

'This week, we practiced the way we practiced and I think that helped.'

Certainly there was much evident that New Orleans needs to work on.

There were the nine penalties for 97 yards.

There were the insane amount of long kickoff returns, including a 63-yarder and a 55-yarder.

And there was still an issue of receivers getting open deep against the secondary.

But make no mistake, while this was a preseason game, it was also a coming out party for the Saints. A week ago against the Patriots, they played like they didn't want to be there.

Saturday night against Houston, they played with swagger, like the defending Super Bowl champions.

'This week we went back to the drawing board and said we're going to do what we do week in and week out and not try to play like the other team,' Smith said.

For at least one week, mission accomplished.

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