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BOSTON (CBS) — New England football fans’ long wait for the return of game action finally ended on Thursday night, with the Patriots beating the Saints 7-6 in the team’s preseason opener on Thursday night.
The final score doesn’t always tell you much though when it comes to preseason games, so let’s look at the positives and negatives in a new feature called Four Ups, Four Downs.
1. Chandler Jones
It’s hard to not get excited about how great the kid looked Thursday night going up against Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod. He displayed speed moves and power moves, and he showed great awareness. Statistically he had just two total tackles, but he looked to be an impact player right from the get-go, applying heavy pressure on Drew Brees on the second play of the game. He also forced holding calls on Bushrod on back-to-back plays, and he tackled a scrambling Chase Daniel from behind for a big third down stop. Reporters have been gushing about Jones’ ability throughout training camp, and everyone got to see it on the big stage on Thursday.
2. Shane Vereen
When Stevan Ridley got the start at running back, and the next guy to get carries was undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden, it didn’t look too good for second-year back Shane Vereen. However once the second half began, Vereen showed that he’s still very much alive in the battle for carries. He amassed 64 yards on 11 carries (5.8 YPC) and added 17 yards on two catches. All of that came against Saints’ backups, but regardless of the numbers, he ran with confidence, found his holes and looked more than capable. That’s good news for the Patriots.
3. Safety Picks
It’s no secret that the Patriots’ defense last season was anywhere from really bad to downright atrocious. While we didn’t get long enough of a look at the Pats’ D against Drew Brees’ high-powered offense, this year’s unit made a strong first impression. The biggest plays came from safeties, one from newcomer Steve Gregory and the other from Patrick Chung. Gregory’s tip came on a ball that was batted up into the air by Jerod Mayo. Gregory exploded to the spot where the ball was going to land and bobbled it a bit but eventually came down with the pick. Chung’s interception was all but gift-wrapped by Sean Canfield, but it was nevertheless an important forced turnover with the opponent in position to score.
4. Backup Quarterbacks
Bill Belichick used Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett in both halfs, and both backups looked strong. Mallett shook off a few early jitters to showcase the strong arm that scouts have raved about since his days at Arkansas, and he led the Patriots on an impressive two-minute drill at the end of the half (it ended in a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal). Mallett finished 8-for-19 for 89 yards, though he did throw an interception while getting hit on a pass. Hoyer meanwhile threw the game’s lone touchdown pass, a three-yard dart to Britt Davis just over the goal line. He finished 8-for-15 for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Extra Point: Zoltan Mesko
The third-year Romanian punter showed he can boom the football like very few can, making the most of his eight punts on the evening. He averaged 47.8 yards per punt, with his long being a 50-yarder. Four of his punts ended up inside the Saints’ 20-yard line, as well.
1. Dane Fletcher
You always hate to see anyone get hurt in a preseason game, yet every year, it happens to at least one player. This year that player was Dane Fletcher, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL when covering a punt in the first quarter. If doctors confirm that’s the injury, then the third-year linebacker who’s shown tremendous growth over the past two years will be out for the season. It’s not exactly the equivalent to the Ravens losing Terrell Suggs for the year, but it definitely hurts the team’s depth at linebacker.
2. Kick Return
Ever since Ellis Hobbs left New England, it’s seemed to be impossible for anyone on the team to return a kickoff past the 25. That trend continued on Thursday, with Danny Woodhead returning two kicks and picking up a combined 24 yards. That contributed to the Pats’ average starting position being their own 20. It has to be better than that.
3. Offensive Line
When your one job is to protect Tom Brady, you really ought to do that job. But in the first quarter, not one offensive lineman was able to even slow down anyone on the Saints, and Brady ended up evading one sack only to get mauled from behind by Will Smith. Brady ended up fumbling but was otherwise unharmed (save for a few rubber pellets in his eye). That’s the good news for now, but if this offensive line doesn’t get a lot better (and quickly), Brady’s going to have a tough year back there.
4. Sterling Moore
The corner had a decent game, but he had the most costly penalty of the game, committing pass interference on a third down that set the Saints up with a first down on the Pats’ 17-yard line. The replacement refs assigned the penalty to rookie Tavon Wilson, but Moore’s infraction likely won’t get overlooked by the coaches.
Extra Point: Brandon Lloyd
It’s unfair to criticize him, because he only got a couple of series out there with Tom Brady. However, he said this week that he feels every ball is catchable. He had a chance to prove it with a back shoulder throw along the sideline, but he was unable to haul it in. To be fair, he did make a big catch on third down that would’ve kept a drive alive had it not been for a holding call, so there’s no reason to be down on Lloyd after his Patriots preseason debut.