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SAINTS 37, PATRIOTS 27

Brady passes opening test

Patriots fail in second-half collapse

FOXBOROUGH -- One may assume that, as always, he was calm and composed.

And he clearly looked like the old No. 12.

And he glanced at the defense, dropped into the pocket, and fired a pass toward a moving target just as he has done a couple thousand times as a Patriot.

But Tom Brady's first pass of the 2005 season, make that the 2005 preseason, looked decidedly un-Brady like.

Particularly since the throw to tight end Benjamin Watson ended up in the hands of New Orleans cornerback Dwight Smith.

It's as if Brady was teasing the fans and media who have speculated as to whether his arm is indeed sore, or just being rested in August so that it is fresh in January.

Because by the time he exited Gillette Stadium last night, he had made a variety of throws -- left and right, in and out, long, short and in between -- to probably feel decent about his performance in the Patriots' 37-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

''When I make good decisions, usually good things happen," Brady said. ''You start the game with an interception and run off the field discouraged after a good week of practice.

''There's a lot of room for improvement."

That's precisely what Patriots defenders had to say after the Saints rolled up 401 yards of offense (to the Patriots' 340), 187 on the ground.

''That's unacceptable, completely unacceptable," defensive end Richard Seymour said. ''As a whole, we've got work to do.

''They moved the ball. It's hard to say what needs to be corrected without looking at the film, but they kind of did what they wanted to do at will. We have to do a better job defensively, getting off the field on third down, and we have to do a better job making things happen."

The Saints were 11 for 18 on third downs, with five of those conversions (in eight attempts) coming in the first half, when the teams played mostly starters. The Saints put up 218 yards of offense in the first two quarters, as well, though the Patriots took a 24-16 lead into the break.

New Orleans rolled up 125 yards on the ground in the first half, at a hefty 5.3 yards per attempt. The Saints had such success breaking through the line that safety Rodney Harrison led the Patriots with 10 tackles in the first half.

Even with his so-so night throwing, the sellout crowd was surely pleased to see Brady on the field. He sat out the preseason opener at Cincinnati and has thrown sparingly in many practices during training camp.

But last night, despite the pick on the first play from scrimmage, he was 6 for 11 for 105 yards and left with the score tied at 10.

Doug Flutie also played for the first time this season, subbing for Brady and racking up two touchdowns in his first three plays.

Flutie completed 3 of 4 passes for 52 yards. Rohan Davey, Flutie's chief competition for the No. 2 position, did not play. Rookie Matt Cassel played the fourth quarter.

The Saints outscored the Patriots, 21-3, in the second half, with a 15-0 advantage in the final quarter.

The winning score came on a Nate Poole 9-yard reception from Tod Bouman. Poole reached the end zone with an athletic leap over Jason Sanders, barely breaking the plane for a 30-27 New Orleans lead with 1:50 left.

Cassel's try at a two-minute drive ended when he fumbled after being blindsided by L.P. Ladouceur. Jimmy Verdon scooped up the loose ball and stumbled through an attempted tackle by Kory Chapman to put the game away.

The Saints scored first on a 23-yard field goal by John Carney seven plays after Smith's interception, but Brady and the Patriots responded in short order with a five-play, 67-yard scoring march.

Kevin Faulk, subbing in the starting lineup for Corey Dillon, jump-started the drive with a 10-yard burst.

Brady then went deep, hitting Tim Dwight on the left side for a 45-yard gain.

The ball was slightly underthrown, but Dwight adjusted and grabbed the pass before being dragged down by Fakhir Brown.

Three plays later, Patrick Pass blasted his way into the end zone behind a nice block by part-time fullback Dan Klecko.

Klecko, a reserve defensive lineman, ran into Saints linebacker Courtney Watson in the hole and stood him up, opening the way for Pass to put the Patriots ahead, 7-3.

Soon thereafter, the Patriots took over at the Saints' 48, but had to settle for an Adam Vinatieri 23-yard field goal.

The drive stalled inside the Saints' 10, when Brady misfired on three consecutive throws after getting a first-and-goal at the 5.

He threw low to David Givens on a quick slant, and a little high to Troy Brown, who dropped a would-be touchdown.

The last one was a miscommunication with Givens. Givens ran a flare at the goal line, but Brady threw to the back of the end zone. Vinatieri came through to give New England a 10-3 lead.

''I wish I could get a couple of those back," Brady said of the trio of incompletions. ''The one thing I did like, I was looking in the right place. I felt like I saw everything that was going on out there.

''Last year at points in the preseason and even in the first game, I'd come off the field not sure why I did what I did. I think one thing I will take positive from this week and seeing very well, not that it was executed well."

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