FOXBOROUGH -- For two days this week, the Patriots and New Orleans Saints practiced against each other on the fields next to Gillette Stadium. Both sessions drew large crowds seeking a glimpse of real football.
The teams held something resembling a practice in the form of a preseason game inside Gillette Stadium Thursday night, with the Patriots edging the Saints, 7-6.
"It was a good week," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "There's a lot of things we can learn from all three of those days. There's a lot of things we can learn from tonight."
The football wasn't pretty, and neither was a knee injury to Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher, who reportedly suffered a torn ACL. But glimpses, however fleeting, of how this Patriots team might shape up this season were on display.
Without Fletcher, rookie first-round pick Dont'a Hightower slid over to middle linebacker for the Patriots. Fellow rookie Chandler Jones also started on defense. If the Patriots are going to improve their pass rush this season, it's possible the two rookies play a role. Other glimpses included a lackluster Patriots offense still sorting through injuries on the offensive line. Tom Brady failed to lead a scoring drive. Rob Gronkowski failed to make a big play.
It was practice for everyone. At one point, a replacement official failed to turn off his microphone after announcing the result of a play, and noise from field level was audible throughout the arena until another official's pleas to turn off the mic were finally met.
"I'm just trying to coach our team here," said Belichick. "I'm not worried about the officials."
Brady took 19 snaps in the first quarter and was 4 for 7 for 30 yards on his passing attempts. There was one close call as the Patriots quarterback took a hard hit from Saints defensive end Will Smith with 10:02 remaining in the first. Brady fumbled and the ball was recovered by New Orleans. The Patriots quarterback was fine but unhappy, slamming his helmet down on the ground when he went to the bench. He came back out for one more series, but the New England offense once again failed to put points on the board.
While the Patriots offense was discouraging before the break, there were both positive and negative signs from the defense. Safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung both intercepted passes, but Chung was involved in coverage on a third-and-22 conversion for the Saints that reminded New England fans of the difficulties this team had defending on third down last season.
After splitting time with Ryan Mallett in the first half, Patriots second-string quarterback Brian Hoyer led the Patriots on a 14-play, 97-yard scoring drive, finding wide receiver Britt Davis for a three-yard touchdown with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter.
New Orleans put together a 10-play scoring drive that resulted in a field goal to start the fourth quarter. By that time, both teams had emptied their benches, with most players on the field competing for roster spots.
Fans began leaving shortly after. Midway through the fourth quarter, the building was half-empty. The final result, which was very much in question, wasn't a major concern.
The Patriots host the Philadelphia Eagles in their second preseason game on Mon., Aug. 20 at 8 p.m.
2:23 4th quarter, Patriots 7-6: Patriots go four-and-out, give the ball back to New Orleans. The Saints start on their own 14-yard line.
3:12 4th quarter, Patriots 7-6: John Kasay misses a 41-yard field goal that would have given New Orleans the lead. Ball back to the Patriots.
7:52 4th quarter, Patriots 7-6: No new scoring to report. Fans filing out of here rather quickly.
14:56 4th quarter, Patriots 7-6: Garrett Hartley kicks a 27-yard field goal to get the Saints within one. Matthew Slater and Jeremy Ebert back to return the kick for the Patriots.
End 3d quarter, Patriots 7-3: Saints have a field goal coming up.
2:07 3d quarter, Patriots 7-3: A 46-yard pass interference penalty on Tavon Wilson gives New Orleans the ball at the 17-yard line.
8:20 3d quarter, Patriots 7-3: Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
9:39 3d quarter, Patriots 7-3: Led by Brian Hoyer, the Patriots go 97 yards on 14 plays in 5:21. Hoyer finds Britt Davis for a three-yard touchdown pass to cap it off. Vereen had seven carries for 63 yards on the drive, including one 18-yard burst. He was in on every snap.
14:14 3d quarter, Saints 3-0: Shane Vereen in the game at running back for the Patriots.
Halftime: Saints 3, Patriots 0: Not much action here at Gillette. Largest cheer of the first half came moments ago when Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was shown on the big screen. Ryan Mallett found Danny Woodhead for a 20-yard completion just before the half, but Stephen Gostkowski missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Eight first downs for New Orleans, 11 for the Patriots. Time of possession 15:19 to 14:40 in favor of New England.
0:47 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Saints QB Sean Canfield throws it right to Patrick Chung, who holds on for the interception. Two picks today for the New England secondary.
2:00 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Marquis Johnson intercepts a pass by Ryan Mallett, who got hit as he was throwing.
3:48 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Dont'a Hightower doing some good work filling gaps for the Patriots when the Saints run. Plugged the hole nicely on one play but failed to wrap up the ball carrier, who scurried for another yard or two.
7:40 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Patriots punt. New Orleans ball at the eight.
8:34 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Patriots go 17 yards in six plays before turning it over on downs. However, New Orleans gets called for running into the kicker. Patriots get the ball again on a Saints penalty during a punt.
Ryan Mallett is in the game at quarterback for New England.
11:53 2d quarter, Saints 3-0: Jerod Mayo tips a pass by Chase Daniel and Patriots safety Steve Gregory recovers the ball in the air (after a bobble) for the pick. Great play by Mayo. Patriots ball on their own 17-yard line.
End 1st quarter, Saints 3-0: No scoring for the Patriots. Brandon Bolden gets in the game before Shane Vereen as the second running back for the Patriots.
1:10 1st quarter, Saints 3-0: Brian Hoyer is in the game for the Patriots.
2:28 1st quarter, Saints 3-0: Flashbacks to last season as the Saints convert a long third-down play. On third-and-22 Chase Daniel finds Courtney Roby for 30 yards. Roby beat both Sterling Moore and Patrick Chung on the play.
Saints can't finish the drive, but Bill Belichick can't be happy with that play in particular.
5:58 1st quarter, Saints 3-0: Brady completes a pass over the middle to Brandon Lloyd that would have been good enough for a first down, but Nate Solder is called for holding. Brady hits Gronkowski for 11 yards as New England turns it over on downs.
Brady slams his helmet to the ground when he gets back to the bench after a frustrating drive that fails to result in points. He is 4 for 7 for 30 yards and has been on the field for 19 snaps, including penalties.
8:30 1st quarter, Saints 3-0: New Orleans goes four plays in 1:22 and John Kasay kicks a 46-yard field goal. Brady's sack and fumble hurts the Patriots, but then again he didn't get hurt, so Pats fans will take it.
Brady coming back out for a second series (third series if you count that his first series was extended by a penalty on a New England punt).
9:52 1st quarter, 0-0: Brady scrambles on a third-and-long and gets sacked, fumbling the ball in the process as he's hit by Will Smith. New Orleans recovers at the 34-yard line.
Stevan Ridley getting most of the snaps in the backfield early with mixed results. He went the wrong way on one play that resulted in a loss.
12:10 1st quarter, 0-0: Stevan Ridley starts in the backfield for the Pats and gets an eight-yard gain. Danny Woodhead comes in on third down and rushes for a first.
It looked like the Patriots were going to fail in keeping the drive going as a pass from Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez fell short of a first down. But an offsides on New Orleans during the punt gives the ball back to New England. One casualty of the play: Linebacker Dane Fletcher was helped off the field after contributing to the punt team. He couldn't pressure on one leg and was helped to locker room.
14:28 1st quarter, 0-0: Saints go three-and-out with Brees under center. Rookie first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower started on defense. Sixth-round pick Nate Ebner started on special teams.
15:00 1st quarter, 0-0: The Saints receive first. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicks one through the end zone for a touchback.
Pregame: The Patriots held a moment of silence for Junior Seau, who passed away on May 2, before the game. Seau played for the Patriots from 2006 to 2009.
FOXBOROUGH -- We're ready for football here on a hot and humid night at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady and Drew Brees both pumped up their respective teams on the field, but you're unlikely to see either quarterback log heavy minutes. Keep it here for game details, and leave a comment for your fellow Patriots fans. Enjoy the game.