Patriots - Saints: Game Preview

The Patriots - Saints matchup on Monday night promises to be a showdown of two of the top teams in the NFL. Some believe it could be a possible preview of the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots (7-3) at New Orleans Saints (10-0)

KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/30/09
LOCATION: Louisiana Superdome
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: ESPN (Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden)

PREDICTION: Patriots 31-27

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots' passing attack is rolling thanks to having WR Wes Welker healthy. He's coming off a 15-catch game and is averaging 9.9 receptions in eight games. Combined with the presence of Randy Moss and several injuries to the Saints' secondary, and Brady will likely lead a very pass-heavy offense. The onus will be on the Saints to generate a consistent pass rush, and for the secondary to prevent big plays after the catch. ... This is being billed as Brady vs. Drew Brees, but the Saints would be wise to heavily incorporate their fifth-ranked running game as well. That would not only help keep the defense from wearing down, but give New Orleans a chance to tire out the Patriots' thin defensive line. The Saints have gotten off to slow starts in recent games but can't afford to gently rev up the motors this week and a game that figures to be back and forth and high scoring.

FAST FACTS: Welker is the first player in NFL history to catch 300 passes (302) in his first 40 games with a new team. ... The Saints have scored 30-plus points seven times this season.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Patriots:
--RB Sammy Morris was present at Wednesday's practice, which is a good sign heading into Monday's game. Attendance is sparse with this being Thanksgiving week, but Morris has been more vocal recently regarding his return.
--G Stephen Neal is also back on the practice field after suffering a head injury against the Colts and should be ready to return Monday night after sitting out last week's game.
--RB Fred Taylor, who had knee surgery nearly two months ago, does not appear to be any closer to returning than he was a week ago and will probably not be back on the field until December. His inevitable return will be a boost for the running game, though.
--RB Laurence Maroney has scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games and has been more effective with a heavier workload in recent weeks. Even with Taylor and Morris on the mend, Maroney might have already made the case for more playing time down the stretch.
--LT Matt Light has been silent on his status for this week's game, but he's been on the field participating in practice more so than in recent weeks. The Patriots have gotten a lot out of his backup, Sebastian Vollmer, but it appears Light will be a game-time decision Monday.

Saints:
--RCB Tracy Porter won't play against the New England Patriots on Monday night because of a sprained MCL in his left knee. He'll likely be sidelined another 2 to 4 weeks.
--RB Reggie Bush, who did not play last week against Tampa Bay because of a bruised right knee, had limited participation in Thursday's walkthrough.
--RCB Randall Gay was limited in the walkthrough after tweaking his right hamstring in the win over the Bucs.
--LCB Jabari Greer, who has missed the last two games with a left groin injury, worked on a limited basis Thursday.
--MLB Jonathan Vilma was limited in the walkthrough because of a knee injury.
--DE Bobby McCray was limited in Thursday's walkthrough with knee and back injuries.
--WR Lance Moore, who has been out for the last three games with a left high ankle sprain, was limited in the walkthrough.
--C Jonathan Goodwin has been bothered by an ankle problem but worked on a limited basis Thursday and should be ready for Monday night's game.

SCOUTING REPORTS

Patriots:

Leigh Bodden is coming off the game of his life in which he intercepted three passes against Jets' rookie Mark Sanchez, including a 53-yard return for a touchdown, and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Now comes the real test Monday night at the Superdome against the New Orleans. Drew Brees is no Sanchez. He might even be the exact opposite. While Sanchez is young and mistake-prone, Brees is a veteran who's proven to be accurate and precise.

Poor decision-making is not an issue for Brees, which means cornerbacks such as Bodden and others need to make they make all the right choices defensively when matched up against the Saints.

"It's always good to play a great team like that, and they're on a roll," said Bodden, who is looking forward to the challenge. "The offense is doing pretty good. Everybody's always talking about our defense and kind of talking bad about our defense, so it will be good to show how good of a defense we are against a top offense like that."

The Patriots aren't ones to shy away from a challenge, which is why they're accepting this latest test with open arms. They were fired up to play the undefeated Colts, too, but last in the closing seconds. Motivation wasn't an issue and it won't be an issue Monday either.

"You have to put your best foot forward when you play a team like that," Bodden said. "They're undefeated. They're a good team; we're a good team. We just have to bring our A game, that's what I like to say. I think we will. It's going to be prime time, a lot of guys play good in prime time, so it should be fun."

Playing on the turf is always a challenge, just like it was against Indianapolis, but the increased speed might help New England as well. A player such as Bodden can use every step he can get against New Orleans' fast receivers.

"It helps the defense too; doesn't just help the offense," Bodden said. "It's always good to play a good team on turf. It's no weather, no footing problems usually, so the ball's not going to be slick, so it makes for a good game.

"I think they play pretty good on the turf inside, but like I said, I think we played a good game against the Colts inside and we just had to finish and that's what we're trying to do this game."

Saints:

It doesn't take a devoted football fan to figure out that the undefeated Saints will be sufficiently challenged when they go for their 11th straight victory on Monday Night Football this week.

The only thing that needs to be said is that the Saints will play the New England Patriots (7-3) in what will be a raucous Superdome. In fact, many have already billed it as the biggest regular-season game in Saints history.

It would be difficult to argue that fact considering the Saints have taken the city by storm after two disappointing seasons. After each road win this year, they have been greeted at the airport by throngs of celebrating fans.

But as the final six games of the regular season approach, the stakes and attention will continue to build for the Saints, who can actually clinch the NFC South title Monday night with a loss by the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and a win against the Patriots.

"I think there's pressure each week to play well and to improve," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "But I don't think any one of us feels a sense of mounting pressure because of winning football games.

"I think there's always that weight of wanting to be perfect, or that added charge of trying to play the best game or coach the best game, and I think that's urgency. I think we all coach and play with a sense of urgency, and that's a good thing, not a bad thing."

Getting a chance to wrap up the division title so early doesn't carry a sense of urgency, of course, but the pressure to do it isn't there as it was in the past two seasons.

"We've been in the spot where you're sitting at 4-4 and you lose the next game and you're eliminated from the playoffs ... then there's pressure," said Payton. "That's different. Right now it's the focus of one game at a time and really working to improve each week.

"We're interested in how do we beat New England," he added. "That's the challenge in front of us."


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