Saints Learned Some Lessons In Foxboro

When the Patriots topped the Saints in the team's preseason opener, it taught both sides something they may not have known. Certainly, the ole saying of "best laid plans" came to mind.

The Saints had a rough week leading up to and including their first game since winning Super Bowl XLIV in early February.

About the only thing that went according to plans during a five-day trip to the Northeast was at their first stop in Washington D.C., which included a visit with President Obama in the White House, a clinic for children and a trip to Walter Reed Medical Center to meet with injured soldiers.

From there, it was on to two days of workouts with the New England Patriots in advance of their exhibition opener Thursday night, neither of which went perfectly.

After two good practices Tuesday, the Saints lost running back Lynell Hamilton for the season when he tore his right ACL without contact during a half-speed drill. Hamilton's knee buckled when he tried to plant his foot and with it went his hopes of being the third tailback in Sean Payton's three-man setup.

The game wasn't much better as punter Thomas Morstead injured his left shoulder making a tackle on Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman after he returned Morstead's first kick 40 yards in the first quarter.

The only good news was that Morstead had the shoulder popped backed in and subsequent X-rays and an MRI were negative. He is expected to be sidelined indefinitely.

From there, the Saints stumbled around on offense, defense and in kick coverage, giving up kickoffs of 50 and 52 yards, as the Patriots built a 24-7 advantage.

Reserves helped the Saints tie the game at 24-24 late in the contest before the Patriots kicked a last-minute field goal to win. But all in all, exhibition game or not, it wasn't the way the defending Super Bowl champs wanted to start out.

Many players and coaches called it a good wake-up call for the Saints, who started the preseason 3-0 last year en route to a 13-0 regular-season start.

"There were a few bright spots, but when you lose a game -- regardless of whether it's preseason or not -- there are a number of things we've got to get corrected," Payton said.

After stalling on its first two possessions, the first-team offense did have a 20-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that used up 10 minutes of clock. And the second and third teams played reasonably well.

"There were mistakes and some mental errors, substitution issues and missed assignments, but I think all those are normal for a first preseason game," said quarterback Drew Brees. "But we probably had more than we would have liked and we need to get those things corrected."

Brees' backup, Patrick Ramsey, was impressive in an extended stint against the Patriots. He completed 9-of-13 passes for 111 yards. Ramsey didn't throw a touchdown or interception. Ramsey is competing with Chase Daniel for the No. 2 quarterback job.

Wide receiver Adrian Arrington caught four passes for 87 yards. It was the first time he made the stat sheet since his first preseason game as a rookie in 2008, but it might not be his last noteworthy effort assuming his bruised left shoulder doesn't prove a long-term hindrance.

"He came in and brought a little spark with that second group," Payton said.

--Saints coach Sean Payton said Sunday the team will likely bring in a veteran running back this week following the loss of running back Lynell Hamilton to a season-ending torn right ACL on Wednesday.

Hamilton, a third-year pro, was expected to be the third tailback in Payton's backfield-by-committee behind Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Hamilton, who saw limited action last year, was in line to replace Mike Bell when he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Saints declined to match the offer to the restricted free agent.

The Saints still have second-year pro P.J. Hill and undrafted free agent Chris Ivory on the roster, but Payton said both have a ways to go. While he said he was encouraged by what he's seen, he said it would be unfair to put them in that position in the regular season.

Payton hopes to have a new back in camp before Saturday's exhibition game with the Houston Texans in the Superdome. Before Hamilton was hurt, the Saints brought in former Washington Redskins running back Ladell Betts, who had an ACL injury last season, for a tryout early in camp.

--Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams took steps to make sure linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who played mostly on special teams last year, doesn't get too excited after his performance in the first preseason game.

Casillas had a team-leading 10 tackles, including three for a loss, and a sack in a 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots and the next day was promoted to the starting unit on the weak side. He'll take the spot left when former weak-side starter Scott Shanle was moved to the strong side.

"As you (media) guys kind of hang around this week in practice, you're going to see us be on him pretty hard because you -- and everybody else -- is going to be kissing his butt all week long about how good he was," Williams said after noting that Casillas played with great speed and made good decisions.

"He hasn't done anything in a regular-season game, and now he's got to do it when somebody else has seen he's flashed. Any time a player flashes, you become a marked man the next time a grown man gets ready to play against you. All of a sudden now he becomes a marked man. So let's see how he plays this week when he's marked."

--Williams also had some pointed remarks for cornerback Patrick Robinson, the team's No. 1 draft choice this spring. Robinson missed several practices with a hamstring injury, then struggled in the loss to the Patriots.

"Patrick has a lot of skill but right now he doesn't know how to play," Williams said. "Right now I don't have any trust in him. He has to take the next step up in pro football. He's had too much down time and he doesn't know how to take care of his body. Right now, he's my whipping boy."

Robinson said he didn't take the comment personally and knows Williams is only trying to motivate him and make him focus more. "I just have to stay in my play book, that's the main thing for me. I have to focus more."

Robinson redeemed himself in Sunday's single practice, intercepting two passes in team drills. Both came off seventh-round draft pick Sean Canfield, who has also struggled in camp. The second was especially damaging because it came on third-and-1 in a short-yardage drill.

--Williams was on a roll Saturday when the team returned to the practice field for the first time since the Patriots' game.

Just before the horn sounded to start the workout, Williams had his defensive players do a series of 30 up-downs -- a drill in which a player runs in place, then drops down to the ground and pops back up.

The reason: the Saints, who had 39 takeaways in the regular season last year and eight more in three playoff games, had none against the Patriots. They also were guilty of some sloppy tackling and gave up two easy rushing touchdowns.

"The basic thing is that when we start the season we get a chance to take the ball away -- and we didn't take the ball away," Williams said. "We gave up rushing touchdowns. We have to make sure that we get in better shape to understand that that's not how we are. It was just a little bit of message-sending."

--After punter Thomas Morstead injured his left shoulder while tackling Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman on his first kick on Thursday night, kicker Garrett Hartley had to take on Morstead's punting and kickoff duties as well.

Hartley, who hadn't punted since his senior year of high school seven years ago, boomed a 55-yarder on his first attempt and wound up averaging 47.0 yards on five kicks with a net of 39.6. He also had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line.

"It wasn't really anything new to me," Hartley said. "It was just a matter of knowing that when I went in I had really two points -- catch the ball and get it over the line of scrimmage."

"I thought he did a good job considering he hadn't worked at it," Payton said. "I thought he did well, also on the kickoffs, which he works a little bit at. He did a good job in an emergency situation."

--On their way to New England for practices and an exhibition game with the Patriots, the Saints stopped off in Washington D.C. to be congratulated by President Obama on their victory in Super Bowl XLIV.
Obama welcomed the Saints in an East Room ceremony where he congratulated the players, owner and coaches on their first NFL title.

While Obama noted that he has to make tough decisions as president, "I never decided on an onside kick in the second half of the Super Bowl," he said in referencing Sean Payton's call that helped launched the Saints to their win.

Team members presented the president with a Saints jersey with the number of his presidency -- 44 -- on the back.

--Saints running back Reggie Bush was tight-lipped Saturday about news reports that he had apologized to USC Athletic Director Pat Haden for accepting improper gifts that landed the Trojans on probation.
Bush responded to questions about the reported telephone conversation with Haden by saying what he said at the start of training camp "was my apology."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This was a business trip and we didn't get our business done tonight. It's preseason and there are chinks in the armor, but that is what these games are for." -- Saints FB Heath Evans, on the team's 27-24 loss to New England it its exhibition opener.

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