It wasn't all Mardi Gras parades for the Patriots first offense and defense Saturday night in New Orleans, but by the time the final gun fired New England picked up its first win of the preseason with a 26-24 comeback against the Saints.
Things weren't great early on as the Tom Brady-led offense had three consecutive three-and-outs to open things offensively. The top New England defense allowed the Saints first three drives to go no fewer than 61 yards as Drew Brees and Co. put up a 15-0 lead, a true preseason score on a field goal, two touchdowns and a pair of failed two-point plays.
The Saints actually pulled out to a 21-0 advantage in the second quarter as the Patriots didn't break into the scoring until a Jimmy Garoppolo-to-Chris Harper touchdown with less than a minute to play in the half. The score came as the backup quarterback avoided sack to keep the play alive for the 24-yard touchdown.
Garoppolo actually led the Patriots to scores on five of the final six drives of the night, capped by Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal with 14 seconds to play.
Bill Belichick will have plenty to work on with his team in victory. His first offense couldn't move the ball. His first defense couldn't stop it.
The preseason is half over. Training camp, at least in terms of public attendance and media access, is over.
Opportunities for players to prove themselves and the team improve itself are becoming fewer and fewer.
But there was also plenty to like on both sides of the ball as the game wore on. And, even in the preseason, correcting things after a win is better than doing so after a victory.
Garoppolo, James White, Dion Lewis and others have plenty to be happy about. They got their chance and they did their job.
As Belichick said, "there were some good things and some things to work on everywhere. There are things to work on and things to work with, too."
Check out a selection of the best images from the Patriots preseason game against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, August 22, 2015.
Jimmy Garoppolo – The second-year passer showed improvement, picking up where he left off in the second half against the Packers. He led the Patriots on five scoring drives. He completed 28 of 33 throws for 269 yards and a 98.1 passer rating. He had only one really bad throw on the night, off his back foot leading to an interception. He also wasn't sacked, which helped his effort. He had to call a timeout before his first snap and there were a couple times the offense looked a little out of joint, but Garoppolo put forth a really nice performance and took a step forward in his development in New Orleans.
Dion Lewis/James White – The battle to replace Shane Vereen for the key third-down role in the Patriots passing attack is heating up. Lewis was very impressive in his Patriots debut, catching all five passes thrown his way. He had a nice one-handed grab. He made tacklers miss. He burst through for an 11-yard touchdown. Maybe most impressively, Lewis was very good in his pass protection pickups and chip blocking. He clearly isn't afraid to stick his head in there to protect his quarterback. That's key and a good sign. Lewis looked a little Danny Woodhead-like against the Saints. White also had solid performance for the second straight week, adding a touchdown and a nice 20-yard pass play.
Pass protection – A week after giving up seven sacks, New England didn't allow one against the Saints. Some of that has to do with New Orleans being less aggressive in the pass rush. But some of it was better work from the offensive line that saw the summer debuts of Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. There is still plenty of work to be done here and roles to be won in the middle, but it was a step forward in the pass protection and the sack column.
Stephen Gostkowski – Sure Gostkowski missed from 57 yards, but it was a solid effort on a long kick after hitting from 56 last week. He hit his game-winner from 35 yards and also was booming his kickoffs all night indoors. With a new big-money contract the veteran looks very much ready for the regular season already.
Chris Harper – The undrafted rookie out of Cal built on his seven-catch debut with another five catches for 69 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown. Harper also had a nice 28-yard punt return late to help set up the game-winning field goal. With all the injuries at receiver the depth is being tested and it's opening up chances for Harper to show his stuff. So far, he's acquitted himself well.
Jamie Collins – Many expect Collins to continue to improve in 2015 and maybe make the jump to Pro Bowl or All-Pro status. That's a fair expectation. But it was not on display Saturday night. Collins got beat early in coverage by Mark Ingram. Then he missed a couple tackles. It was not a very good performance in limited early action for arguably New England's best athlete and defensive player.
Run blocking – While the pass protection improved, the run blocking regressed. None of the backs seemed to have much room to run, often having to work hard just to get back to the line. LeGarrette Blount had just 15 yards on his 13 attempts. Overall the ground game picked up just 82 yards on 35 attempts for a 2.3-yard average. The linemen let too may defenders get across their faces and lost in the trenches too often when the team tried to establish the run, especially early on.
Logan Ryan – A week after giving up a long touchdown, Ryan was beaten down the field against the Saints. The third-year corner just seems to be letting too many receivers get behind him this summer. He seemed to start the spring being given a legit shot to win the right cornerback job but has not run with that chance. He's slipping down the depth chart and his chances to prove himself are running out.
Travaris Cadet – The potential third-down back was very impressive early in camp practice, showing great burst and playmaking ability. But he's been banged up for two weeks and has yet to play in the preseason. Meanwhile, Lewis and White are acquitting themselves well in their chances. Sooner or later, Cadet will miss too much time to make up.
Who else stood out in their performance against the Saints – for better or worse? Let us know with a comment below!