Foxboro, Mass. – The New orleans Saints extracted from Tuesday's joint practice with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium much of the same that they have put into the work they've submitted in their offseason of OTAs, minicamps and two weeks of training camp at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Namely, New Orleans submitted a highly competitive, productive showing against one of the NFL's best franchises, one that Saints coaches and players look forward to matching their wits and abilities against.
For the fourth time, the Saints and Patriots are engaged in a joint practice. They again will practice Wednesday, in helmets and shoulder pads, in advance of Thursday's preseason opener between the teams at Gillette Stadium.
New Orleans' offense was efficient and effective Tuesday, particularly the Drew Brees-Brandin Cooks passing combination, and the defense again was active and disruptive, with its highlight play being an interception of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady by rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins during team drills.
"We got a lot of good situational football drills between the base, third down, red area, two-minute – we hit a lot of periods with certain points of emphasis," Saints Coach Sean Payton said. "Both teams, I thought, did a good job of just competing and keeping each other up. This is our fourth time having a joint practice with New England and the prior ones have gone well.
"(Gauging the progress) is hard just on the mind's eye because there are some plays that, with an early whistle, some runs that we've got to look at, just making sure. The key is getting used to the substitution tempo, different than practice where you're scripting it, so there's a lot more spontaneity, a little bit more realistic look. I thought, like anything in training camp, there's kind of ebbs and flows to a momentum of practice and I thought both teams competed well."
Minus a physical scoreboard, the Saints likely were more pleased this year with their mental one than they were last year, when the Patriots visited The Greenbrier and Brady and Co. had a surgically proficient day.
Minus starting defensive end Cam Jordan (the birth of his daughter), cornerback Keenan Lewis (not in attendance) and defensive tackle John Jenkins (undisclosed), and receiving a very limited contribution from cornerback Delvin Breaux (he participated in very few drills) – at least three of them projected starters – the Saints defense stacked as many wins as it did defeats against New England.
Rankins had an interception. The pass rush harassed Brady. The back end (rookie cornerbacks De'Vante Harris and Ken Crawley, in particular) held up in coverage.
"It's huge," safety Roman Harper said. "We love to compete – this is the game that we do, the game that we all love. Any time we get to go out and compete against another team (is a positive), especially a team like the New England Patriots who always give you a little bit of instant gratification in the fact that, if we can go out here and execute against these guys, we might be able to execute against anybody else.
"If we can confuse this quarterback…confidence-wise, you should understand that these things that we're doing, it's kind of becoming proof in the pudding. We can understand that this is going to work and now guys start to believe a little bit more and when you get that, you get more execution because they're actually believing what we're teaching and all these things work hand in hand.
"When you get that, you're going to have successful times. I think defensively, that's the type of mind-set and the things that we're trying to get accomplished."
Likewise, Brees and the Saints offense were able to untrack against New England. After a four-interception Saturday against the Saints defense at The Greenbrier, the quarterback was back to his usual command and Cooks, often matched against Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler in one-on-one and team drills, gave Butler all he could handle, and then some.
"I got some work put in on me today," Butler said.
The Saints put in work in several areas Tuesday.
"We had some success in the two-minute, which was good," right tackle Zach Strief said. "I think we probably would have liked to run the ball a little bit better and yet, there's probably a little bit of feeling out, a defense that we're not prepared for – you kind of come out and play what you see, and I think we'll have a better day tomorrow. I think the game is where we'll get to see how we're doing.
"This is a great organization to practice against. They do things the right way, the tempo is right, guys are still trying to take care of each other and yet, there's a ton of competition against a really good team. If you're and NFL team, those are the guys you want to measure yourself against – consistently one of the best in the league and I think we always enjoy coming and practicing with them."