Saints vs. Patriots: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers

Marc FreshmanContributor IAugust 10, 2012

Milne / US Presswire
Milne / US Presswire

The Patriots finished their first contest of the 2012 preseason with a 7-6 victory over the Saints.

The tight score may hint at a rather brutal affair, as if some unstoppable force met an immovable object on Thursday night, but that really wasn't the case. Rather, it was more about two right-handed teams swapping left-handed punches.

Clearly, neither offense flourished, but neither defense dominated, either.

It was a sloppy stalemate.

Still, though, there were a few tidbits of vital information sprinkled throughout. This is especially true for the Patriots, who walked away from this game with some important topics to ponder.

Here are New England's biggest winners and losers of the game.   

Winners: Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley

As soon as BenJarvus Green-Ellis vacated his position as New England's top running back, a handful of young studs lined up and handed in their resumes.

Ultimately, the job search came down to Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Brandon Bolden threw his hat into the ring as a long-shot candidate.

While there was no clear-cut horse leading the race throughout the OTA's, it seemed like Ridley was beginning to pull ahead in training camp.

Then came the preseason opener.

Shane Vereen had a very impressive showing, heavily chipping in on an impressive scoring drive with consistent legs, refined decision-making and crisp running.

More good news for Pats fans: Bolden collected a few sweet yards and Ridley had a nice game with eight carries for 40 hard-fought yards. Both of them demonstrated skill and patience on the field.

But still, Vereen stole the show. His soft feet, sharp cuts and blazing speed were on full display. By far, he was the most memorable player of the game.

If Patriots fans can take one good thing away from this initial contest, it's that they're covered at running back.

Ridley, Vereen and Bolden have wasted no time in sticking their chests out. They're playing with a massive chip on their shoulders, as if they intend to steal some bread and butter from the passing game.

For a Patriots team which generally prides itself on beauty and finesse, these three guys are seeking to make the team uglier and grittier. I love that.

Nice teams win the conference, mean teams win the Lombardi trophy. Let's be a mean team. 

Loser: Sterling Moore

Sterling Moore has a serious cult of devoted fans watching his every move. I count myself as one of his biggest fans. I love the guy.

Unfortunately, he didn't shine in the preseason opener. He had trouble holding his own down the sideline and collected a costly third-quarter penalty on pass interference.

This certainly isn't a reason to worry, but it's a tad deflating for those of us who are itching to see this kid break out as a superstar.

Hopefully, he'll bounce back on August 20 against the Eagles

Winner: Chandler Jones

Everything about Chandler Jones screams "game-changer." His jaw-dropping length makes him a spacing nightmare for opponents.

By giving Drew Brees and Chase Daniel a constant stream of headaches, Jones illustrated why he was worth trading up for in the draft. He's a pass-rushing menace, a bulky boogeyman on the field, a total dominator of men. 

It's clear that Jones is already being groomed as a franchise player. Although it's extremely early, I get the sense that Jones will be wearing a Patriots jersey for the entire length of his career.

Cause for Concern: Rob Gronkowski

Early in the game, Rob Gronkowski caught a pass from Tom Brady, then made a sharp turn to grab the first down. He was met by three defenders who pounced on him. As usual, Gronkowski refused to submit to the tackle and wrestled through them. Eventually, he was dragged down.

Gronkowski wasn't injured on the play, but it certainly looked bad. His legs got tangled underneath the weight of his body. His stems seemed to flail and contort in a very unnatural way, almost in a buckling fashion.

The way he was dragged down looked extremely similar to the play last season which put him in a walking boot and ultimately resulted in surgery.

Gronkowski dodged a bullet in this game, but I can't help feeling that he won the battle and not the war.

The fact remains that he's coming off surgery. Another fact to consider is that this is the way he plays football; he fights through tackles, which leaves defenders with no other option but to drag his legs down. I don't like the way these facts add up.  

Gronkowski's health is vital to the Patriots' success. They need him.

But I walked away from this game feeling very uneasy about the whole thing.

Winner: The Secondary

For a defensive backfield that was mind-numbingly bad last season, Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory took it upon themselves to shake things up in the preseason opener. Each of them collected a pick and flexed a little secondary muscle. It was nice to see.

Too soon to predict any long-term improvement from this unit, but you certainly need to tip your hat to the way they're starting off the new season. Nicely done, guys.

Loser: Nate Solder and the entire Offensive Line

We knew it was going to be a quick game for Tom Brady. He threw 30 yards before calling it a night.

Was it really too much to ask for the offensive line to protect him for two series?

Yes, apparently it was too much to ask for. Brady was viciously assaulted by a sandwich sack which left field turf all over his face.

We need to stop sugar-coating this situation and be blunt: This offensive line is terrible.

They are not "struggling," they are not "in transition," they are not "early in the process," they are not "feeling their way through things," they are not "figuring things out." They're terrible. 

I have never seen the Patriots play with fire like this. The coaching staff and the wizards behind the curtain have had seven months to fix this problem, but they haven't done it. 

It's aggravating to the point of madness. I'm so angry about this, I could spit nails.

Do not be misled into thinking that this is just another kink to work out as the season rolls along. The worst thing Pats fans can do is lie to themselves and tell each other "it's going to get better." This will not get better.

This flaw is fatal.

To underestimate this problem is to be entirely consumed and destroyed by it.

If the Patriots don't find a way to fix this, they will not win the Super Bowl. Period.


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