FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One championship may be just the start for the New Orleans Saints. They’re studying how the New England Patriots kept winning NFL titles, hoping to match that domination.
One imitation already has been a resounding, and humorous, success — Saints coach Sean Payton’s impression of Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
On Tuesday, Payton’s team got a close, helmet-to-helmet look at the club that won Super Bowls in 2002, 2004 and 2005. The defending champs participated in the first of two days of joint practices before the teams meet in their exhibition opener on Thursday night.
“He’s a guy that certainly I respect,” Payton said of Belichick. “When we got to New Orleans in ‘06, we paid close attention to who was winning in our league and, clearly, we patterned our organization after what New England was trying to accomplish. My grandmother used to say, ‘I think imitation is the greatest form of flattery.’ “
So Belichick should be extremely flattered by the way Payton motivated his team for a Monday night game against the Patriots last season. New Orleans dominated 38-17 at home to improve to 11-0.
Payton showed up for a team meeting five days before the game dressed similar to Belichick in a Patriots blue hoodie and mimicking his physical mannerisms.
What was the key to its accuracy?
“No emotion,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Tuesday. “It was good. I wish we had footage of it.”
Payton described the meeting in his book, “Home Team,” published late in June. It was a good way to critique his team by imagining what Belichick would be saying to his players about the Saints.
Fullback Heath Evans played under Belichick for four seasons before joining the Saints last season. One of the more talkative Patriots in those years, sometimes to Belichick’s dismay, his former coach would be proud to hear Evans’ review of Payton’s impression.
“They always tell us to say ‘no comment’ in all our media speech performance classes,” Evans said. “No comment.”
But, he conceded, “their personalities couldn’t be more different.”
Belichick did not speak with reporters Tuesday.
Like Payton’s impression, the joint practice is a refreshing change of pace. Freed from the monotony of training camp, players had to think and react more quickly.
“The guys are nervous. They’re anxious,” New England running backs coach Ivan Fears said. “They don’t know what they’re going to call on defense so they’ve got to go through all their assignments, all their techniques plus play with energy and play physical.”
There was more hitting than when the Patriots and Saints practice among themselves.
New England cornerbacks Jonathan Wilhite and Kyle Arrington knocked Marques Colston to the ground as backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey’s pass sailed over the receiver’s head.
Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, in the midst of a solid recovery from knee surgery, participated in 11-on-11 drills without fear of being hurt.
“We’re all pros out here and we know this is practice and we’re going to take care of each other,” he said. “But, at the same time, you don’t know these guys so you don’t know if they’re going to try and thud you or if they’re clumsy or what’s going to happen. But, for the most part, I wasn’t too worried about it.”
On the final day of two-day joint practices between New Orleans and Houston last August four fights erupted.
“I think Bill and Sean got together and said, ‘Hey, guys, if there’s fighting, we’re going to toss you,’“ Evans said. “There’s no room for lack of self-control in this game and last year in Houston was a bit out of order.”
The most challenging part of Tuesday’s two practices was “figuring out the right tempo,” Patriots running back Kevin Faulk said. “It’s neat scrimmaging against them just because of what they accomplished last year.”
Both first-string quarterbacks were on target for much of the two sessions.
Tom Brady lofted a pass over safety Roman Harper into the hands of rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez for a touchdown.
A few minutes earlier, Drew Brees called an audible, and Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo shouted to his defense to adjust, but Jeremy Shockey caught the pass on the right side of the end zone.
Last season, Brees threw five touchdown passes in the rout of the Patriots.
“That was a big night for all of us because we knew the gravity of that game, playing against a team like the Patriots on Monday Night Football and wanting to keep the undefeated streak alive,” he said. “It just felt like the next step in proving that we were championship worthy.”
The victory capped a week of preparation that’s still remembered for Payton’s impression of Belichick.
“Sean has a great way of motivating the guys during the week in a fun way,” Brees said, “in a way that catches your attention, but also lets you know the importance of certain things.”
Payton said he didn’t ask Belichick about the book. But the Saints will be in town through Thursday night.
“I’ll give him a copy,” Payton said.