FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints are leaving New England after losing their punter, a running back and their exhibition opener.
The team that won its first NFL title with the help of big plays couldn’t stop them Thursday night. Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 28-yard field goal with 53 seconds left to give the Patriots a 27-24 win.
The kick was set up by a short pass by Zac Robinson that Darnell Jenkins turned into a 52-yard gain. The Saints also allowed kickoff returns of 52 and 50 yards by first-round draft pick Devin McCourty.
On his first series since being voted Super Bowl MVP, Drew Brees threw an incompletion and was sacked for a 10-yard loss. But on his third and final possession, he led a 20-play, 86-yard march that lasted 10:01 and ended with a 2-yard scoring run by Reggie Bush that cut New England’s lead to 10-7.
Brees completed 9 of 13 passes for 55 yards.
Tom Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, played New England’s first two series and went 5-for-8 for 67 yards. In last year’s exhibition opener, he played for the first time since the 2008 regular-season opener, when a knee injury ended his season.
On Thursday, the Patriots held out wide receiver Wes Welker despite his strong comeback from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered in the last regular-season game. He is expected to be ready for the opener Sept. 12 at home against Cincinnati.
The status of Saints punter Thomas Morstead is uncertain. He hurt his shoulder knocking Julian Edelman out of bounds after a 40-yard return following New Orleans’ first series. Morstead went to the locker room and returned to the sideline later in the opening quarter, but placekicker Garrett Hartley punted the rest of the game.
The Saints arrived in Foxborough on Tuesday for two days of joint practices with the Patriots. During the final session Wednesday morning, No. 3 running back Lynell Hamilton tore his right ACL and was helped off the field. He had been effective on special teams and in short-yardage situations.
New Orleans beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in the Super Bowl, overcoming a 17-16 fourth-quarter deficit and scoring the final touchdown on a big play, Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return.
New England played much better than it did in New Orleans last year, a 38-17 loss in which Brees threw five touchdown passes and gave the Saints an 11-0 record.
Without Welker, Julian Edelman had another big game with six catches for 90 yards. He caught six passes in the last game played at Gillette Stadium, a 33-14 loss to Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs.
The Patriots scored on their first three possessions, getting a 35-yard field goal by Gostkowski; a 6-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis; and a 5-yard run by Laurence Maroney. Reggie Bush scored on a 2-yard run for the Saints, who trailed 17-7 at halftime.
The Patriots made it 24-7 on the first series of the third quarter when Maroney scored on a 1-yard run after McCourty’s 52-yard kickoff return.
But the Saints came right back on Larry Beavers’ 97-yard kickoff return and Chris Ivory’s 2-yard run, then tied the score on Hartley’s 23-yard field goal with 2:40 remaining.
NFL NOTEBOOK: The San Diego Chargers will be at less than full strength for their exhibition opener against the Chicago Bears on Saturday night. Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill are holding out. Among those possibly not playing Saturday due to injury are left tackle Tra Thomas (knee), running back Darren Sproles (shoulder) and linebacker Larry English (foot). English, a first-round draft pick last year, has been getting increased reps with Merriman out, but he likely won’t go Saturday. “It’s definitely a bummer,” English said after Thursday’s practice. “You want to get out there and compete.” Coach Norv Turner sounds as if he will play it safe with some players. “I want everyone to get a feel for it, but we’ve got a long way to go before the regular season,” Turner said.