FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Will Smith crunched Tom Brady from behind, forcing a fumble in the first quarter. It may be the Saints defensive end’s biggest play for a while.
One of four players punished in New Orleans bounty scandal, Smith was suspended for the first four regular-season games. So Thursday night’s sack of New England’s star quarterback was a highlight in the Patriots lackluster 7-6 win in their exhibition opener.
John Kasay had a chance to give the Saints (No. 9 in the AP Pro32) the lead, but his 41-yard field goal attempt went wide to the right with 3:07 left.
The game followed two days of joint practices between the teams and was the first for the Patriots (No. 2) since their 21-17 loss in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
Brady left after two series and 15 plays — plus two holding penalties against new left tackle Nate Solder — and banged his helmet on the ground in anger when he returned to the bench. He finished with four completions in seven attempts for 30 yards and the 11-yard sack from which he got up slowly on his first possession. Smith came around the left tackle position filled by Solder after Matt Light retired.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also played two series, lasting just six plays. He was 1 of 4 for 4 yards in his second exhibition game. In last Sunday’s 17-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame game, Brees was 4 for 5 for 41 yards on his only drive, resulting in a touchdown.
Second-year running back Shane Vereen was a bright spot for the Patriots as he and Stevan Ridley compete for playing time as replacements for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed with Cincinnati. On the first series of the third quarter, Vereen gained 62 yards on seven carries and caught a 10-yard pass.
The drive covered 97 yards, capped by Brian Hoyer’s 3-yard scoring pass to Britt Davis, a long shot to make the team at the crowded wide receiver position.
Vereen rushed for only 57 yards all last season when injuries limited him to five games and 15 rushes.
Another Patriots injury could be more serious. Linebacker Dane Fletcher, who started five games last season, was hurt covering a punt in the first quarter. NFL Network reported he tore an anterior cruciate ligament, but there was no official word from the Patriots.
Replacement officials had a relatively uneventful game. They did call an offside penalty on a punt that allowed the Patriots to continue their first series. The Saints were penalized later for running into punter Zoltan Mesko, although the Patriots again failed to capitalize and punted again.
The Saints’ only points came on a 46-yard field goal by Kasay on the possession after Curtis Lofton recovered Brady’s fumble, and a 27-yarder by Garrett Hartley on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Notes: Boston Celtics G Rajon Rondo attended the game. So did Charley Molnar, new coach of the University of Massachusetts, whose team will play all its home games at Gillette Stadium for the first time this year under a five-year deal. UMass is moving to the Mid-American Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision from the Colonial Athletic Association in the Football Championship Subdivision.