Published August 10, 2012
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots figured they had someone to replace running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis when he left as a free agent.
Turns out they had two for the job.
Second-year players Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley showed speed and elusiveness in rushing for 104 yards, 12 more than the New Orleans Saints managed as a team, and the Patriots won their exhibition opener 7-6 on Thursday night.
"More than trying to one-up each other, I think we learn from each other," Vereen said.
Vereen gained all his 64 yards on 11 carries in the second half against backup defenders after Ridley started the game and picked up 40 yards on eight attempts for the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32). Ridley was New England's second leading rusher last season with 441 yards.
But he said he's not thinking about replacing Green-Ellis, now with Cincinnati.
"Everything's about improving," said Ridley.
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.
"I was excited because it's been so long since I played with the injuries and everything," he said. "It felt good to be out there running."
Tom Brady played two series and completed four passes in seven attempts for 30 yards. He also was sacked by Will Smith and fumbled with Curtis Lofton recovering for the Saints (No. 9). Smith has been suspended for the first four regular-season games in connection with the bounty scandal.
"No," Smith said when asked if he's preparing any differently than if he had avoided punishment. "Preseason's the same. Got to work hard. Job's always on the line, so got to go out and compete."
Once the regular season starts, interim coach Joe Vitt said, Smith, with 61 1/2 sacks in eight seasons, will be missed.
"You're going to miss anybody with the talent of Will Smith," said Vitt, who faces his own suspension for the first six regular-season games. "Will's a heck of a player. He's a heck of a leader."
The Saints' defense gave up just one touchdown, but the Patriots were better, allowing a pair of field goals.
"We held them to six points so that's always good," said safety Patrick Chung, who had one of the Patriots two interceptions. "It's always feels good to get an interception. It's just preseason, but you've still got to make plays."
John Kasay had a chance to give the Saints the lead, but his 41-yard field goal attempt went wide right with 3:07 left.
The game followed two days of joint practices between the teams and was the first for the Patriots since their 21-17 loss in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
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 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.
"I am not disappointed one bit with the first unit offense," Vitt said. "We treated last week sort of like a scrimmage ... and so this was our first preseason game."
Patriots 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.
"He's really helped me a lot," said veteran linebacker Bobby Carpenter, in his first season with New England. "Hopefully, he'll be all right."
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 Lofton recovered Brady's fumble, and a 27-yarder by Garrett Hartley on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Notes: The Saints gained 280 yards, one more than the Patriots. ... Courtney Roby had five receptions for New Orleans. The special teams stalwart has six catches in his seven regular seasons. ... 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.
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