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Patriots Open Exhibition Season

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FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 9:   Brandon Lloyd,  Tom Brady #12, and  Jabar Gaffney #10 of the New England Patriots chat from the sideline in the second half during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO, MA – AUGUST 9: Brandon Lloyd, Tom Brady #12, and Jabar Gaffney #10 of the New England Patriots chat from the sideline in the second half during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on August 9, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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By HOWARD ULMAN
AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ 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.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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