Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

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Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

FOXBORO -- The Patriots and Saints went at it during Monday's practice, the first of two joint sessions that will be held before their exhibition game Thursday. Here are all the little nuggets of information we gathered throughout the course of the day:

No Brandon Spikes or Kyle Hix for the second consecutive day of camp. In addition to PUP list absences (Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Markus Zusevics, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jake Ballard), Visanthe Shiancoe, Tracy White, Alfonzo Dennard, Spencer Larsen, Matt Kopa, Ron Brace, Jonathan Fanene, and Darrion Weems did not participate.
With No. 55 unavailable, Bobby Carpenter found himself back working with the 1s.

Kyle Love had a shield affixed to his helmet. Considering the way he left practice Sunday, leaving the field with a towel over his head after spending several minutes on the sideline covering his face with his hands, he might have suffered an eye injury.
Patriots receivers versus Saints defensive backs: Donte' Stallworth got one on CB Johnny Patrick; Wes Welker destroyed CB Marquis Johnson; Brandon Lloyd shook rookie CB Corey White with a nice cutback; Rob Gronkowski was just too big for S Roman Harper; Julian Edelman had no trouble with CB Kamaal McIlwain; Jabar Gaffney beat White; S Malcolm Jenkins was flagged for pass interference (the refs were back again today) on Aaron Hernandez; Johnson tipped a ball targeted for Jeremy Ebert, but Ebert got a handle on it after another bobble.
More: Gronkowski used a quick burst to get by S Isa Abdul-Quddus; Welker had a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on S Jerico Nelson; Lloyd just plan outran White; Matt Slater caught an absolute bomb over Patrick.
Of Brady's three touchdown passes, Gaffney looked nice gaining five solid yards of separation before the catch -- he streaked in for the score with no problem.
The offensive line had several different looks today. First team with Brady: Nate Solder at LT, Donald Thomas at LG, Ryan Wendell at C, Dan Connolly at RG and Marcus Cannon at RT. Dan Koppen rotated in at C to get some reps with the 1s.
New England misses Vollmer, Waters and Mankins; some of Brady's struggle and frustration had to do with blown assignments. During 11-on-11 the QB had to spike a ball into the dirt because one of those screens the Patriots have been practicing so much got blown up. Badly.
Ryan Mallett didn't get as many reps as Brady and Brian Hoyer. His very first snap? Bungled; the drill was reset. He also threw one ball in the dirt before getting a reception from a laid-out Ebert. He connected with Ebert again and twice with Britt Davis (one ball in the end zone). The QB practiced a lot of handoffs to Brandon Bolden.
Hoyer had a very, very well placed ball to Edelman deep down the sideline over Saints CB Elbert Mack. Just perfectly thrown.
The Patriots ran a good third-down pick play during 11-on-11. Two receivers crossed, brushing off pursuit from the secondary with the collision, and Lloyd brought down a ball in the end zone. A lot of special teams work was spent on punt return. Edelman, Pat Chung, Hernandez, and Ebert all took turns deep to receive.
Tempers were largely kept in check. The only blip on the radar was when Sergio Brown and WR Courtney Roby got a little hot during punt return, hanging onto each other after the whistle.
Dont'a Hightower and Saints linebacker Will Herring got into a good little shoving match during a drill that pitted the Patriots punt team against the Saints return team. Herring almost dropped Hightower as Hightower got off the ground to pursue the returner. The Pats rookie quickly shot back with a shove that lifted Herring off his feet for a moment. Herring went to Auburn and Hightower went to 'Bama, so perhaps it was just a little SEC love rekindled.

No breaks for Kyle Arrington today. After facing Wes Welker all camp, he had his work cut out for him in the slot against New Orleans' Lance Moore. When healthy, Moore is one of the better slot receivers in the league, and he beat Arrington for catches on several opportunities throughout the day.

Yes, Jon Bon Jovi was there in all his feathered-hair glory. He signed a bunch of autographs as he made his way from talking to Robert Kraft, to watching practice on the sideline. Kraft and Bon Jovi made their way up next to the media tent area where Saints owner Tom Benson had his own private shady spot. All three shared a word before practice really got going.

After practice Tom Brady sat on the field with his dog, his pregnant wife and Drew Brees among others.

Purdue boys Drew Brees and Patriots linebacker Niko Koutovides chatted in between drills. Boston College products Tim Bulman and Saints offensive lineman Matt Tennant also sought each other out to talk.

Chandler Jones seemed a little jumpy during pass-rush drills against Saints offensive linemen.

Jimmy Graham is a very large, athletic man. He beat Nate Ebner down the seam for a touchdown during one drill and finger-rolled the ball over the uprights. Moments later, Brees put a pass just over Hightower's head and into Graham's hands for another score that Graham -- a former hoops player at Miami -- dunked through the uprights with authority.

Patriots linebackers and members of the secondary had a solid practice. Brees often seemed to go through two or three options before throwing short dump-offs. Not a ton of long-distance hookups for the Saints.

Steven Ridley got some work with the punt return unit -- but not as a returner. He was on the line, rushing in, trying to get his hands on the ball off of New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead's foot.

Trevor Scott got a "sack" in 11-on-11 work, getting his arms extended on his blocker and wrapping up Chase Daniel as he stepped up in the pocket.

Has to be noted that randomly, while other guys were engaged in drills, Saints punter Thomas Morstead (formerly of Southern Methodist) dropped a ball 50 yards dead on the 3-yard line. The thing just laid flat. Whatta boom.

Some interesting looks from the Patriots defense during 11-on-11 time, especially as the Saints ran their hurry-up offense. At one point they used just one linebacker. They had Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo on the line. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington were in the secondary, and safety Tavon Wilson was dropped down as a 'backer. In a two-minute situation against a pass-happy team like the Saints maybe the Patriots feel like that's one package they can use successfully.

Jones worked out of two-point and three-point stances. On one play it appeared as though he wanted to show that he would start the play standing up, then he put his hand on the turf at the last minute and rushed the quarterback.

Jones had an active day. He jumped to bat down one pass attempt by Brees. He also got called over to the field goal block unit by Patriots coaches and was placed just off of the center. He would seem to be a perfect candidate for that job with his athleticism and long arms.

Steve Gregory picked off Brees near the end of practice in 11-on-11. Dane Fletcher was given a pick when Chase Daniel put a pass in Fletcher's belly down in the red zone.

Matthew Slater and Saints kicker John Kasay seemed to give short speeches to both teams as they huddled around one another at the end of practice.

Military members got a lengthy standing ovation by the 14,830 at Gillette as they walked around the edge of the practice field. Patriots and Saints players shook hands with the uniformed servicemen and women at the end of practice.

Mary Paoletti and Phil Perry contributed to this report.

Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

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Curran’s 100 plays that shaped a dynasty: A nice pair of kicks

We're into the Top 10 now.

These are the plays of the Bill Belichick Era you best never forget. And probably can't. They're the ones that led directly to championships -- most for New England, a couple for the other guys. Or they're plays that signified a sea change in the way the New England Patriots under Belichick would be behaving from there on out.

I did my best to stack them in order of importance. You got a problem with that? Good. Let us know what's too high, too low or just plain wrong. And thanks for keeping up!

PLAY NUMBER: 4

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Feb. 3, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 20, Rams 17

THE PLAY: Vinatieri 48-yarder in Superdome delivers SB36 win

WHY IT’S HERE: When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, it was viewed nationally and locally as a cathartic moment for a long-suffering region. Deliverance for a fanbase that resolutely suffered through 90 years of star-crossed heartbreak with a mix of stoicism and fatalism. “Long-suffering Red Sox fan” was a badge of honor, an identity. And New Englanders – baseball fans or not - would self-identify with the hideous notion of Red Sox Nation. There was no “Patriots Nation.” To drag out the forced metaphor, Patriots fans were living in tents and cabins in the wilderness, recluses. Reluctant to be seen in town where they’d be mocked. And suddenly, they cobbled together one of the most improbable, magical seasons in American professional sports, a year which gave birth to a dynasty which was first celebrated, now reviled but always respected. And while so many games and plays led to this 48-yarder – ones we’ve mentioned 12 times on this list – Adam Vinatieri kicking a 48-yarder right down the f****** middle to win the Super Bowl was an orgasmic moment for the recluses and pariahs that had been Patriots fans when nobody would admit to such a thing.
 

PLAY NUMBER: 3

THE YEAR: 2001 (actually Jan. 19, 2002)

THE GAME: Patriots 16, Raiders 13

THE PLAY: Vinatieri from 45 through a blizzard to tie Snow Bowl

WHY IT’S HERE: Two thoughts traveling on parallel tracks were running through the mind while Adam Vinatieri trotted onto the field and lined up his 45-yarder to tie Oakland in the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the final one at Foxboro Stadium. “There’s no way he can make this kick in this weather,” was the first. “The way this season’s gone, I bet he makes this kick. It can’t end here. It can’t end now.” From where I was sitting in the press box I couldn’t see the ball clearly, probably because I was looking for it on a higher trajectory than Vinatieri used. So I remember Vinatieri going through the ball, my being unable to locate it in the air and then looking for the refs under the goalposts to see their signal. And when I located them, I saw the ball scuttle past. Then I saw the officials’ arms rise. Twenty-five years earlier, the first team I ever followed passionately – the ’76 Patriots – left me in tears when they lost to the Raiders in the playoffs. Now, at 33, I was covering that team and it had gotten a measure of retribution for the 8-year-old me.
 

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