New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints aim to avoid 0-2 start

By Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange   |   Sept. 13, 2017 at 11:14 PM
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NEW ORLEANS -- The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots got 10 days to stew over their shocking 42-27 season-opening home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The New Orleans Saints looked as befuddled as ever defensively and uncharacteristically impotent on offense in a 29-19 Monday night road loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

One thing is certain when the Saints face the Patriots on Sunday in New Orleans' home opener: Someone will be leaving the Mercedes-Benz Superdome 0-2. And in a 16-game NFL season in which every game counts, the loser will be digging a quick hole from which statistics suggest it is difficult to escape.

For the Saints in particular, another slow start could prove decisive. New Orleans finished 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. The Saints started 0-2 in 2014, 0-3 in 2015 and 0-3 last season.

Since owning an 11-5 record on Dec. 29, 2013, they have gone 1,358 days without a winning record.

No wonder quarterback Drew Brees is sounding the alarm.

"A sense of urgency has been created," said Brees, who threw for 291 yards on 27-of-37 passing against Minnesota but failed to produce a touchdown in four red-zone opportunities. "It's very important. It's our home opener, and we want to get back on track."

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lit into his team's performance against the Chiefs.

"Obviously, what we did the other night is not good enough by any means for any particular phase of the game and any position," Brady said. "You get outscored by 21 points and outgained by 200 yards in the fourth quarter, there's a lot of things that need adjusting. When you get beat the way we got beat, I think that sat with everyone for a very long time, and we're going to have to do something about it."

The game will be a homecoming for Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who spent his first three seasons in New Orleans and was traded before the draft for first- and third-round picks, which wound up being tackle Ryan Ramczyk and defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

Cooks, only 23, is coming off consecutive 1,100-yard receiving seasons, and his value as a long-ball threat will increase because of the season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to Julian Edelman and the concussion/knee injury sustained last week by slot receiver Danny Amendola.

Also, Brady's security blanket, tight end Rob Gronkowski, looked rusty in the loss to the Chiefs, catching just two passes for 33 yards. That figures to make Cooks even more important to Brady.

"Brandin works extremely hard, is a very detail-oriented kid, practices hard and really tries to do things exactly the way you want him to do them," New England coach Bill Belichick said. "(He's) coachable, dependable."

Brees said of Cooks, "He was a great part of this team for three years. I wish him the best of success, although I'd rather him not go off in this game."

"I don't want to see him pulling the arrows," Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said, referring to Cooks' post-touchdown celebrations.

Against Minnesota, the Saints' defense displayed some maddening similarities to the units that have finished in the bottom five of the NFL rankings the past two seasons -- a tepid pass rush and opponents running free in the open field.

The Saints allowed Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford time to survey the field in completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers. Three of his incompletions were drops.

"We didn't do a good enough job rushing (the passer)," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Attacking that defense this week is a team that normally bounces back after falling. Since 2004, the Patriots are 42-6 following a loss.

"I don't know (why)," Brady said. "We need to play better than we played last week. For three hours a week, we've got to be at our best mentally, physically and emotionally. ... We've got to go out and earn it."

Both starting tackles for the Saints -- Armstead (shoulder) and right tackle Zach Strief (knee) -- did not practice Wednesday.

Four Patriots players did not practice Wednesday: Amendola, linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee), wide receiver Matthew Slater (hamstring) and nose tackle Vincent Valentine (knee).

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