FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — One championship may be just the start for the New Orleans Saints. They’re studying how the New England Patriots kept winning NFL titles, hoping to match that domination.

One imitation already has been a resounding, and humorous, success — Saints Coach Sean Payton’s impression of Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

On Tuesday, Payton’s team got a close, helmet-to-helmet look at the club that won Super Bowls in 2002, 2004 and 2005. The defending champs participated in the first of two days of joint practices before the teams meet in their exhibition opener on Thursday night.

“He’s a guy that certainly I respect,” Payton said of Belichick. “When we got to New Orleans in ’06, we paid close attention to who was winning in our league and, clearly, we patterned our organization after what New England was trying to accomplish. My grandmother used to say, ‘I think imitation is the greatest form of flattery.’ “

So Belichick should be extremely flattered by the way Payton motivated his team for a Monday night game against the Patriots last season. New Orleans dominated 38-17 at home to improve to 11-0.

Payton showed up for a team meeting five days before the game dressed similar to Belichick in a Patriots blue hoodie and mimicking his mannerisms.

The key to its accuracy?

“No emotion,” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Tuesday. “It was good. I wish we had footage of it.”

Payton described the meeting in his book, “Home Team,” published late in June. It was a good way to critique his team by imagining what Belichick would say to players about the Saints.

Fullback Heath Evans played under Belichick for four years before joining the Saints last season. He was one of the more talkative Pats in those years.

“They always tell us to say ‘no comment’ in all our media speech performance classes,” Evans said. “No comment.”

But, he said, “their personalities couldn’t be more different.”

Belichick did not speak with reporters Tuesday.

Like Payton’s impression, the joint practice is a refreshing change of pace. Freed from the monotony of camp, players had to think and react more quickly.

“The guys are nervous. They’re anxious,” Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears said. “They don’t know what they’re going to call on defense so they’ve got to go through all their assignments, all their techniques plus play with energy and play physical.”

There was more hitting than when the Patriots and Saints practice among themselves.

Receiver Wes Welker, in the midst of recovery from knee surgery, participated in 11-on-11 drills without fear of being hurt.

“We’re all pros out here and we know this is practice and we’re going to take care of each other,” he said. “But, at the same time, you don’t know these guys so you don’t know if they’re going to try and thud you or if they’re clumsy or what’s going to happen. But, for the most part, I wasn’t too worried.”


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