FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Now before you get all giddy over the New England Patriots’ 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints — the defending Super Bowl champion Saints — Thursday night, please repeat after me:

“It was only a preseason game. It was only a preseason game.”

Yes, it was nice to start the preseason with a win, especially after the way last year ended, with a home blowout loss in the playoffs. And it was exciting, thanks to a 52-yard pass from Zac Robinson to Darnell Jenkins in the final minute, leading to the winning 28-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 53 seconds left.

But the Patriots themselves didn’t seem impressed. Asked what it meant that the defense stuffed the Saints’ first-team offense on two out of three drives, safety Patrick Chung said, “Nothing. The game’s over. We move on to the next one.”

As for Coach Bill Belichick, he laid it out in his postgame gathering with the press:

“There were some good things, some not-so-good things. That’s why we play these preseason games. We’ve got a long way to go.”

But let’s be honest, you had to be pleased with some of what you saw on the Gillette Stadium turf.

Let’s start with Julian Edelman.

Receiver Wes Welker, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee Jan. 3 in the Patriots’ 2009 regular-season finale, did not dress. Not surprising.

Even though he’s been cleared to practice — former Patriot cornerback Randall Gay, who’s found a home in The Big Easy, said after the teams’ joint practice earlier in the week, “It doesn’t look like he ever hurt his knee, I’ll tell you that. He hasn’t lost any of his quickness at all. It looked like to me, covering him, that he was back.” — the Patriots are sure to be cautious.

Why take the risk on a meaningless preseason game?

But with Edelman, the Patriots don’t miss much. He’s a Welker clone, physically and athletically. Welker is listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Edelman at 5-10, 198.

They both have exceptional hands. And they both make people miss.

Edelman put on a show against the Saints. On the first punt of the night, he juked his way through the first wave of would-be tacklers en route to a 40-yard return, setting up a field goal. Then later in the first quarter, he took a pass from Tom Brady in the right flat, put some sort of spell on Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (how else do you explain his escape?) and turned a 2-yard loss into a 21-yard gain, en route to a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

For the game, Edelman caught all six of the passes thrown his way for 90 yards.

He is special, and he’s as close to Welker as someone can be. “He does a lot of things well,” said Belichick. “And he’s still learning.”

Then there were the rookies.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, a second-round pick, started on the inside next to Jerod Mayo and led the team in tackles with eight. He effectively clogged the middle and showed good speed to the sidelines in pass coverage.

Cornerback Devin McCourty, the team’s first pick, showed some good coverage skills, but excelled in special teams.

He got people out of their seats with two kick returns in the third quarter, one for 52 yards, the other for 50.

Finally there was the offensive line. All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins is holding out, upset at his contract and the way he perceives the Patriots have treated him. Right tackle Nick Kaczur is out with a back injury, the severity of which has to be determined, though some reports out of Boston say he could miss the season.

So, second-year man mountain Sebastian Vollmer — 6-8, 315 pounds from Kaarst, Germany, via the University of Houston — slides in at right tackle and fifth-year pro Dan Connolly moves into left guard.

Connolly was bullish, leading the way for BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ touchdown in the first quarter.

You can never quite tell how happy Belichick is after a game. But it appears the Patriots accomplished much of what he hoped for in this first preseason game.

“I think we obviously wanted to work on our fundamentals in the first game, tackling, blocking, footwork, leverage, ball handling, all the basic things,” he said. “I think that’s a start. There were some good signs there.”

Something to work with. And that’s a good start.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]


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