FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A new season, a different result, a lot of improvement left for the Super Bowl champions to make.

The New Orleans Saints gave up big plays and a decisive 28-yard field goal in the final minute as the New England Patriots opened their exhibition season with a 27-24 victory Thursday night.

Last season’s title won’t help the Saints repeat.

“That’s been our mind-set from the start,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. “We’ve got to prove ourselves all over again. We’ve got to keep working and improve on the little things.”

For the Patriots, it was a successful return to the field where their last game was a rout, a 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.

That shouldn’t affect the coming season, either.

“It’s a new year. We’ve had 20 practices,” Coach Bill Belichick said. “Whatever happened last year was last year.”

The Saints lost more than a game during their visit to New England, which began Tuesday with two days of joint practices.

On Wednesday, No. 3 running back Lynell Hamilton tore his right anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that likely will sideline him for the season. On the Saints’ first possession Thursday, punter Thomas Morstead hurt his left shoulder knocking Julian Edelman out of bounds after a 40-yard return, and place-kicker Garrett Hartley punted the rest of the night.

After the game, Morstead was walking with his arm in a sling. Coach Sean Payton said X-rays were negative, and Morstead was due for an MRI in New Orleans today.

The Saints punted four times on their five first-half possessions and managed just a field goal on their last four possessions of the game. Their final series ended with an interception.

“Too many sloppy things we’ve got to get corrected,” Payton said. “I know it’s the first week of preseason; still, a lot of things are disturbing. I think we’ll put the tape in and we’ll see it wasn’t just young players.”

On his first series since being voted Super Bowl MVP, Drew Brees threw an incompletion and was sacked for a 10-yard loss. But on his third and final possession, he led a 20-play, 86-yard march that lasted 10:01 and ended with a 2-yard scoring run by Reggie Bush that cut New England’s lead to 10-7.

Brees completed 9 of 13 passes for 55 yards.

Tom Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, played New England’s first two series and was 5 of 8 for 67 yards. In last year’s exhibition opener, he played for the first time since the 2008 regular-season opener, when a knee injury ended his season.

“This is all about establishing an attitude any time we step on the field,” Patriots tight end Alge Crumpler said. “Regardless of who we play or what the circumstances are, if we play together as a team good things will happen.”

Gostkowski kicked the winning 28-yard field goal with 53 seconds left after Darnell Jenkins caught a short pass from seventh-round draft pick Zac Robinson and turned it into a 52-yard gain. The Saints also allowed kickoff returns of 52 and 50 yards by first-round draft pick Devin McCourty.

The Patriots held out wide receiver Wes Welker despite his strong comeback from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered in the last regular-season game. He is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 12 at home against Cincinnati.


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