The Patriots’ offense started slowly in Saturday night’s game preseason game, going nearly the entire first quarter against the Saints on Saturday night without a first down.
And the Patriots nearly went scoreless in the first half.
Trailing, 21-0, with 1 minute, 8 seconds left in the half, Jimmy Garoppolo strung together five completions to four receivers to drive the Patriots 80 yards in 54 seconds and get them on the board with a 24-yard pass to Chris Harper.
Belichick cracked during his Sunday conference call that though the Patriots “weren’t playing for the AFC Championship,” the competitiveness his team showed in clawing back for a 26-24 win was promising.
“Certainly a lot of things to work on, a long way to go, but I thought that that group competed well, especially after the slow start that we had in the first half, really until late in the second quarter,” he said. “We weren’t able to do too much, but from that point on, our execution was better, our confidence grew and we were able to be competitive. So those are all positives.”
Though it took nearly two full quarters for the Patriots to get it together, Belichick said the game in New Orleans was packed with situational football moments that can be used as teaching points.
“The ones that came up [Saturday] night, we worked through,” he said. “Some of it was what we wanted to do, some of it we need to go back and talk about and correct, both on the coaching end and the playing end. There was a lot of good learning experiences there for all of us. You just try to take advantage of whichever situations come up.”
He said the improvements on offense — the Patriots gained 364 yards against New Orleans compared with 211 against Green Bay — allowed for closer evaluation of how skill players create extra yardage. Since practices usually are not full contact, assessing a player’s shiftiness, and ability to shed tacklers and make defenders miss can be a guessing game.
“It was a good opportunity to see all of our skill players and we saw several of them I thought ran well with the ball in their hands,” said Belichick.
Among those was running back Dion Lewis, who drew Belichick’s praise after contributing in the passing and ground games Saturday night. Lewis had eight touches (three carries, five catches) for 48 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Dion did a good job with his opportunities,” Belichick said. “He’s had a solid spring and camp for us, missed a few days there, but thought he ran well [Saturday] night.”
Wayne getting a look
The Patriots are dealing with myriad injuries at the wide receiver position, and on Sunday took a look at a future Hall of Famer and a longtime nemesis.
Former Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, a free agent after 14 NFL seasons with Indianapolis, was in Foxborough for a physical with the Patriots, according to ESPN. It is unclear whether Wayne also performed a workout for the coaching staff, or if the visit was strictly medical.
Wayne, 36, had surgery to repair a torn triceps in February, an injury he played through last season but severely limited his production. Wayne had 64 catches for 779 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, and made just one catch for 12 yards in three playoff games combined, getting completely shut out against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
Wayne might not have much football left after compiling 1,070 catches, 14,345 yards, and 82 touchdowns with the Colts, who made Wayne their first-round pick in 2001. The Colts declined to re-sign Wayne when he hit free agency in March.
But the Patriots certainly could use some veteran reinforcements at wide receiver. Five receivers sat out of Saturday’s exhibition game against the Saints — Julian Edelman (lower body), Brandon LaFell (foot), Brian Tyms (foot), Aaron Dobson (hamstring), and Josh Boyce (unknown) — and Brandon Gibson limped off the field with a knee injury late in the game.
The only healthy receivers right now are veteran Danny Amendola, undrafted rookie Chris Harper, and roster longshots Jonathan Krause and Zach D’Orazio.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long been an admirer of Wayne’s. Before the Patriots and Colts played last November, Belichick called Wayne “one of the best route runners maybe ever in the game.”
“He’s obviously just a tremendous wide receiver,” Belichick said. “A guy that’s extremely smart, very savvy wide receiver. Understands leverage, understands coverage, can read post-snap coverage disguises, has great hands. He’s really a very dependable and reliable guy. Obviously the bigger the situation, the more you would depend on him to be able to make the play.”
Of course, signing Wayne would also be a good way for the Patriots to fire back at the Colts, the team that prompted the Deflategate investigation in January.
The Patriots play at Indianapolis in Week 6 this season, which potentially will be Tom Brady’s first game back if he ends up serving his four-game suspension.
One thing the Patriots will consider when deciding on whether to sign Wayne: He is a “vested veteran,” meaning his entire 2015 salary will become fully guaranteed if he makes the Patriots’ Week 1 roster. But if the Patriots sign Wayne after Week 1, only 25 percent of his salary becomes guaranteed.
Belichick complimented the 45-yard touchdown pass that Drew Brees threw to Brandin Cooks in the first quarter and said the secondary “could’ve defended a little bit better.” He said the secondary’s communication has been good thus far, but needs to be refined, though that’ll be a work in progress since the group has been rotating players at different positions to help build depth . . . The Patriots play their third exhibition game Friday night at Carolina and wrap up the preseason Sept. 3 at home against the Giants . . . The Patriots will practice Monday through Wednesday in Foxborough before traveling to Carolina on Thursday.