Aug 29, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) attempts a pass against the New York Giants during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Transitioning Patriots, Saints look for more offense

As the NFL’s highest-scoring teams over the past decade, the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints are in unfamiliar territory these days as they prepare to meet Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass.

Since 2010 they are the only teams to score more than 5,000 points, as the Patriots have scored 5,087 and the Saints have scored 5,021.

But both teams are going through an offensive transition, most notably at quarterback, and in this young season both teams are in the bottom half of the league in scoring.

The Patriots (1-1), in their second season since Tom Brady departed for Tampa Bay, are led by rookie Mac Jones and rank 23rd in scoring (20.5 points per game).

The Saints (1-1), in their first season since Drew Brees’ retirement, have turned to Jameis Winston and are tied for 18th in scoring (22.5). Winston, notably, was released by the Buccaneers to make room for Brady, and became the first quarterback other than Brees to be New Orleans’ Week 1 starter since 2005.

Jones has been more efficient than bold in his first two games. He has completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 467 yards with just one touchdown but no interceptions, as New England ranks 25th in passing offense (213.5 yards per game, including sacks).

“There are some times that I watch the film and wish I threw the ball down the field more,” Jones admitted.

But ball security made a big difference last Sunday when Jones competed against fellow first-round pick Zach Wilson, who threw four interceptions as the Patriots beat the Jets 25-6.

“Sometimes, you need to know when to call it quits (on a play),” Jones said. “It’s all about trial and error … stick to my reads. Plays will come.”

Winston threw five touchdowns and no interceptions as New Orleans began the season with a 38-3 thrashing of Green Bay in Jacksonville, Fla., when Hurricane Ida forced the game to be moved from New Orleans.

But last week, Winston and the entire Saints team were overwhelmed in a 26-7 loss at Carolina. Winston completed 11 of 22 for 111 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was pressured throughout the game and was sacked four times.

“The biggest thing is being better in first-down and second-down efficiency,” Winston said. “Understanding just because you’re capable of making a play doesn’t mean you should make it.”

Despite the high-scoring game against the Packers, New Orleans ranks last in the NFL in passing offense (115.5).

“It’s the group in its entirety,” head coach Sean Payton said of the passing shortcomings. “It’s our offensive line, our quarterback. It’s also us, relative to a gameplan of having good answers. We need to have a better plan and that starts with me.”

The Saints were missing nine players due to injury against the Panthers, but center Erik McCoy (calf) was the only player to miss practice entirely Wednesday.

The Patriots got back linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who missed the game against the Jets because of a throat condition, but linebacker Matt Judon missed practice Wednesday because of a knee injury.

The Saints were missing eight assistant coaches against Carolina due to NFL coronavirus protocols. They stayed behind in Fort Worth, Texas, where the team has been practicing since evacuating ahead of Ida.

It’s unclear how many of them will be available for the game against the Patriots, though Payton said Wednesday that several of them will be available because they will be beyond the 10-day infectious period by game day.

The team is scheduled to return to their home practice facility in Metairie, La., after Sunday’s game and play their first game actual home game of the season in the Superdome on the following Sunday, Oct. 3, against the New York Giants.

–Field Level Media

Aug 23, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA;  New Orleans Saints helmets during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first half at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Seven Saints assistants out Sunday due to COVID-19 protocol

Seven New Orleans assistant coaches will miss Sunday’s game at Carolina due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Saints announced Friday that offensive analyst Jim Chaney, offensive assistant Declan Doyle, assistant special teams coach Phil Galiano, senior offensive assistant/receivers coach Curtis Johnson, offensive line coach Brendan Nugent, run game coordinator/tight ends coach Dan Roushar and running backs coach Joel Thomas will miss the game against the Panthers.

The team said their responsibilities will be divided among the remaining offensive staff.

Reports of the positive tests first surfaced on Tuesday.

All of the New Orleans coaches have been vaccinated. They will need to show consecutive negative COVID-19 tests 24 hours apart before they are eligible to return.

–Field Level Media

Nov 9, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets cornerback Brian Poole (34) makes a one-handed catch during practice before the game against the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com via USA TODAY NETWORK

Report: CB Brian Poole to sign with Saints

Free agent cornerback Brian Poole is reportedly set to sign with the New Orleans Saints.

Poole, 28, told reporter Josina Anderson on Sunday that he will put pen to paper on Monday.

He posted two interceptions, 44 tackles and one sack in nine games (seven starts) with the New York Jets in 2020.

Undrafted out of Florida in 2016, Poole has seven interceptions, 299 tackles, six sacks and four fumble recoveries in 70 career games (38 starts) with the Atlanta Falcons (2016-18) and Jets.

He adds experience and depth to a New Orleans depth chart fronted by Marshon Lattimore and Patrick Robinson.

–Field Level Media

Oct 13, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saints WR Michael Thomas to miss start of season

The ankle issue that plagued New Orleans Saints star Michael Thomas last season will reportedly delay the wide receiver’s debut in 2021.

NFL Network said Friday that Thomas “could be on the sideline for weeks” to start the season while continuing his recovery from offseason surgery. The recommended rehab period following his June operation to repair ligaments in his left ankle is four months, per the report.

After setting an NFL single-season record with 149 receptions for a league-leading 1,725 yards in 2019, Thomas got hurt in the 2020 opener and wound up catching just 40 passes for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games.

He played in two postseason games, but did not record a reception on his four targets in a 30-20 divisional playoff loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was the first game of his five-year career without a catch.

A three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection, Thomas has 510 receptions for 5,950 yards and 32 scores in 70 games since the Saints drafted him in the second round in 2016.

Thomas, 28, inked a five-year, $96.3 million contract extension in 2019 and is due to earn a base salary of $12.6 million with a cap hit of $18.8 million in 2021.

His absence would be a serious blow to the offense as the Saints transition from the Drew Brees era. Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill and rookie Ian Book are the quarterbacks on the roster heading into training camp next week.

–Field Level Media

New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) celebrates his sack of Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, right, during the second half Sunday, October 4, 2020 at Ford Field.

10042020 Sad Detroit Lions

Saints DT David Onyemata facing drug suspension

New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata announced Friday that he is facing a league suspension after testing positive for a banned substance.

“I was informed by the NFLPA yesterday that I have tested positive for a banned substance resulting in a suspension for part of the 2021 NFL season,” Onyemata wrote on Instagram. “While I was certainly surprised and disappointed with this news, I am responsible for what I put in my body. As I have never knowingly taken anything that could cause a positive test, we are currently in the process of testing the supplements I was taking at the time of the test. Regardless, I am committed to being more aware of any medication and dietary supplements that may contain substances banned by the NFL.”

The league has not announced the suspension or the number of games Onyemata, 28, could miss to start the 2021 season.

Onyemata was suspended one game at the start of the 2019 campaign after a misdemeanor citation for marijuana possession.

A fourth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Onyemata has started 30 games in the past two seasons for the Saints. He has recorded 167 tackles, 16 sacks, 42 quarterback hits, one interception and one forced fumble in 78 career games (40 starts).

–Field Level Media

Nov 29, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (20) against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Veteran CB Dre Kirkpatrick to visit Saints

Free agent cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick plans to visit with the New Orleans Saints, NFL Network reported Monday.

The 31-year-old veteran visited the New England Patriots last month.

Kirkpatrick started 11 of his 14 games with the Arizona Cardinals in 2020 following an eight-year run with the Cincinnati Bengals.

He registered 56 tackles and three interceptions with the Cardinals, boosting his career totals to 358 tackles, 13 picks and three sacks in 113 games (78 starts).

He has returned two interceptions for touchdowns in his career, one against Baltimore’s Joe Flacco in 2013 and another against Denver’s Peyton Manning in 2014.

Cincinnati selected Kirkpatrick in the first round (17th overall) of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Alabama.

–Field Level Media

Nov 1, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (32) breaks the tackle of New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26) during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Report: P.J. Williams staying with Saints on one-year deal

The New Orleans Saints are retaining free agent cornerback P.J. Williams for one more year, NFL Network reported Thursday.

Williams’ new contract will reportedly pay him $2.3 million guaranteed.

The 27-year-old was drafted in the third round (78th overall) by the Saints in 2015 and he has played 62 games (26 starts) for them in five seasons.

Last season, Williams had one interception, 40 tackles, two pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in 15 games (three starts). He played on 499 defensive snaps (48 percent) and 111 special-teams snaps (24 percent).

He has five interceptions, 26 pass breakups and 191 tackles in his NFL career.

–Field Level Media

Nov 15, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston (2) throws during warm ups prior to kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Saints re-sign QB Jameis Winston to 1-year deal

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a one-year deal with quarterback Jameis Winston for up to $12 million, according to a report from ESPN on Monday night.

Winston, 27, spent last season with the Saints as the backup to Drew Brees. He appeared in four games off the bench, completing 7 of 11 passes for 75 yards.

The Florida State product spent his first five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He threw for a career-high 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019, but he also led the league with 30 interceptions.

Brees’ retirement this week opened the door for Winston to play a more prominent role in New Orleans in 2021. Another candidate to earn more playing time under center is Taysom Hill, who completed 88 of 121 passes for 928 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions last season.

In a recent podcast appearance with longtime NFL kicker Morten Andersen, Saints coach Sean Payton said he hoped that Winston would return to New Orleans.

“Jameis Winston, we had a good year to work with, and he’s someone — I said it on record already — we’d like to sign back,” Payton said. “I’d like to see him competing to be that guy.”

–Field Level Media