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New England Patriots best New Orleans Saints, 7-6

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Will Smith is getting ready for the season as if he wasn't facing suspension for the first four games. He's still getting sacks.

The fourth-leading sacker in New Orleans history crunched Tom Brady from behind, forcing a fumble in the first quarter of the New England Patriots 7-6 exhibition win over the Saints on Thursday night.

"No," Smith said when asked if he's preparing any differently than if he had avoided punishment in his team's bounty scandal. "Preseason's the same. Got to work hard. Job's always on the line, so got to go out and compete."

Once the regular season starts, interim coach Joe Vitt said, Smith, with 61 1-2 sacks in eight seasons, will be missed.

"You're going to miss anybody with the talent of Will Smith," said Vitt, who faces his own suspension for the first six regular-season games. "Will's a heck of a player. He's a heck of a leader."

The defense for the Saints gave up just one touchdown, but the Patriots were better, allowing a pair of field goals in their exhibition opener.

"We held them to six points, so that's always good," said safety Patrick Chung, who had one of the Patriots two interceptions. "It's always feels good to get an interception. It's just preseason but you've still got to make plays."

The game followed two days of joint practices between the teams and was the first for the Patriots since their 21-17 loss in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

Brady left after two series and 15 plays -- plus two holding penalties against new left tackle Nate Solder -- and banged his helmet on the ground in anger when he returned to the bench. He finished with four completions in seven attempts for 30 yards and the 11-yard sack from which he got up slowly on his first possession. Smith came around the left tackle position filled by Solder after Matt Light retired.

"I'm just getting more comfortable there," said Solder, a first-round draft pick last year. "A lot of us (on the offensive line) are still young. It takes time to get the timing down."

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also played two series, lasting just six plays. He was 1 of 4 for 4 yards in his second exhibition game. In last Sunday's 17-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the Hall of Fame game, Brees was 4 for 5 for 41 yards on his only drive, resulting in a touchdown.

"I am not disappointed one bit with the first unit offense," Vitt said. "We treated last week sort of like a scrimmage ... and so this was our first preseason game."

Second-year running back Shane Vereen was a bright spot for the Patriots as he and Stevan Ridley compete for playing time as replacements for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who signed with Cincinnati. On the first series of the third quarter, Vereen gained 62 yards on seven carries and caught a 10-yard pass.

The drive covered 97 yards, capped by Brian Hoyer's 3-yard scoring pass to Britt Davis, a long shot to make the team at the crowded wide receiver position.

Vereen rushed for only 57 yards all last season when injuries limited him to five games and 15 rushes.

"I was excited because it's been so long since I played, with the injuries and everything," he said. "It felt good to be out there running."

Another Patriots injury could be more serious. Linebacker Dane Fletcher, who started five games last season, was hurt covering a punt in the first quarter. NFL Network reported he tore an anterior cruciate ligament, but there was no official word from the Patriots.

"He's really helped me a lot," said veteran linebacker Bobby Carpenter, in his first season with New England. "Hopefully, he'll be all right."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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