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Recovering Saints hold Patriots as a model

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)

A harsh penalty imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell may inspire the New Orleans Saints to have an outstanding season.

They can look to the New England Patriots and coach Bill Belichick for evidence of that.

''They've had some adversity and did a great job of handling it,'' Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said Tuesday after his team practiced with the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32). ''I've had conversations with Bill. We know that our players are strong.

''We've been through adversity before.''

In 2007, Goodell imposed fines of $500,000 on Belichick and $250,000 on the Patriots and took away a first-round draft pick for videotaping an opponent against NFL rules. The Patriots went 18-0 that season before losing the Super Bowl.

This year, he came down even harder on the Saints (No. 9) for a bounty program in which he found that players were paid for hurting opposing players. Coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma were suspended for the season. Vitt got a six-game suspension, beginning with the opener of the regular season. Defensive end Will Smith received four games, defensive end Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, has eight, and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, will sit out three.

In addition, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games and the Saints were fined $500,000 and docked second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

New Orleans tight end David Thomas, a member of the 2007 Patriots, gave his teammates some advice about how New England's players handled their adversity.

He told them, ''the biggest thing was it will only be a distraction if you let it be a distraction,'' Saints safety Roman Harper said. ''That was the motto that they really took in that locker room and we kind of took the same thing. And as long as we stick together in our locker room, which is a great one, and we don't let outsiders get in and continue to be a distraction, it won't distract us.''

In 2007, the Patriots set an NFL record with 589 points, Brady established the league mark of 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss caught an NFL-record 23 touchdowns.

''It showed that even with a lot of adversity floating around, you could still have success and have a great football season,'' Thomas said.

The Patriots adopted an us-vs.-them attitude that year, and some Saints feel the same.

''We definitely have a chip on our shoulder,'' quarterback Drew Brees said. ''We were going to have one anyway, but there's no shortage of motivation to go out and play well this year.''

The Patriots' response to the punishment ''is something we can look at and say, `hey, this is maybe the closest to what we're going through,' and just try to turn a negative into a positive somehow,'' Brees said.

The Saints and Patriots have another joint practice Wednesday before meeting in a preseason game Thursday. They also practiced together in training camp two years ago when Payton was in charge of the Saints.

Now, it's Vitt.

''I miss Sean not being here,'' Belichick said. ''I think the world of Sean. He's a great friend and I look forward to seeing him back out here soon.''

The players were happy, finally, to see different players line up on the other side of the ball after facing only teammates throughout camp. Both defenses, though, still went against two of the NFL's best quarterbacks just as they do when they're playing against their own.

''Seeing Brady and now Brees, it's tough matchups for this defense,'' Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. ''But it can make us better.''

The Saints new zone defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is getting a good test against Brady.

''If you're putting on a new defense, who better to go against every day than Drew Brees,'' Vitt asked. ''And then, all of a sudden, you're going against Tom Brady. Both those guys do a tremendous job of looking people off and getting you off your spot and fitting the ball in there.''

Brees set NFL records last season with 5,476 yards passing, 468 completions and a 71.2 percent completion percentage. Brady's 5,235 yards passing also surpassed the record of 5,084 set by Dan Marino in 1984.

So, how do they compare?

''Tom's quite a bit taller,'' Harper said with a smile. ''They both have great commands of their offenses. Both of them threw an interception today, which hardly ever happens, (but) Tom's a completely different beast. I think he throws the ball down the field almost better than anybody in the league right now - (an) extremely, extremely strong arm.''

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NOTES: Belichick and Vitt flew on New Orleans owner Tom Benson's plane to the funeral service Tuesday for Garrett Reid, son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, in Broomall, Pa. ''We got to the practice field just a little bit late,'' Vitt said. ''Andy Reid's family had so many supporters, they kind of moved the service back a half hour.'' ... Belichick was moved by the service. ''Andy Reid is strong and his family is strong, and everybody knows that our thoughts and our wishes are with him,'' he said, adding that he had ''a heavy heart.'' ... Spagnuolo said the players had to temper their intensity because ''if you let that level get too high, then all you do is spend time butting chests and getting in fights. We don't want to do that.'' ... Brady - with his dog, Lua, by his side - and Brees spent several minutes after the workout chatting on the field.

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Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tagged: Patriots, Saints, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Will Smith

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