Observation deck: Saints-Patriots

The reigning AFC champion New England Patriots began their 2012 preseason with a 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints.

Here are some notes and observations:

What I liked: It was an impressive night for New England's running game. Second-year tailbacks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen both were stellar in the Patriots’ preseason debut. Ridley got off to a good start, rushing for 40 yards on eight carries with the first team. Vereen showed his big-play ability by leading New England with 64 yards on 11 carries against the backups. Both tailbacks are pushing for the starting job. There are a lot of questions about New England’s youth at running back, but the preseason opener erased some of those concerns.

What I didn't like: I did not like what I saw from New England's starting offensive line. For now, the Patriots must rely on new faces with the status of right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) and guards Logan Mankins (knee) and Brian Waters (personal) up in the air. But the replacements looked out of sync with penalties and missed assignments. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was crunched in the first quarter on a sack and fumbled. He finished 4-of-7 for 30 yards and a fumble.

Rough day for Solder: Continuing on the trend of the offensive line, it was a tough start for second-year left tackle Nate Solder. He had two holding calls in the first quarter. Solder is an important member of the offensive line -- his job is to protect Brady’s blindside, and he has to play better.

Rookies shine: The Patriots' two first-round picks have looked impressive in training camp, and it was a good sign to see that carry over to the preseason opener. Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower played well in their NFL debut. Both were active and combined for four tackles. Jones and Hightower are trying to carve out their roles in the defense.

Safeties first: New England's starting safeties both recorded turnovers. Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory both had interceptions. This is a good sign for New England's 31st-ranked pass defense from a year ago. Gregory was a free-agent addition and seems to be meshing well with Chung.