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It’s difficult to know what to believe.

On one hand, the Saints smothered Tom Brady’s passing attack without cornerbacks Delvin Breaux, Brandon Browner and Kennan Lewis and safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd on the field.

On the other, wide receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms and tight end Rob Gronkowski weren’t on the field for the Patriots.

Considering the way Brady lit up the defense during joint practices this week, with those same people not on the field, it’s meaningful that Brady completed only 2-of-5 passes and the Saints defense forced three three-and-outs to start the game.

It’s just debatable how meaningful that accomplishment was during Saturday night’s 26-24 loss at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Still, the defense will take the victory.

“We did well while we were out there,” linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha said. “It was awesome.”

Kikaha, a rookie linebacker, was singled out by coach Sean Payton for stuffing running back LeGarrette Blount for a loss of 5 yards on the first play of the game. That was followed by a pass for a gain of 7 and an incompletion.

First punt.

The next series featured two runs for a total of 7 yards, and another incompletion which came with pressure from Kikaha.

Second punt.

Cam Jordan stuffed a Blount run for a loss of 3 yards to start the second drive. Brady connected for a gain of 6 on second down, and then Kyle Wilson broke up a pass to Danny Amendola on third down.

Third punt.

Brady’s day was over. The day was a success. The starter was knocked out of action after connecting on 14 straight passes to finish Wednesday’s joint practice.

“I thought we got better being able to practice with them,” linebacker David Hawthorne said. “I don’t know if it contributed to how we started tonight or not, but we felt like we came out ready and prepared tonight as a defense.”

The defense still has work to do. One area that was lacking on Saturday, as well as during last week’s loss to the Ravens, was a pass rush.

It bears mentioning that things are still pretty vanilla and there isn’t much blitzing — or creative blitzing — going on during the preseason. But Payton pointed it out as one area where he would like to see improvement.

“I don’t know that we hit the quarterback all night,” Payton said. “That is a little concerning.”

Still, after the way the defense struggled last week, Saturday night was a step in the right direction.