By: Steve Balestrieri
“Sorry if you have to re-write all your stories at the end.” Bill Belichick
An unbelievably stunning finish capped the New England Patriots thrilling 30-27 win over the previously unbeaten New Orleans Saints as Tom Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins for the winning touchdown with five seconds left.
The Patriots got three chances in the final minutes as their defense kept getting them the ball back, and with 1:13 left on the clock with no timeouts the stage was set for Brady. He struggled in the second half but was able to connect on 5 of 8 throws on the final drive to gain the win. It was Brady’s 38th career fourth quarter comeback win.
The win puts the Patriots at 5-1 and in good position in the AFC East with a game and half lead on the Miami Dolphins and a 2 game lead on the New York Jets, whom they play next Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Here are some observations from Sunday’s win:
Another Costly Victory: The Patriots got even more banged up on Sunday with injuries occurring on both sides of the ball. Guard Dan Connolly left with a head injury and didn’t return..
Danny Amendola left the game with a concussion after a vicious but clean hit while running the ball out of bounds. Amendola lay motionless for several moments while being tended to by Patriots doctor Thomas Gill and the training staff.
Aqib Talib left the game in the second half with an apparent hip injury, initially called a hamstring. He tried to return but left for good a few plays later.
Jerod Mayo left the game with a right shoulder injury and was seen leaving Gillette Stadium after the game with his arm in a sling. Already missing two vital cogs in the middle of the defense, Mayo’s loss could be devastating down the road.
Talib Shines In Shutting Down Graham: In our “Razor’s Edge” matchups on Thursday we said the Patriots may opt to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham with Talib and that was exactly what they did.
And the results were even better than the coaching staff could have hoped for, the Patriots held Graham without a catch for the first time since the 2010 season and the lion’s share of the credit goes to Talib who was fantastic yet again.
Graham had four games in a row with over 100 yards receiving coming in and as he usually does, Bill Belichick had a plan to take him away. Talib followed him wherever he went and was able to shut him down.
2013 Defense Is For Real: The Patriots defense has played very well this season, allowing an average of only 14 points per game prior to yesterday’s game with the Saints. But a common refrain has been, “they haven’t played anyone”, “they’ve faced two rookie QBs” etc. Well no more. The Saints have a very explosive offense, one with a myriad of weapons and although they did score 27 points, overall the Patriots defense deserves high marks.
Drew Brees came in completing nearly 70 percent of his throws and he and Graham had been shredding defenses weekly. But on Sunday, Brees completed less than 50 percent of his throws (17 for 36) and passed for only 230 yards, his lowest output of the season and far below his average of 326.8 yards per game coming in.
Graham was shut out (see above) and even after Talib went down, the defense was able to rally and move the pieces around to give their offense a chance to win the game. This Patriots secondary is far advanced of where they were a year ago at this time. Considering Belichick’s teams usually get better as the season wears on, this is a great positive. The only sticking point right now is the myriad of injuries hitting the unit.
Ridley is Back: It’s safe to say that the Patriots missed Stevan Ridley last week in Cincinnati. Both LaGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden filled in well in his absence but neither has the vision nor the quickness of hitting the holes with the consistency that Ridley does.
Ridley had a very good game on Sunday, and helped take the onus off of the passing offense to the tune of 96 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. Ridley ran hard and protected the ball whenever he got in traffic against a ball-hawking Saints defense. His running in the red zone was a welcome sight, as the team has struggled there this season.
Brady Hangs In, Delivers: After what was a brilliant first half, despite having great pressure on him constantly Brady struggled in the second half (4 of 13, 33 yards) until that final drive. But he got the job done on an eight play, 70 yard drive culminating with a beauty of a pass to Thompkins in the left corner of the end zone just over the outstretched arm of Jabari Greer.
It wasn’t pretty, there were still plenty of wrong routes, still too many dropped passes especially during a sequence with three minutes left and misses by Brady. He had Amendola streaking down the middle of the field all alone in what would have been an 83 yard touchdown but rifled the ball too high.
But on the final drive he put it together and got the job done, starting with a 23 yard laser to Julian Edelman down the middle, it got the Patriots from their 30 yard line to the Saints side of the field in one play and set the stage for the final heroics by both he and Thompkins.
The Slot Receiver Position is in Fine Hands Thank You Very Much: With the struggles of the Patriots passing game, the familiar refrain and hand-wringing has centered around the departure of a certain receiver now in Denver. It can stop now….please.
The Patriots struggles throwing the ball have nothing, zero, zilch, nada to do with that receiver being gone. The wide receivers outside the numbers are new, and they’ve struggled to pick up the intricate Patriots offense. That and losing both of your tight ends from 2012 has severely cramped this Patriots passing attack.
Julian Edelman is having a career year with 41 receptions for 411 yards and 2 touchdowns during the first six games of the season, career highs in catches and yardage. Also coincidentally, Edelman has more receptions and yardage than said receiver in Denver, but not in touchdowns.
He’s taken a beating out there and absorbed some big shots but has remained Brady’s most reliable target thus far on the season while still doing a very good job at returning punt on special teams. No issue there.
The Return of the No-huddle Pays Off: The Patriots ran their no-huddle attack on about 50 percent of their 87 offensive plays (including penalties) on Sunday. While it wasn’t quite the up-tempo frantic pace we’ve seen in the past, it was effective.
The Saints like to substitute personnel on Rob Ryan’s defense and it keeps fresh legs out there and allows him to mix and match depending upon the down and distance. But with the no-huddle, it kept the Saints off-balance for much of the game.
It wasn’t always pretty but it worked and confused the defense at times and most importantly allowed the Patriots to dictate the pace and personnel. And ultimately paid the dividends they were looking for.
Play Calling/Protection Issues Questions: Coming in the Patriots knew that the Saints under Ryan liked to attack and wouldn’t be shy about the blitz, coming from all points of the compass. And they did…
To say that the Saints were bringing pressure on Tom Brady would be a gross understatement. Brady was sacked five times, hurried repeatedly and hit at least a dozen times. So while that is what Ryan’s defense is known for and you must tip your hat to them, from a Patriots perspective, for the second week in a row, this is unacceptable.
The offensive line and backs in for pass protection have to do a better job, that type of performance can’t be repeated week after week and expect to win.
The play calling especially in the fourth quarter was suspect by Josh McDaniels. With the Patriots deep in the red zone McDaniels called five straight running plays with none involving Ridley who was the team’s most effective runner was a head scratcher at best. Trying to be too cute or a lack of faith in the passing game is a question that can be asked of that sequence. In a three point game, makes it more curious.
Jets on Deck: The Patriots are even more beat-up heading to the Meadowlands next Sunday but now have a chance to bury the Jets 3+ games behind them in the divisional standings. A win will sweep the division series and put them firmly in the driver’s seat in the division. And as always that is what Belichick preaches first. Stay tuned to PatsFans.com this week as we’ll bring plenty of pre-game coverage.