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Well if Monday night’s 38-17 butt-whooping taught Patriots fans anything, it’s that their team can no longer be considered amongst the elite teams in the NFL. No elite team gets beat in every facet of the game like New England got beat in New Orleans.
The league’s elite is reserved now to a trio of superpowers in my mind: the undefeated Colts in the AFC, and the high-powered Saints and hard-nosed Vikings in the NFC. The Vikes do have one loss on the year, but I can honestly say I feel they are the best team in the league at this point. To those who say the AFC reigns supreme over the NFC…yeah, those days are long over.
I may have Minnesota ahead of New Orleans in my power rankings, but that doesn’t diminish what the Saints accomplished in their decisive win over the Pats. Records were broken, streaks were snapped, and the Patriots defense was embarrassed. The loss ended a streak of 17 wins over NFC opponents for New England. It wasn’t since a loss to the Carolina Panthers in September of 2005 that an NFC squad got the better of the Pats. Until Monday.
This has been a tough column to write in previous weeks, after the opening week squeaker over Buffalo, the listless loss to the Jets, and the heartbreaker in Indy, all come to mind. But this week’s game had little to no positives come from it. So I’m left to do something I’ve never done before…
That’s right. I’m giving a “PAT on the Back” to a non-Pat, for the first time this season. Let’s face it, Brees deserves all the credit in the world for Monday night’s performance. He led the way with 371 passing yards on 18-23 passing, including 5 TDs. No Patriots team under Bill Belichick had ever given up more than 3 TDs to an opposing quarterback not named Manning, before Monday night. Brees, who posted a perfect 158.3 passer rating, was also the first QB this decade not named Tom Brady to pass for more than 350 yards, more than 3 TDs, and complete better than 75% of his passes in a game. Brees did it all, and simply could not be stopped. For all the hoopla about Brett Favre’s MVP candidacy, put my vote down for Drew Brees. Without Brees, the Saints are about a .500 team, still fighting for playoff positioning.
One of the few bright spots for New England was the emergence of Sam Aiken. Aiken, a veteran whose spent the majority of his NFL career with Buffalo, led the team with seven receptions against New Orleans, for 90 yards. The Pats have struggled to find a legitimate #3 option in the passing game, behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker, so maybe with Monday night’s performance by Aiken, they have finally found their man.
I hesitate to give this “PAT on the Back” to a guy who has fumbled the ball three straight weeks, but really, without his production in the ground game against New Orleans, the Saints would have dominated the scoreboard even more-so than they did. Maroney made two visits to the end zone for the second straight week, coupled with 15 total carries for 64 yards, along with 3 grabs for 23 yards. Maroney’s in a contract year, and he seems to be showing glimpses of that downhill, pound-the-ball-forward kind of back he needs to be to be successful in this league. The shimmy-back-and-forth-and-go-nowhere style we’ve grown accustomed to from Maroney just won’t cut it, so it’s nice to see him show signs that he can be a hard-nosed, physical back.