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There’s a reason football games are 60 minutes and Sunday’s game used up every single one. It was a game where the Patriots looked in firm control of after a strong first half, but almost gave it away with cautious play-calling in the second half. The Patriots did everything they could to lose this game and yet they still came away with the dramatic win over the previously undefeated Saints.
- After a miserable offensive performance last week against the Bengals it was refreshing to see the Patriots put together a nice no huddle drive to start the game. They rattled off 14 plays in just over 5 minutes but the drive stalled when Tom Brady was sacked on 3rd and 7. They got a field goal out of the drive, but it was a bit of a let down considering how well they marched down the field.
- Brady looked strong coming out of the gate which was highlighted with the way he spread the ball around. Brady is at his best when he is spreading the ball around and finding the open guys. So far in this young season Brady has struggled hitting open receivers. Yesterday was no different. He missed Danny Amendola wide open down the middle of the field. He threw a line drive when he should have got some air under it. It looked as if he was too excited by how open Amendola was and he put a little too much on the ball. The timing isn’t completely there which is a bit unsettling since it’s week 6. However, after the last drive in the game I’d say Brady will get the timing down.
- LeGarrette Blount started the game at half-back but it wasn’t long before Stevan Ridley was back behind Brady. Ridley’s spark was needed as he is undoubtedly the Patriots’ best runner. When he’s holding onto the ball, which he did all game, he gives the Patriots the explosive running game that helps the passing game. He can run inside with power and outside with speed. When the running game is on it makes the play-action believable. Brady has always been terrific off of play-action, which makes a strong run game a necessity moving forward.
- I’ve loved how this defense has played all season and yesterday was no different. Their game plan was what you would expect: take away Jimmy Graham. They did exactly that. Graham had zero catches. They lined Aqib Talib up on Graham and he was all over him in the first half. Talib bumped him at the line and never let Graham get into his routes. Drew Brees tried forcing a few to Graham but Talib was right there to break the passes up. I thought when Talib went down with the hip injury that Brees would do whatever he could to get Graham the ball, but the rest of the Patriots Defense stepped up in Talib’s absence. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington took turns on Graham and continued to shut him down. It was very impressive that they were able to not only limit Jimmy Graham, (who most see as the best tight end in the league) but completely shut him down. I don’t know many teams who can say they did that.
- There were a few complaints with the defensive performance however. They were getting carved up by the run late in the game. It was tough seeing a defense who had been so tough so early on just getting carved up when the game was on the line. It looked as if once they got the 6 point lead they played the safe pass coverage defense. They didn’t want to let Drew Brees beat them, but they allowed the running back group of Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet, Khiry Robinson, and Darren Sproles to run right through them. The Saints finished up with 131 rushing yards on the day. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano are doing they’re absolute best to fill in for Vince Wilfork, and you have to give these two rookies all the credit in the world. However, there really is no filling the void left by the best nose tackle in the game going down for the year.
- I do believe the run defense will adjust. The game plan yesterday was to not let Brees beat them. They put the focus on passing and were in the nickel package most of the time. That focus on pass defense worked as good as you could hope against a great quarterback like Drew Brees. They held him to 17-36, 236 yards, 2 TD’s and 1 interception. The big thing to look at is Brees was held under 50% completion percentage. His only great drive was the one where they tied it 17-17. A good portion of that drive was 3 big runs from Thomas and Robinson.
- The drive where the Saints took the lead late was a terrible play defensively. Steve Gregory has made an impact in the run game with his tackling ability, but I do not think he is a good coverage safety at all. Yesterday was another example. On 3rd and 20 Gregory did the one thing a safety can’t do, he got beat deep. Alfonzo Dennard had perfect coverage on Kenny Stills and he expected help over the top. There was none. Gregory got focused on the middle of the field for a second too long and was too late coming over to help. Dennard just missed tipping the ball, Stills caught it, and Gregory came over too late for the hit. This isn’t a new thing where Gregory is out of position. It has happened multiple times and has cost them. There’s always hope for improvement but these were the same things he was doing last year.
- A lot of talk will be about if the Patriots should have gone for it on 4th and 6. I liked the call. They were going for the win but Dobson couldn’t hold onto the ball. Belichick had a feeling that the Saints would just try to run the clock down and kick the field goal. With a strong performance by the defense, the Saints did exactly that, but left about two and a half minutes on the clock.
- Brady bombing it to Julian Edelman on the first play of what could have been their last drive is baffling to me. The Saints were going to give all the underneath routes the Patriots wanted. Instead Brady heaved it deep and was picked off. Luckily there was enough time on the clock, and the Patriots had a timeout and the 2-minute warning left. A stop by the defense would lead to the ball back in Brady’s hands.
- That’s exactly what happened. Chandler Jones ended the Saints drive with a sack on Drew Brees. The stop allowed Tom Brady and the offense to get the ball back with 1:13 with no timeouts. Brady hit Edelman on a huge 23-yard pass and catch. With Amendola out with a head injury, newcomer Austin Collie stepped in and stepped up. Brady hit him on a 15-yard gain. Brady tried Edelman deep down the middle of the field on two consecutive plays but Edelman couldn’t reel in the tough catches. On 4th and 4 with the game on the line Brady found Collie again for a gain of 9. They got to the line and spiked it with 10 seconds left, which usually means about two shots to the endzone. Brady only needed one. Kenbrell Thompkins made a move to the back corner of the endzone and Brady threw the best pass he has thrown all year. It went just over the fingertips of the Saints’ defender Jabari Greer and right into the hands of Thompkins to cap off the most improbable comeback.
- Have to mention that Stephen Gostkowski came up huge with that 54-yard field goal earlier in the game. Not an easy kick at all and it was the difference in this game. Also Michael Hoomanawanui has been huge in the absence of Gronk. He has always been a terrific blocker in the run game, but yesterday he had a few huge catch and runs which led to key first downs. If there was an early season MVP he gets my vote for doing all the little things that are necessary.
- I know this may seem a bit off the football topic but yesterday was one of the most amazing days in Boston sports history. That’s saying something considering all the amazing moments the past 10+ years. I saw a tweet that the odds of both the Patriots and Red Sox coming back in their respective games was 0.16%. They both sparked incredible comebacks that neither team should have pulled off. Their are fans in other cities who won’t have as much joy watching their teams in their entire lives as we got to enjoy in the span of 5 hours. It can’t be said enough that these are the good old days and they must be cherished. Enjoy every single minute.
Tags: Aaron Dobson, alfonzo dennard, Aqib Talib, Austin Collie, Bill Belichick, Chandler Jones, Danny Amendola, Darren Sproles, Devin McCourty, Drew Brees, jimmy graham, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Khiry Robinson, Kyle Arrington, LeGarrette Blount, Michael Hoomanawanui, Patriots, Pierre Thomas, Saints, Stephen Gostkowski, Stevan Ridley, Steve Gregory, Tom Brady, Travaris Cadet