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Week 12 Report Card: Saints Brees Past Patriots

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees pumps his fist after his 20-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

Saints quarterback Drew Brees made sure the Patriots didn’t capitalize on their second opportunity to knock off an undefeated team this season.  The New Orleans gunslinger threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns en route to a 38-17 beat-down of the Patriots on Monday Night Football.  Brees and company sent the “Brady Bunch” limping back to Foxboro, and maintained their undefeated record.  The Patriots now sit at 7-4, and while they remain in first place in the AFC East, Monday Night’s loss should leave Patriots fans with many reasons to worry.  Here is my evaluation of the Patriots offense, defense, special teams, and coaching staff in Monday Night’s loss:

Offense: B

The Patriots offense came into the game ranked second in the NFL behind the Saints averaging over 400 yards and nearly 30 points per game.  Tom Brady had thrown for over 300 yards and accumulated 14 touchdowns in his previous five games.  Certainly the Patriots and their fans had every reason to believe the offense would continue clicking on all cylinders against a Saints defense ranked 20th in the league.

To the surprise of many, Brady played perhaps his worst game of the season on the field where he hoisted his first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2002.  The three-time Super Bowl Champion quarterback looked like his usual self on the Patriots first offensive possession following a Saints field goal.  After a big 4th down conversion at the New Orleans 35 yard line, Brady hit Kevin Faulk in the slot on 3rd and 10. Faulk turned the short completion into a big gain setting up a four yard touchdown run by Laurence Maroney.

After a promising first quarter it all went wrong for Tom Brady on the Patriots second possession.  On the first play from scrimmage following a big punt return by Wes Welker, Brady was intercepted by Saints recently signed cornerback Mike McKenzie.  Brady’s pass was intended for Randy Moss, who appeared to cut his route short on the play, forcing Brady to throw into tight coverage.

The Saints capitalized on the interception scoring a touchdown almost instantly.  At this point in the game, with the Saints offense looking unstoppable, the Patriots tried to slow the game down by establishing the run with Maroney and Sammy Morris.  The Patriots knew they had to keep Brees off the field if they were going to have any chance at winning the game.  Maroney ran five times on the Patriots next possession setting up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and making the score 17-10. Unfortunately the defense couldn’t stand up to the 2009 version of the “greatest show on turf.” Brees was able to hit Robert Meachem for a 38 yard touchdown pass just before the half, forcing the Patriots to abandon the run in the second half.

When the offensive line gave Brady ample time in the pocket he was effective.  But once the Saints reestablished a two touchdown lead late in the third quarter, they were able to blitz Brady into oblivion.  The game was all but over when the Patriots failed to convert on 4th and 4 deep in Saints territory late in the third quarter.  In the end it wasn’t the offense, but the defense that let the Patriots down in this game.

Defense: D-

The young and inexperienced Patriots secondary was not ready for the buzz-saw they ran into in New Orleans on Monday night.  The Patriots defense, ranked 19th in the league, were torched by the number one ranked Saints offense led by Drew Brees and his arsenal.

Every time it appeared the Patriots were crawling back into the game, Brees answered with a long touchdown pass.  Brees answered Maroney’s four yard touchdown run with an 18 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Thomas.  He answered Gostkowski’s second quarter field goal with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Robert Meachem, and answered Maroney’s two yard touchdown run at the beginning of the third quarter with a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darnell Dinkins.

Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Brandon McGowan were clearly over-matched.  Brees looked off receivers and used pump fakes along with pin point accuracy to move the Patriots young secondary out of position, allowing the Saints to achieve an average of 9.6 yards per play.  In their defense, the secondary was victimized by a dismal pass rush.  Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas had the Patriots only sack of the game. One has to wonder how much this defense misses the services of Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour.

Special Teams: B+

Special teams did not play a big factor in the game. Wes Welker had a big punt return in the first half, and Stephen Gostkowski was 1/2 on field goals, missing a 50 yard attempt just before halftime.  Neither team had significant long returns other than Welker’s, or returns for touchdowns.

Coaching: C

I liked the offensive coaching staff’s decision to try to establish a running game in the second quarter.  When the tempo of the game was starting to swing in the Saints favor, the coaches put the ball in the hands of Maroney, Morris, and Faulk, but the Patriots defense’s inability to stop the Saints made the effort to establish the run futile.

I thought Bill Belichick made the wrong decision opting to go for it on 4th and 4 late in the third quarter, rather than kicking a chip shot field goal, which would have made the score 31-20.  Instead Brady threw an incomplete pass intended for Randy Moss, and the Patriots continued to trail by two touchdowns.  Football, especially the brand played in the NFL, is a game of momentum shifts and I think Belichick failed to capitalize on an opportunity to grab the momentum in this instance.  It was the second time in three weeks Belichick has decided to put all the chips on the table on 4th down.

I was also slightly puzzled with Belichick’s decision, especially in a game of this magnitude, to pull the offensive starters with over five minutes remaining in the game.

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