CLEAREST SIGN IT'S GOING TO BE A LONG DAY
There's no debating it: The Patriots need to score points if they're going to beat New Orleans. New England's first offensive play went off as drawn, and rookie receiver Aaron Dobson got open in the flat. Ball was caught for… oops. Dropped it.
CLEAREST SIGN BRADY'S GOING TO DO IT HIS DARN SELF
Though we know Tom Brady cannot throw AND catch the football, he did take matters into his own hands very, very early in Sunday's game. Not only did he run for 5 yards on second-and-9, six plays later he scrambled on third-and-10 and loped 11 yards for the first down. Brady's teammates couldn't reward him by capitalizing on the drive he extended and flamed out in the red zone. New England got just three points on the drive.
BIGGEST BLOWUPS OF THE 1ST QUARTER
The Patriots defense has done a decent job in the early part of this season of containing explosive plays. New England allowed 27 passes of 20 yards or more through the first five games of 2012. This year? Just 16 such plays have been surrendered heading into Week 6. Drew Brees changed that right quick. The Saints' first drive ended in a touchdown, thanks to back-to-back plays of 29 and 25 yards.
STRONGEST EARLY COMEBACK
Stevan Ridley missed last weekend's game in Cincinnati, New England's first loss of the season, with a thigh bruise. The Patriots may not have realized how much they missed him until this Sunday. Ridley wasn't presented with any significant gaps when he received a second-and-5 handoff, but he cut well and ended up with an impressive 18-yard run up the middle. It was the kind of rush LeGarrette Blount just seemed incapable of against the Bengals. Ridley had another strong run up the middle, this time for just 1 yard, to score New England's first touchdown in six quarters. It was his first TD of the season, and his first of two in the half.
BEST DEFENSIVE EFFORT OF THE 1ST HALF
Yes, the Saints made some big gains. Yes, they scored the only first quarter touchdown New England has allowed this season. But the Patriots went into the break up 17-7. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, who came into this game leading the league in receiving yards, had zero catches on three targets. Drew Brees completed less than 50-percent of his targets (9-of-19). Surprise, surprise.
LEAST EXPECRTED PRODUCTION
If I asked you who would be two of the top receivers into the third quarter, who would you guess? Graham? Amendola? Probably not Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and Saints tight end Ben Watson, huh. Well, that's what happened. Watson's two catches for 57 yards and Hooman's three catches for 53 were right at the top of the list when the score was 17-10, Patriots. Hoomanawanui's number was a career high.
WORST-CASE SCENERIO FOR PATS 'D'
It seems New England's 'D' is already losing the annual NFL battle of attrition. First, starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork suffers season-ending Achilles tear in Atlanta. The following weekend, fellow D-lineman Tommy Kelly injured a right knee injury that kept him out of the Saints game. Another big blow rained down in the third quarter against New Orleans when Aqib Talib went down with what looked like a bad hamstring. (It was later announced as a hip injury.) He went to the locker room not once, but twice. Talib has been a shutdown corner for the Patriots this season and his loss, if it's for significant time, will be huge.
With the score knotted at 17, New England got only as far as the Saints 37-yard line before stalling out on third-and-long. It was up to Stephen Gostkowski to hit a 54-yard field goal and put the Patriots up. Kick went up and… kick was good. It was Gostkowski's ninth career field goal of 50-plus yards and set a new franchise record. Not bad for a guy who has had a hard time getting out from under Adam Vinatieri's shadow.
BEST STAND IN
Things didn't look good for the Patriots 'D' when Talib went out. But Kyle Arrington stepped up and made some big plays. He first intercepted Brees when the Saints QB looked to Graham on third-and-12. New England's offense converted the turnover into three points to go up 23-17. On New Orleans' next drive, Brees was on the Patriots 34-yard line and tried a 33-yard bomb to Graham, who looked to be open and ready. Arrington got his hands in there, though and broke up the possible touchdown pass.
TOUGHEST DAY, WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE
Oh, Alfonzo Dennard. For everything Talib, Arrington, and Devin McCourty did in the secondary, Dennard just couldn't keep up. His missed tackles throughout the night were one thing, but his missed timing on Brees' touchdown pass was worse. The quarterback faced third-and-20 and needed six points. There were four minutes left in regulation and 34 yards to the end zone. Dennard, on Saints receiver Kenny Stills, jumped too early and went down with empty arms. Stills came up with the touchdown grab. With the extra point, New Orleans took the lead.
CRAZIEST ENDING TO A GAME
Tom Brady threw an interception late in the fourth quarter. The Saints took over up by four, 27-23, and fans started filtering out of Gillette Stadium. But after the Patriots defense held the Saints on three plays, Tom Brady would have yet another chance. This time, he came through. Brady and the Pats drove 70 yards in 1:08, and he found Kenbrell Thompkins in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with five seconds remaining in the game. It was just another legendary, game-winning, fourth-quarter drive for the Patriots' sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer.