If the way to determine how close an NFL game is to measure the minutes in which the teams were separated by a score or less, than evaluating a quarterback’s performance shouldn’t depend solely on his late game heroics, meaning Tom Brady, in another disappointing display of legendary passing skills for the New England Patriots, got a little bit lucky in the surprise ending.
Until the final drive, which lasted one minutes and eight seconds, Brady was 20-of-35 with no touchdowns, an interception and five sacks. In fact, he threw the interception with only 2:16 left in the game; the Patriots first play after the Saints extended their lead to four points via a field goal, extending their impressive fourth quarter comeback.
But for Brady, who has had plenty of fourth quarter problems for the last couple of years, came a moment of redemption after the criticism he and the offense have been taking this season. He completed three consecutive passes to put the Patriots at the Saints’ 26 in pretty much no time. But then he threw two incomplete passes, putting the Patriots at 4th and 4. So he completed one pass to Austin Collie for nine yards, spikes the ball and then throws a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins, turning into his favorite receiver this season, en route to a 30-27 win, handing the Saints their first loss of the season.
There was a lot more to this game than Tom Brady, who had another bad performance for around 59 minutes, not having receivers for his imperfection. He misthrew, overthrew and was simply all over the place, getting hit hard and often by the Saints defense that sacked him five times and had a few more chances to put him on his back. But there’s a defense factor to the Patriots this season, and having Stevan Ridley shouldn’t go unmentioned.
The Pats’ defense did a fantastic job on Drew Brees, limiting him to only 17-of-36, with two touchdown passes and an interception. They took away his favorite target, Jimmy Graham, as Brees targeted his tight end six times, not being able to connect with him even once. He found Marques Colston for only one catch, and had to focus on feeding the ball to Darren Sproles (six catches), Kenny Stills and Benjamin Watson, who are far less explosive with the ball. It was the first time in Graham’s career with multiple targets but not a single catch.
Aqib Talib did the incredible job on Graham, as Belichick elected to go in man-to-man coverage on the Saints’ five skill players, with two dropping deep to take away the big play. While it didn’t completely stop the Saints, it took away most of the venom from their sting. Both Graham and Talib left the game in the second half due to injuries, but there was no doubt who won that battle.
Ridley ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, as the Patriots needed some help after Brady went 25-of-43 for 269 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Julian Edelman is a known gimmick, and Danny Amendola finished with 2 catches for 0 yards. Brady had to go to his lesser known receivers, and it only really worked for him on that final drive, connceting with four different receivers before the touchdown.
If one unit has to get the hero’s medal for the win, putting the Patriots at 5-1, it has to be the defense and they took away the Saints’ passing game. But Tom Brady is in the center of attention, always, even on bad days, and even when his final drive was actually more a case of luck than actual skill from a declining quarterback.