What we learned in the Patriots’ stunning 30-27 victory over the Saints Sunday at Gillette Stadium:
You never want to give Tom Brady too many chances, particularly late in a game. The previously undefeated Saints did not adhere to that rule as they gave Brady and the Patriots three late fourth quarter opportunities to punch one in, with the final drive proving costly.
Following a Drew Brees 34-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills, the Pats got the ball back with 3:29 remaining at their own 20. They went nowhere and on fourth-and-6, Aaron Dobson dropped the ball on a slant that would have picked up the first down. It appeared at that moment that the Pats would drop to 4-2 on the season.
But a sharp Pats defense held the Saints to a field goal and Brady got the ball back again relatively quickly, with 2:24 remaining. Brady immediately took a chance deep, looking for Julian Edelman, but Keenan Lewis picked it off and it once again looked as though the Patriots were done for the day. Not so.
With no time outs remaining, the Pats defense held firm again, with Chandler Jones sacking Brees on third-and-7. New Orleans punted and Brady still had 1:13 to work with from his own 30.
Brady hit Edelman for 23 yards, Austin Collie for 15 and Dobson out of bounds at the Saints’ 26-yard line to stop the clock with 36 seconds left.
Two incomplete passes to Edelman in and around the goal line didn’t do it, but another hook-up to Collie and a final 17-yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the end zone with just five seconds left capped the stunner for the Pats.
The Patriots cracked the Jimmy Graham code, completely shutting down the NFL’s leading receiver in yards. Graham was targeted six times by Brees and did not catch a single ball.
Aqib Talib, who left the game in the third quarter due to a hip injury, continued to show that he is one of the premier corners in the league when healthy. He didn’t allow Graham to take a breath early on, shadowing the tight end at every turn.
Kyle Arrington, who had an interception early in the fourth quarter, picked up right where Talib left off, slapping the ball away from Graham for an incompletion late in the fourth when Drew Brees dropped one right in the tight end’s arms, inches from the goal line.
30-spot will work
Following a horrid game against the Bengals, the Pats’ offense got back on track early, though it did so without names like Gronkowski, Amendola or Thompkins.
Brady went to Dobson early and often and it appeared in the first half that Thompkins was being phased out of the Pats’ offense. Dobson was targeted six times and had five catches for 57 yards 17 minutes into regulation. Dobson drew a pass-interference flag on corner Keenan Lewis in red zone, allowing Stevan Ridley to plunge in from a yard out in the second quarter to put New England up, 10-7.
Thompkins did wind up factoring in of course, scoring the winning touchdown. Amendola left the game after being knocked onto dream street by Saints safety Rafael Bush and Gronkowski, of course, did not play due to his ongoing injury issues.
Better to be lucky than good
The Patriots caught a break with 2:02 left in second quarter when it appeared Vince Wilfork’s replacement, Joe Vellano, jumped offsides when Brees barked out a hard count on a fourth-and-1. Much to the dismay of Sean Payton, the refs called a false start penalty on New Orleans instead and the Saints were forced to punt.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS