FOXBOROUGH — There’s nothing like a game-winning drive.
Here are five takeaways from the Patriots’ 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday in which Tom Brady proved for the 38th time in his career that he, and only he, is the lion of Foxborough.
1. Short-term memories — The most profound aspect of Tom Brady’s game-winning drive is his rather amnesiac response following a brutal fourth-quarter interception. That turnover should have sealed the team’s fate. But in Brady, as well as his teammates, there was no sense of loss or any dispiritedness afoot.
“I think the whole team is like that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “But Tom is great competitor. Everybody has to – you have a short memory in this game. Same thing with Zo [Alfonzo Dennard] on the long pass and then the breakup on the go-route on our sideline. You have to have a short memory. You have to come back and play the next play. Look, we all have bad plays out there, every one of us: missed blocks, missed tackles, bad calls, bad throws, drops, whatever it is. But competitors come back and keep competing and come back and get it the next time. Nobody is going to play a perfect game, we know that. But you just have to keep competing and try to eliminate, make as few of those mistakes as possible.”
Said Brady: “You have to [have a short memory] in football. As great as a win as this is, we have to come to work tomorrow and we’re on the clock against the Jets. They’re going to be motivated. They lost, they’re playing at home and we’ve already played them once. No matter what happens, you have to start working on next week. We have to learn from the things we did well and learn from the things we did poorly and try to get to 6-1. That’s the goal this week.”
Brady turned around from that fourth quarter interception and went 5 of 8 passing for 70 yards, including the winning 17-yard touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins. Prior to that drive, he had thrown for only 36 yards in the entire second half.
2. Austin Collie comes up huge in a pinch — There’s a lot to be said about the complexities of the Patriots offense, particularly for wide receivers new to the scheme. But apparently the team’s 1-minute offensive playbook is slim enough for any sage veteran to learn it well. Collie, signed on Oct. 3, subbed in for injured wide receiver Danny Amendola on the final drive of the game and was able to come up with two huge catches for 24 yards. It was remarkable that he was able to have such a huge impact at a critical juncture in the game. But it doesn’t come without a week’s full of extra preparation, according to his coach.
“He’s worked hard,” Belichick said. “Chad O’Shea, our receivers coach, and Austin have worked very hard on the assignments and plays, formations and all that. Those guys spend, it must be like two, two and a half hours a day after everybody else does, just going over stuff, walking through it and it really paid off today.
“You have to give Austin a lot of credit for coming in here and being ready to go, like you said, really at the most critical time in the game.”
3. Offensive improvement — Everybody was waiting for some sort of offensive splurge. Who knew that the Patriots, coming of their worst offensive outing since 2009, would put together a 30-point game against the fourth ranked defense in the NFL. The Patriots amassed 26 first downs and 376 yards of offense, much better than the 15 first downs and 248 yards they managed against the Cincinnati Bengals. It helped that the team was much more efficient in the red zone, scoring on all five opportunities and getting touchdowns on three tries.
4. Shutting down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham — It appears the key to stopping a storm of Drew Brees touchdowns is a solid defensive effort on tight end Jimmy Graham, whom the Patriots held to no catches on six targets. Brees finished 17 of 36 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, but it was obvious the New Orleans offense was disrupted with the way the Patriots defenders, including Aqib Talib, treated Graham physically.
“They do a really good job of getting hands on receivers and tight ends,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “They are very well coached. They are disciplined, and they did a good job of that.”
Talib was matched up with Graham before both were injured. Talib went down with a hip injury. Graham appeared to injure his ankle but was able to return to action.
“Aqib really competed hard and in the end, I don’t think either one of them were on the field,” Belichick said. “Both guys ended up being out but it was a great battle and a great matchup. I thought Talib battled him, went toe-to-toe with him the whole way. It was a good matchup.”
5. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui shines — There are tons of questions about tight end Rob Gronkowski with his availability up in the air. It’s been that way, with increased scrutiny, since Week 2. But Hoomanawanui’s availability hasn’t been questioned, it’s just been a matter of whether the Patriots want to utilize the tight end’s receiving skills or relegate him to being a blocker. The team is starting to come around to the fact that he’s a pretty good receiver, too. He caught four passes on four targets for 57 yards, including a 19-yard reception on a third-and-18 and an 18-yard reception on a second-and-11. He showed off his hands too, catching a pass of his shoe strings in the fourth quarter.
“Whatever it takes really has been my role and my thought going into it,” Hoomanawanui said. “It kind of happens that way, so I was able to have some good catches, some key catches to keep some drives moving, so I felt good.”
He added: “We have no control over [when Gronkowski returns]. When he’s back, obviously it’ll be a great thing for the team and we’ll go from there. But right now, we have to focus on the players that are playing right now. I think we’ve been able to do that coming out 5-1 after this game.”