In November of the 2001 season, the Patriots were at a crossroads. The team sat at 5-5 and faced a continuing quarterback controversy following the return to health of Drew Bledsoe. The opponent that week: the New Orleans Saints. The Patriots won in convincing fashion, launching a nine-game winning streak that culminated in the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory.
In the Belichick-Brady era, the Patriots have faced the Saints in four regular season games. New England is 3-1 over that span. Tom Brady has started all four of the games, facing Aaron Brooks twice, and Drew Brees twice. The coaching matchup has also been broken into two halves, with Bill Belichick facing Jim Haslett and Sean Payton two times respectively.
All of the Patriots-Saints games since 2001 have been notable for varying reasons. Here’s a quick look back:
2001: Patriots 34, Saints 17
Bledsoe’s possible return was cleared in the week before the Saints game on November 25, but Belichick famously chose to stick with Brady, who was then 5-2 as a starter. Facing the Rams in what was a Super Bowl preview, the Patriots played the “Greatest Show on Turf” to a surprisingly close 24-17 loss. Welcoming the Saints in the following week, Brady provided a response to those calling for Bledsoe’s return to the starting lineup.
The 24-year-old quarterback showed the strongest glimpse to that point of his future greatness, throwing four touchdowns for the first time in his NFL career. It was a quality performance, highlighted by an impressive 24-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson with only 10 seconds remaining in the first half:
The Patriots went on to a comfortable win, 34-17, carrying the momentum for the rest of what proved to be a magical season.
2005: Patriots 24, Saints 17
Again facing the Haslett-Brooks Saints, the circumstances were far different on Nov. 20, 2005. Brady was no longer an unproven quarterback, tenuously holding the starting job. Instead, the Patriots were coming off three Super Bowl wins in four years and shooting for an unprecedented three-peat.
The Saints, on the other hand, were a backpedaling franchise. At 2-8, Haslett was on his way to being fired (and replaced by Payton). Yet in the 2005 matchup, the game was revealing for the defending champions’ perceived frailties. “Patriots look soft in beating hapless Saints,” read the Boston Globe’s headline. The game came down to the final play, where Eugene Wilson’s interception in the end zone ended New Orleans’ comeback bid. Immediately after the game, Bill Belichick informed the team of his father’s passing.
2009: Saints 38, Patriots 17
The net result of New Orleans’ dismal 2005 season (including the loss in New England) was a changing of regimes. Out went Haslett and Brooks, and in came Payton and Brees. By 2009, the Saints were reaching the rebuilding project’s apex. When the Patriots traveled to the Superdome on Nov. 30, they ran into an undefeated Saints team powered by the Brees-led offense.
Payton told NFL Films that he based his team model around the Patriots. This made the scoreline that much more of a statement game for the 11-0 Saints. Brees threw five touchdowns to five different receivers, including a 75-yard score to Devery Henderson. The 38-17 final was yet another road loss for New England (who went 2-6 away from home in 2009). Brees and New Orleans would go on to win Super Bowl XLIV. One of the strongest indicators in their minds was the win over the Patriots.
“For us to go out there and just dominate that team, we thought, ‘okay, we got something here,'” Brees noted after the season in the “America’s Game” about the 2009 Saints.
Belichick and Brady traded sideline discussion about the team not being tough enough, foreshadowing a disappointing playoff loss to the Ravens:
Bill Belichick was mic'd up for this game. NFL Films cameras captured him having this conversation with Brady late in the fourth: pic.twitter.com/WWDIeoA6Qr
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 12, 2017
2013: Patriots 30, Saints 27
The most recent clash of the Patriots and Saints gave New England fans one of the most memorable endings – and radio calls – of the Belichick-Brady era. The Oct. 13 game at Gillette Stadium showcased many of the best and worst attributes of the 2013 Patriots. One forgotten aspect of that iteration of the team was its irrepressible ability to mount a comeback. Five wins were achieved by fourth quarter rallies in 2013. None had a more dramatic final touchdown than against the Saints.
Trailing 27-23 with just over two minutes to go, a Brady interception appeared to all but end the game. Crucially, the Patriots forced a three-and-out from Brees, but received the ball at their own 30 with no timeouts and only 1:20 remaining. Brady, utilizing an array of receivers (including Austin Collie’s first two catches for the Patriots), marched the team downfield. The stage was set for Kenbrell Thompkins’s miraculous game-winner:
The call from Patriots’ radio commentator Scott Zolak remains legendary:
And a lasting gift was a classic Rob Ryan GIF: