What a day! Talk about heart stopping, inspirational wins. First, we are dragged out of the depths of despair as a result of a last minute, eight (8) play, 70 yard drive, allowing the Patriots to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat, 30-27. Then, after resigning ourselves that the Detroit Tigers' pitching staff was just too good, and that the glorious 2013 Red Sox season was all but over, Big Papi leads them back from an 8th inning, 5-1 deficit with a grand slam home run, and the Sox score in the bottom of the 9th to pull out an improbable 6-5 win. Folks, somebody up there likes us.
But I digress...let's talk Patriots. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After an impressive first half, it was Cincinnati all over again for the great majority of the second, as the Patriots offense again sputtered badly, and apparently was going to be held to just two FGs, in another frustrating loss. But, then came the return of "Tom Terrific" who, for the most part, had been AWOL this season...leading his band of rag-tag receivers 70 yards in the 1:08, to lead his team to victory.
1.) QB: After throwing TD passes in 52 consecutive weeks, could Tom Brady fail to throw a TD pass in two straight games? It appeared so, as, for all intents and purposes, it appeared that the Pats were going to give another game away, and lose in frustrating fashion, 27-23. But, as has been the case over the past few years, instead of the Pats "D" wilting in the final minutes to allow a game winning TD drive...this time it was the Patriots' offense and Brady that did the deed. Getting the ball on his own 30 yard line with just 1:13 remaining to be played, Brady threw a dart over the middle to Julian Edelman for 23 yards, moving the ball to the New Orleans' 47 yard line. Then followed a 15 yard completion to new comer Austin Collie, a six yard completion to Aaron Dobson, and, on a 4th and 4 at the Saints' 26, a crucial nine (9) yard hook-up with Collie, to keep the drive alive. Then, with just seconds to play and no time outs remaining, Brady threw a perfect strike to an open Kembrell Thompkins in the corner of the end zone, to pull out the win. For the game, Tom was a rather pedestrian 25 completions in 43 attempts for 269 yards, a pick, and a TD...but was 5 of 7 for 70 yards and a TD on that glorious final drive. Prior to his heroics, he had once again appeared frustrated, and indecisive with his throws. His asccuracy was off, an indicated when he badly missed a wide open Danny Amendola early in the 3rd quarter, after the Saints had cut a New England lead to 17-10. Then, there was that interception late in the 4th quarter when, seemingly out of frustration, he threw up a 50 yard prayer...with the Patriots down, 27-23. But this time, it was the opposition and not the Patriots, that couldn't close the game out: GRADE: B+;
2.) RBs: Stevan Ridley ran hard and well, gaining 96 yards on 20 attempts, in his best game of the season. Brandon Boldin played, despite obviously laboring from injury...and chipped in with 19 yards on 5 carries. But, his 4th quarter drop of a pass over the middle seemed to finish off the Pats, with a little over three minutes to play. LaGarrette Blount has never been the same since his costly fumble last week, and had just 9 yards on 7 carries. That said, this corp needs to do a much better job in picking up LBs and DBs on blitzes, as players are getting some drive killing sacks, and clean shots at the Pats' 36 year old QB: GRADE: C+;
3.) OL: Much more is expected from this group than we've seen over the past two games. When given running room, the Pats' RBs are able to make some nice runs. But, the Saints put up seven (7) TFL, seven (7) QB hits, and five (5) sacks. These are unacceptable numbers. Particularly disappointing today was the play of Logan Mankins and LT Nate Solder: GRADE: C-;
4.) TEs and WRs: Good to see the return of the TE to the Patriots' offensive scheme, as "The Hooman" caught four (4) balls for 57 yards...including a 19 yard play to convert on a 3rd and 18, on the Pats' initial TD drive in the 2nd quarter. Though Aaron Dobson led the team in receptions with (6), for 63 yards, his drops are annoyingly increasing. Julian Edelman was targeted a team leading 11 times, finishing with five (5) catches for 57 yards. Credit Edelman for holding onto the ball on his key 23 yard reception during the teams' game winning drive, after being plastered by a Saints' safety. Danny Amendola wasn't as lucky, as he got nailed by a safety on a helmet to helmet hit that wasn't called...knocking the Pats' "Man of Crystal" out of the game with another concussion. He had no catches, though, as pointed out above, broke free over the middle deep in the third quarter. But for a poorly thrown Brady pass, he would have had a TD. Kembrell Thompkins had just three (3) catches for 45 yards...but made the big play in the end zone late to secure the win: GRADE: B-;
II. DEFENSE: After a brilliant first half, the Saints made adjustments...namely began to ground and pound with success in the second stanza. But giving up that late 34 yard TD pass on a 3rd and 20 play marred what was otherwise a gritty performance against a top offense.
1.) DL: Joe Vellano and Chandler Jones combined for 15 tackles (4 solos), and, were it not for the refs allowing the Saints' OL to get away with holding throughout the game, might have registered more than the one Chandler Jones coverage sack. Pressure by the DL in the final quarter did result in a rushed and poorly thrown Brees pass, that Kyle Arrington intercepted. It gave the Pats a chance to close the game out with a TD. But, unfortunately, it only resulted in a FG, and a 23-17 late 4th quarter lead. That said, this group looked like the Potstown Firebirds instead of the New England Patriots against the run, as the Saints gained 113 of their 131 yards rushing in the second half: GRADE: B-;
2.) LBs: Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes combined for 11 tackles (7 solos)...before Mayo went down with a shoulder injury. Credit this corp for doing a good job of containing the dangerous Darren Sproles coming out of the backfield as a receiver. For the game, Sproles finished with just six (6) catches for 58 yards, though he was targeted on 12 occasions. Dont'a Hightower (playing hurt) and Jamie Collins were virtually invisible throughout the game, as Hightower didn't make the stat sheet, and Collins had just two tackles: GRADE: B-;
3.) SECONDARY: Another outstanding performance by Aqib Talib, who blanketed and shut out Saints' star TE Jimmy Graham throughout the game, until he was forced to leave with a non-contact hip injury. Judging by Talib's frustrated reaction to the injury, he may be out for an extended period. Solid play throughout the majority of the game by Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, and Alfonzo Dennard, against a first rate set of receivers. But, giving up that 34 yard TD play in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter, on a 3rd and 20 play, was inexcusable. Though Drew Brees must be credited for making a perfect throw, Alfonzo Dennard should not have let rookie WR Kenny Stills get behind him. As usual, SS Steve Gregory was late in assisting on coverage. Isn't it grand to see the Patriots still struggling at the strong safety position, despite spending the 34th pick in the 2009 draft on Patrick Chung to shore up the position, followed by using the 48th overall pick in 2012 on the worthless Tavon Wilson, and the 91st overall pick this year (which could have been used to snag Steelers' WR Emanuel Sanders) on SS Duron Harmon? Once again, BB the general manager has failed BB the coach: GRADE: C+;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Tip your hat to "The Ghost", whenever you see him whisp on by. Gostkowski continued his fabulous season by nailing a critical 54 yard FG late in the 3rd quarter to stop the bleeding, after the Saints had just scored 10 unanswered points, to regain the lead for the Patriots, at 20-17. Had he missed that kick, Drew Brees and company would have had a short field to negotiate, with momentum on their side. The Ghost also hit a 35 yarder early and a 20 yarder late, to put his team up, 23-17. He also continued his excellent, touchback forcing kick-offs. The Pats are being rewarded for their decision to keep punter Ryan Allen, who averaged over 52 yards on four (4) punts. Darren Sproles and Julian Edelman offset themselves, each averaging over six (6) yards on three returns: GRADE: A;
IV. COACHING: Great job of scheming to completely shut down TE Jimmy Graham, and to keep RB Darren Sproles in check. Vince Wilfolk was missed in the second half however, as the Saints were able to run through the protect against the pass first Patriots' defense like a hot knife through butter. Terrible coverage breakdown late in the game, as describe in greater detail above, nearly did the team in. On offense, who was responsible for the play calls on that early 4th quarter series, subsequent to the Arrington interception? With a first and goal from the Saints 9 yard line, the Pats called three consecutive runs up the middle...as if they were content to settle for a FG. A FG is what they got, incresing their lead to 23-17...keeping the Saints just one TD away from winning...which they very nearly did. Credit BB for that gutsy decision to attempt a 54 yard FG, rather than punt: GRADE: B;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The 17 yard Brady to Thompkins TD pass to win the game, with 0:05 remaing to be played;
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Tough call here, as Aqib Talib, Brady, and Stephen Gostkowski all are top candidates. I'll go with Talib. Completely shutting down Graham was huge.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331013017.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.
Enjoy the win! Have a great day, my friends!!