With Patriots running back Stevan Ridley healthy and starting right guard Dan Connolly leaving the game with a head injury, the Patriots had a much improved running game.
With massive mauling tackle/guard Marcus Cannon at right guard, the Patriots running game was able to rush to either the right or left side, which gave them more options in the running game this week. That was especially evident when the Patriots took over after the Saints tied the score. The ensuing drive saw Ridley with five rushes for twenty-five yards and a big third-down conversion.
Unfortunately for New England, wide receiver Danny Amendola was knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet hit on an end-around (that was called back for a holding penalty). Of course, another poor throw downfield by Tom Brady allowed the New Orleans defender Jabari Greer to recover on the underthrown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the end zone. Instead of six points, the Patriots had to continue to try to move down the field. After another poor throw from Brady on second and twenty, and a give-up dump-off on third and twenty, kicker Stephen Gostkowski made a huge field goal as he nailed a career long fifty-four yard field goal to give New England a 20 to 17 lead.
The Patriots closed out the third quarter with a huge three-and-out as defensive end Rob Ninkovich and the defense put pressure on Drew Brees on first down and a stop in the running game forced a third-and-six. The Patriots forced Brees to look to his fourth (fifth?) option, wide receiver Robert Meachem and force a punt.
New England gave the ball right back as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan dialed up a safety blitz and the Saints picked up sack number five. The Patriots defense finally was able to add a sack on the next drive as Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones got to Brees. Under pressure on third-and-twelve, Brees made a mistake at last as he overthrew tight end Jimmy Graham and cornerback Kyle Arrington picked off the pass and returned it five yards to the twenty yard line of the Saints.
The Patriots busted out Stevan Ridley again for three hard runs to set up first and goal. Unfortunately, the Patriots inexplicably brought in Brandon Bolden and gave the ball to him twice. As expected, New England could not punch it in and settled for three points to go up 23 to 17. Again in the Red Zone, the Patriots not only missed tight end Rob Gronkowski, but did not even try to throw it to one of their big, young wide receivers in the end zone. This Red Zone failure fell squarely on the shoulders of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. At this point, Tom Brady had a total of three completions in the second half, which was mind-boggling considering how good the passing offense looked early.
Two quick first downs by New Orleans had them near midfield on the ensuing drive. Undrafted free agent Khiry Robinson blasted for twenty yards and a first down at the New England thirty-five yard line. New Orleans took three quarters to figure out that New England was daring them to run, and run they did. When the Saints went empty backfield on first down, a holding penalty brought back a first down pass and the Saints faced a first-and-twenty.
Tight end Jimmy Graham almost made his first catch for a touchdown but the ball was knocked out by cornerback Kyle Arrington with a great poke of the ball after it came down in Graham’s hands. Then, a massive collision by safety Steve Gregory left both Saints running back Darren Sproles and Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo on the field injured. On third and twenty the Saints found Kenny Stills with safety Steve Gregory a step late to help as cornerback Alfonzo Dennard tried to knock it away and missed. With 3:29 to play in the game, the Saints were taking a one point lead on the extra point 24 to 23.
The Brandon Bolden drop-athon continued as New England could not convert on second-and-six as he dropped an easy pass. Then Brady could not squeeze it into Julian Edelman on third down. Then rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson put a cap on the dropped passes in critical situations as he let a pass hit his chest and bounce off on fourth down. Edelman gets a pass as the ball was threaded between two defenders, but Bolden and Dobson made terrible drops on easily catchable passes to kill the most important drive of the game.
The Saints kicked a field goal to make it 27 to 23 and give the Patriots the ball back with two minutes and some time and needing to drive and score a touchdown to pull out the win. Quarterback Tom Brady, with plenty of time on the clock to work with, threw a lolly-pop into double coverage (wide receiver Julian Edelman did not even locate the ball) on first down which was intercepted. It was a horrible pass at a horrible time, and it cost the Patriots the game. It was a Mark Sanchez/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Terrible Quarterback kind of play. It was the kind of play that rookies and an aged Brett Favre make, not a quarterback of Brady’s caliber. The Patriots were given another opportunity to win the game and he threw it away with a horrible pass.
Inexplicably, the Patriots defense forced another punt as the Saints could not run out the clock. Three quick completions put New England inside the thirty yard line. After two incompletions to Julian Edelman the Patriots converted the first down on fourth and four with a pass to recently signed Austin Collie. With only ten seconds on the clock and the ball at the seventeen yard line, Brady made up for his previous errors with a perfect pass in the left corner of the end zone to undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins to win the game. It was frustrating, it was manic, it looked lost, but veteran quarterback Tom Brady pulled a rabbit out of his hat to lead New England past the Saints 30 to 27.