Every year there's always a moment you can look back on and feel like it may have been the moment that defined the season.
With five seconds to go, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have done just that after pulling off an incredible 30-27 come-from-behind win over the New Orleans Saints in front of a half-empty Gillette Stadium crowd on Sunday.
The half that stayed may have witnessed a turning point in an offense that reached the thirty point plateau for the first time all season, and did it in dramatic fashion. After throwing an interception on the previous drive that had seemingly sealed the game for the Saints, Brady was given just over a minute to go out and get some redemption.
Seven plays later the Patriots managed to work their way down to the Saints' 17 yard line, including converting a critical fourth down play on a pass to recently signed Austin Collie, who caught a nine yard pass to convert a 4th-and-4 to extend the drive with just over :20 seconds to go in the game. Brady spiked the ball after that conversion and had enough time for potentially two plays to try and pull off the victory.
Turns out, all he needed was one, hitting Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the endzone for a 17-yard touchdown that caused Gillette Stadium to erupt as fans witnessed a miracle as Brady delivered the knockout blow to the Saints and ended their undefeated record.
"We had everybody going to the end zone and he kind of snuck into the corner," Brady said of Thompins play after the game. "I put it up there for him and he came down and made a great catch. There were a lot of great catches there at the end. Julian [Edelman], the seam ball to start the drive and then Austin [Collie] had a fourth-down catch. AD [Aaron Dobson] came back, caught an in-cut, that was a big play. So that was great situational football and a great win against a really good team. We’re 5-1, we’re just grinding. Hopefully we can use this as a little bit of momentum going into next week.”
It was a great finish to an afternoon that saw the return of running back Stevan Ridley, who missed last week's game with a knee injury. Ridley carried the ball 20 times for 96 yards including two touchdowns, and was a huge reason why the offense was able to keep the Saints off balance for most of the game. He also finished with six first downs, one more than the five he had all season coming into Sunday's contest.
Third down was once again an issue for New England, who finished the afternoon just 5-for-15 and they found themselves in long-yardage situations throughout most of the game. Of the fifteen they faced, seven of them were of 3rd-and-7 or longer, including four from beyond ten yards. However, it was a 3rd-and-18 in the second quarter that they converted thanks to a 19-yard reception by Michael Hoomanawanui that ended up being a key point in the game. It extended New England's drive and it ended with a four yard touchdown run by Stevan Ridley that put them up 17-7, which was their second straight scoring drive after Ridley had punched in another one from one yard out on their previous possession.
However, defensively the Patriots came up with one of their best performances of the season. Aqib Talib held Jimmy Graham without a catch, and they also did a good job of making things difficult on New Orleans on third down. Overall the Saints finished 5-of-14 converting on third down, with the Patriots forcing them into long yardage situations on the majority of them. The Saints faced 3rd-and-7 or longer nine times on Sunday, converting just two of them. They also held them to three-and-out on five of their twelve possessions on Sunday. That's an impressive feat against a team that came into this game as one of the most prolific offenses in the league.
Needless to say after last week's performance in Cincinnati, if there were any doubters left about whether New England's defense has what it takes to take them a long way this season, they should have changed their minds after what they did Sunday afternoon. After the game Belichick was pleased with what he had seen, and certainly with good reason.
"Obviously after we didn’t have a good outing last week in Cincinnati, I thought the players prepared hard, they practiced hard, and it was satisfying to go out there and beat a good team like New Orleans today," said Belichick. "You’ll be hearing from them plenty, they’re pretty good.”
They certainly were, but on Sunday the Patriots were better. Unfortunately the roar from the crowd that stuck it out with them was what the fans in the parking lot heard in what so far has been the most memorable game of the season. In years past there has always been the one game that brings this team together, and it's hard not to feel like this may have been one of them.
Brady was proud of his teammates after the game and when asked if this game could "galvanize" this team, he said that winning certainly helps them in that regard after losing a tough one last week.
"Well, winning helps galvanize everything," said Brady. "Losing sucks and it was a rough week. You know, I think the thing is there’s a lot of character and mental toughness and that really showed. We were down, but not out and we had some momentum go our way that we didn’t take advantage of. And then it went their way, and then we fought and overcame some odds.
"So that’s what football is about and you’re going to have those over the course of a season and I was just proud of the way that we hung in there and never stopped fighting. "
That they did, and now they're 5-1 heading into next Sunday's game down in New York against the Jets.
A COSTLY WIN IN TERMS OF INJURIES:
The Patriots may have won the battle on Sunday against the Saints, but it's going to be interesting to see at what cost it came at. The Patriots saw Aqib Talib (hip), Danny Amendola (head), Jerod Mayo (shoulder) and Dan Connolly (concussion) all get knocked out of Sunday's game. There was no word after the game on Talib but members of the media spotted Mayo with his arm in a sling as he was leaving the stadium. Amendola took an unbelievable shot on an end around late in the game that left him motionless immediately following the play, and he was pretty shaky when he did finally get up and leave the field. All of these injuries will be something to watch, with Talib and Mayo being key since they're two of the most important pieces of New England's defense.
GRONK'S MOM CHIMES IN ON HIS SITUATION:
Yesterday's win over the Saints likely quieted the people clamoring for Rob Gronkowski's return to action, but it didn't stop his mom from talking to the media. According to Karen Guregian, the veteran tight end's mother told her that "Robbie is dying to play" and that the critics don't understand what he's going through. While I'm in total agreement that there must be a viable medical reason that has kept him out of action, one would have to believe that moments like this don't help the situation when he's trying to minimize himself from becoming a distraction.
SOME NUMBERS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN:
1) Kyle Arrington's 3rd quarter interception extended the Patriots consecutive game forcing a turnover to 33 games, which is still currently the longest active streak in the NFL.
2) Tom Brady's game winning touchdown pass was the 342nd touchdown pass of his career, tying Fran Tarkenton for 4th in NFL history.
3) Stephen Gostkowski's 54 yard field goal in the 3rd quarter was his 9th career 50+ yard field goal, which breaks Adam Vinatieri's record of 8 and is a new franchise record.
4) From Fox Sports - Brady has played 92 regular season games in Foxboro and has only lost 14 regular season games at home during his career, which is an impressive .848 winning percentage.
5) The Patriots dominated the Saints in the first half, running 47 plays compared to just 25 for New Orleans. Overall they ran 83 plays on Sunday compared to 63.
6) Tom Brady finished the first two quarters with identical attempts and completions in each (8-of-11), which was a 73% completion percentage. It was the best 1st quarter performance in terms of completion percentage for Brady of the season, and the second best second quarter performance for him since his week three performance where he finished 9-of-12 with two touchdowns against the Buccaneers.
7) After normally being on the same page with Julian Edelman, Brady had a tough time connecting with him on Sunday as the Saints clearly made an effort to take him away. Overall Edelman was targeted 11 times with just five completions, including 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter.
8) Brady was solid in the red zone on Sunday, completing all four passes (excluding the spike) including his game winning touchdown, with Dobson being the leader down there after hauling in two passes on two attempts along with a first down. Kenbrell Thompkins was targeted just once, but it ended up being all he needed as it was his 17-yard game-winning reception.
9) After it had appeared that Drew Brees had completed his 31st career 4th quarter come-from-behind win, instead, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Brady came through with the 32nd game winning drive of his career, ranking him second among active players behind Peyton Manning, who has 49.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Instant analysis: Tom Brady still has some magic left - Ben Volin - Volin looks back at yesterday's game and writes that Brady still has a little magic left in his 36-year-old arm after all.
A Boston sports day for the ages - Adam Kaufman - Kaufman has a good article on yesterday's amazing come-from-behind wins by both the Patriots and the Red Sox.
Brady's late TD pass lets Patriots keep faith - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young writes that after their loss in Cincinnati last week, there were more than a few people starting to write the epilogue to Tom Brady's stellar career. At least, until the drive he pulled off for the win yesterday.
Patriots' offense stayed calm, cool on final drive - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer writes that after being given one more chance, Brady delivered in front of a half-full crowd at Gillette Stadium.
Saints gave Patriots one chance too many - Stephen Sellner - Sellner writes that the Saints couldn't run out the clock at the end of yesterday's game, and they gave Brady the opportunity he needed to pull off the win.
Given opportunity, Stevan Ridley carried run game - Peter Cappiello - Cappiello has an article on Ridley, who came up with a big afternoon yesterday.
Patriots struggling WRs hold on when needed - Mark Daniels - Daniels has an article on the Patriots wide receivers, who despite coming into yesterday's game with the second-most dropped passes in the NFL held on when it mattered most.
Stevan Ridley ends TD drought with pair of scores - Dan Ventura - Ventura has an article on Ridley, who made his first visit to the endzone on Sunday and reached it twice.
Borges: Tom Brady delivers when greats separated from everybody else - Ron Borges - Borges has a good read this morning on Brady, who Austin Collie saw wasn't shaking at the end of yesterday's game and said that kind of leadership "kind of rubs off on you."
Flood of injuries leaves Patriots gasping for players - Jeff Howe - Howe files his notebook and writes that the injuries the Patriots sustained late in the game made it a challenge to have the personnel to pull off the win.
Patriots' D-termination pays off - Karen Guregian - Guregian writes that the Patriots performance defensively was impressive considering the heart of their unit, Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, were both out of the line-up yesterday.
Buckley: That's a legendary Sunday - Steve Buckley - Buckley has a column on yesterday's amazing day in Boston sports after David Ortiz did what Tom Brady did, pulling off a come-from-behind win of their own as the Red Sox battled back and beat the Tigers in dramatic fashion.
Tom Brady guides late comeback to beat Saints - Jeff Howe - Howe writes that the 2013 Patriots story will be written by Tom Brady, who executed a football miracle in the second half of yesterday's win.
Pats TE's mom: Critics aren't in Gronk's shoes - Karen Guregian - Guregian has comments from Rob Gronkowski's mother, who says, "Robbie is dying to play".
Last-second drive worthy of a replay - Mike Reiss - Reiss has comments from several players on New England's last drive, with several players saying the team practices for moments like what happened at the end of yesterday's game.
Danny Amendola injures head - Field Yates - Yates writes that after suffering a big hit on an end-around late in the third quarter, Amendola suffered a head injury and didn't return.
Tom Brady’s Improved Passing, Aqib Talib’s Dominant Performance Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Saints - Doug Kyed - Kyed looks back at yesterday's game and has his "Five Takeaways", including a coverage chart of New England's defensive backs in this game.
Patriots' revitalized pass defense - Matt Williamson - Williamson has an article on New England's pass defense, and wonders how far this group can take them.
Patriots Postgame Quotes - 10/13/2013 - Staff - The Patriots provide some quotes from several different players from last night, including Kyle Arrington, Austin Collie, and others in this entry.
The New England Patriots finally go fast in win over New Orleans Saints - Nick Underhill - Underhill writes that Tom Brady has wanted to go fast all season, but didn't have the vehicle and spent the first five weeks "locked in the garage". Until yesterday.