Watching the way Sunday's game unfolded in the final minutes before Tom Brady's heroic comeback, it's hard not to realize that had he not pulled off that miracle, things were about to get pretty ugly.
You could see the tide turning while following fan reactions both online and obviously at the stadium, where a massive amount of them clearly didn't believe that Brady had the magic to bring the Patriots back from a mere six point deficit with two minutes left in the game.
They saw him get the ball back with 2:24 to go and he threw deep down the right side of the field into double coverage and not exactly near Julian Edelman, who had tried to break free and clearly wasn't thinking what Brady was as the ball was picked off, giving the Saints the football for what appeared to be the game clinching play.
Everyone got up and headed for the exits. Media members likely started writing their post game stories which probably would have been about how the Patriots had blown a ten point halftime lead only to let Drew Brees and the Saints rally back and how Brady had the chance and couldn't pull it off.
"Sorry if you had to rewrite some of those stories there at the end," said Belichick after the game. He's not an idiot. He knew exactly what was coming had it not worked out the way it did.
Instead, New England's defense stopped New Orleans one more time and gave Brady one final opportunity to pull off the win. Eight plays later Kenbrell Thompkins hauled in the pass and just like that, all was forgotten after what was left of the Gillette Stadium crowd watched an incredible win over a team favored to be a Super Bowl contender against that other team in Denver that none of us likes talking about.
After the game, Brady was the hero and the stories on Monday lamented about how great he is and how amazing he's always been in clutch situations. Had Drew Brees been able to run out the clock after Brady's interception, those likely would have replaced the other stories that were already written about how in the last two games he would have finished a combined 38-of-73 (52%) with 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. They'd be talking about how he would have been just 4-for-17 (24%) in the fourth quarter over that same span, with the same touchdown to interception ratio. From there, they'd simply talk about how he had blown two straight chances at come from behind victories.
But fortunately Brady saved himself and his team, who through it all this season continues to battle the critics despite a 5-1 record. With all the trials and tribulations they continue to face between injuries, the Rob Gronkowski situation, and everything else that has come along, they've somehow managed to pull together and are still among the top teams in the league.
Like Brady said after the game, winning changes everything and it certainly changes the perception, but it also helps keep everyone together and believing their best is still yet to come.
"Winning helps galvanize everything," said Brady after the game. "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. "
They'll have to continue fighting because it doesn't seem like it's going to get any easier. Injuries are still an issue after they lost Danny Amendola to a concussion, as well as linebacker Jerod Mayo (who left the stadium in a sling and wasn't spotted yesterday by media members in the locker room). Aqib Talib left Sunday's contest but according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald didn't appear to be limping Monday.
So they'll continue working through each of these issues and will hopefully see guys continue to step up again this week on the road against the Jets. Brady used the phrase "grinding it out" when talking about these games, and he'll have to continue doing just that since they're still getting things together offensively and are no longer putting up points at the same feverish pace they used to. But so far they're still a team that finds a way to win, even if it's not pretty.
For now there's still a long way to go and it's just amazing to think it's reached the point where everyone seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop and for it all to unravel. Fortunately to this point Brady and Belichick have been able to keep that from happening, but Sunday was a disturbing example of how quickly the tide might have turned if Brady hadn't gotten that final chance to will his team to a win.
PROTECTION NEEDS TO IMPROVE:
One thing that needs to be noted is the fact that the protection for Brady these last two weeks hasn't been great, especially looking at the numbers for the first four weeks. During his first four games Brady was sacked seven times, but over this most recent two game stretch he's been taken down an astounding nine times, including five on Sunday. That's something that obviously needs to improve, since it's tough to throw the ball accurately under duress and teams seem to be having more success than usual getting pressure on him.
RED ZONE IMPROVEMENT:
During the last two games Brady is tightening up his accuracy down in the red zone. Through the first four weeks Brady was just 8-of-19 (42%) compared to 5-of-8 (63%) down in scoring territory these last two games, including a flawless performance on Sunday since he finished 4-of-5 on the afternoon. His only incompletion came thanks to a spike to stop the clock and while he only has one passing touchdown over that span, Sunday also saw Stevan Ridley run two of New England's scoring plays in. They seem to be getting better each week and hopefully that continues.
BELICHICK PRAISES CHRIS JONES:
With the injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones ended up playing every snap offensive on Sunday for New England and on Monday Bill Belichick had praise for Jones during his conference call.
"Chris, as you mentioned, he got a lot of playing time yesterday," said Belichick. "I think he was in there for every play, that's right. Chris is a smart kid. He came in and picked things up pretty quickly. His play time has increased a little bit each week. I think he's athletic, he runs well, he has good playing strength, he has a little bit of quickness in the pass rush and overall, he's got I think decent skills in there."
"He's active, he runs well, he's been a factor in both the running game and the passing game. He still has a long way to go, but works hard, plays hard; tough kid. He's smart and he's done a good job picking things up."
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
A quiet morning on this front, but here are the articles I was able to dig up:
Patriots offense was driven to succeed - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young has an article on the offense, and the two different drives that they put together to win during week one in Buffalo compared to the one they needed Sunday.
Patriots Report Card: Last-second heroics boost grades - Ron Borges - Borges has his report card for Sunday's game and called it a "curious day for Tom Brady" after his 9-for-21 second half performance.
Kenbrell Thompkins goes to finishing cool - Jeff Howe - Howe files his notebook this morning which leads off with a bit on Kenbrell Thompkins, who had his phone blown up by his friends after Sunday's win thanks to his game-winning catch.
Aaron Dobson catches on quickly - Mark Daniels - Daniels has an article on Dobson, who he writes is doing something many rookies have tried and failed to do, and that's connect with Brady.
Tom Brady Confidence Index, Week 6 - Christopher Price - Price looks at Brady's "confidence index" through six weeks, and writes that Stevan Ridley rebounded and the effort of Austin Collie.
What we learned: With Tom Brady, Patriots 'always have a chance' - Christopher Price - Price has his "What we learned" for this week, which looks at the fact it's been a trying season for Brady.
Getting to know the Jets ... again - Field Yates - Yates takes another look at the Jets this time as he does each week, and has a "reintroduction" to Rex Ryan's club.
Another Chapter for Tom Brady's Storybook - Peter King - King has a great look back at Sunday's win, and praises Brady's effort as well as some other thoughts from week 6.
Tom Brady drive kicked off New England double delight - Rich Garven - Garven writes that New England sports fans are used to seeing wins both in Foxboro and Boston, and Sunday obviously brought that same feeling once again.