Check out final grades and analysis below.
New Orleans - 27
New England - 30
Game analysis for the New England Patriots
Pass Offense: I was going to write about all the frustrations Tom Brady and company experienced in the second half and how the Pats did not appear to trust the passing game until they fell behind. Yes, the pass game still needs lots of work, and the rhythm with the rookie receivers is still not quite where it needs to be, but one play can change everything. At least for the week, Kenbrell Thompkins is the toast of Foxborough.
Run Offense: The Pats went run-heavy in the second half, including a sequence in which they ran the ball seven straight times following a Drew Brees pick. Unfortunately, Stevan Ridley was not nearly as explosive after the intermission, due in part to the fact that the Saints loaded up in the box.
Run Defense: The Saints finally exposed the gaping hole in the middle of the Pats' line, rushing for 100 yards in the second half. Most probably expected Brees’ arm to make up the halftime deficit, but hard running by Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas got the Saints back in the game.
Pass Defense: The loss of Aqib Talib had the potential to be a game-changer, but the Patriots secondary held up fairly well until a critical lapse allowed Kenny Stills’ apparent game-winning touchdown. Give the secondary a lot of credit for holding on in spite of the loss, particularly Devin McCourty, who shadowed Jimmy Graham after Talib’s injury and did not concede a catch.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski’s career-long 55-yard field goal turned out to be the difference in this tight game. At first blush, the decision to kick did not seem to make a whole lot of sense. The kick highlights what has been a nice season for Gostkowski after a rough preseason.
Coaching: The offensive play-calling was curiously conservative at times, particularly when the Patriots had an opportunity to open up a two-possession lead following the Brees pick. But give tremendous credit to the defensive game plan, which limited Brees’ vertical options and comfort level all game.
First-half analysis for the New England Patriots
Pass Offense: The Patriots have seemingly used more no-huddle in the first half than they have all season. Consequently, Tom Brady has established a better rhythm with his receivers, particularly Aaron Dobson. Michael Hoomanawanui has also resuscitated the tight end position with three big receptions. However, the Saints are generating significant pressure with blitzes, and Brady is starting to anticipate the rush.
Run Offense: After sitting out the first two drives, Stevan Ridley has emerged in the Pats' ground game with two rushing touchdowns. Ridley’s hard running has been invaluable not only in controlling the clock and moving the chains, but also keeping the Saints offense off the field.
Run Defense: New Orleans is not exactly the type of team to exploit the absences of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Indeed, the Saints have barely even bothered to try, attempting just six rushes in the first half. The Pats’ defensive focus will continue to center around Drew Brees and the passing game.
Pass Defense: The story of the game has been Aqib Talib’s stellar work on Jimmy Graham. Talib held the Saints’ All-Pro tight end without a first-half reception for the first time in two seasons. Whether or not the Pats can continue to eliminate the Saints’ vertical game will be a huge factor in the outcome of today's matchup.
Special Teams: Apart from Julian Edelman’s near-catastrophic cross-field lateral on a punt return, the unit has been rock solid. Ryan Allen continues to round into form with two solid punts that have not allowed the shifty Darren Sproles to wriggle loose.
Coaching: So far, the Patriots staff has pushed all the right buttons. Matt Patricia's defensive game plan has flummoxed Brees and the offense, while Josh McDaniels’ decision to go uptempo has energized an offense that looked painfully stagnant a week ago. The onus is on the Saints to adjust to the Pats now.