It was a heartbreaker in Gillette Stadium, as the Pats executed an improbable drive and stunned the Saints with five seconds remaining on a touchdown connection between Tom Brady and Kenbrell Thompkins.
Check below for postgame grades and analysis.
Pass Offense: Brees wasn't terribly sharp against a defense that didn't generate a ton of pressure. He completed just 47 percent of his passes at 6.6 yards per attempt for un-Breeslike numbers. The usual weapons, Jimmy Graham (zero catches) and Marques Colston (one catch, 11 yards) were no-shows, with Graham departing with an injury.
Run Offense: Wow, that was an unexpectedly strong performance from New Orleans' backs in the second half. They managed 112 rushing yards in the second half, bolstered by Khiry Robinson (7.6 yards per carry, one touchdown) and Pierre Thomas (51 yards rushing). Despite the loss, the strength of the run game should be an encouraging sign for Saints fans.
Pass Defense: The pass defense stepped up big-time in the second half, holding Brady to four of 15 completions until the final drive. But they got diced up by Brady on the Pats' last possession, as he went 5-for-8 on a 70-yard drive to close the Saints out with a game-winning touchdown. The Saints were aided by five Patriot drops, but the Saints deserve credit for holding Brady to a 58 percent completion rate.
Run Defense: The run defense improved in the second half, yielding just 44 rush yards while the Pats quickly frittered away a lead. Stevan Ridley had the Saints' number with 96 rush yards at an average of 4.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns, but the Saints won the time of possession battle by four minutes in the second half after losing it by seven minutes in the first half.
Special Teams: Garrett Hartley knocked in both of his field goals and Morstead averaged 44.7 yards on six punts, but Darren Sproles was largely ineffective in the return game.
Coaching: Sean Payton's decision to pass on third down in the Saints penultimate drive cost the Saints the game, plain and simple. Yes, the defense yielded a vintage Brady touchdown to lose, but if Payton ran it there, the Pats would have had 30 seconds instead of 1:15 on their final drive. That's in large part on Payton for a foolish call late in the game. You have to love his aggressiveness, but it burns his team at times.
Pass Offense: Give the Patriots credit. They have a very strong game plan for slowing the Saints, shadowing Jimmy Graham (zero catches) with Aqib Talib and bracketing the tight end whenever he's matched up on anyone else. Brees completed just 9 of 19 passes at a 5.8 yards per attempt clip and made a series of ill-advised throws into tight coverage (a couple of which were nearly picked).
Run Offense: Once again, there's nothing doing for the Saints rush offense. They managed just 19 first-half yards against a Patriots defense that is missing its two best interior lineman. The Saints probably won't be able to establish the run in a game they're already trailing.
Pass Defense: The Saints defense took a step back in the first half this week, allowing a 73 percent completion rate and 163 yards from a Patriots passing offense that totaled 193 yards all of last week.
To their credit, they managed four sacks on Brady in the first half alone, but in selling out on the blitz they've allowed big plays from usual non-threats like Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie Aaron Dobson.
Run Defense: Once again, the Saints can't run and can't stop the run. For the first time all season, it's costing them. Stevan Ridley gashed their defense for two touchdowns and 5.5 yards per carry, as the Pats totaled 97 first-half rushing yards. The Pats will be happy to pound the ball and keep Brees on the sidelines, so the Saints need to step up in this regard in the second half.
Special Teams: Morstead was solid on his four punts, but there was nothing doing in the return game for Darren Sproles (two punt returns, 12 yards and one kick return for 21 yards).
Coaching: Another week, another late first-half attempt on fourth down from Sean Payton. This one doesn't even factor into the outcome of the game, however, as a fourth-down false start call on Jahri Evans moved the Saints back five yards.
Overall, the Saints played below their lofty standards in the first half, committing five penalties and getting dominated in time of possession (18:44 minutes to the Pats' 11:16). Look for them to try and return to the short passing game that was effective early in the game.
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