Much to the chagrin of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and fans of rival teams across the NFL, the New England Patriots' thrilling 30-27 victory proved a well-known fact beyond a shadow of a doubt: With Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots will always have a chance to win. It truly doesn't matter the circumstance.
The Patriots had the ball three times in the final 3:29 with a chance to win. The first time, the Patriots failed to convert a 4th-and-6 on a dropped pass by wide receiver Aaron Dobson; the second time, Brady threw an interception with just 2:24 left.
The final possession with 1:13 left? Third time's a charm.
I don't know exactly how often teams come back after blowing a lead against an undefeated team and score a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, but it can't happen that often. It's probably even rarer when a team is given multiple opportunities late, but squanders them.
"Everyone is a little deflated when we throw interceptions," Brady said, "but you've got to still bounce back. Regardless of the situation, you've got to have enough mental toughness to come through, and I think our guys all believe in each other."
That belief wasn't always so strong, that mental toughness wasn't always so evident and that offense did not always execute so excellently.
Brady went 16-of-20 for 163 yards in the first half, but was just 4-of-15 for 36 yards and had an interception in the second half prior to the game-winning drive.
That belief Brady spoke of waxed and waned and waxed again even in the course of the 59 minutes and 55 seconds between the opening whistle and the final whistle, as has been the case over the course of the season.
Some of that was on the receivers, but some of it was on terrible performances by Tom Terrific. According to stats website Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the two-time Super Bowl MVP was one of the five least accurate quarterbacks in the NFL headed into Week 6, posting a 67 percent accuracy rate.
On the day, Brady threw just six passes that were off-target (not counting spikes, passes thrown away or while being hit).
The results, however, were not so glamorous. The Patriots offense moved well in spurts, but they were sometimes undone—especially late in the game—by the two problems that have affected them all season: drops and injuries.
There were five dropped passes: three by Dobson, one by Danny Amendola and one by running back Brandon Bolden. This is a trend that has continued throughout the regular season, and headed into Week 6, the Patriots had the second-most drops in the NFL with 17.
As for the injuries, Dan Connolly, Amendola, Aqib Talib and Jerod Mayo all left the game. Amendola's concussion marks his second injury of the season.
The team was still without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
In the end, none of it mattered—at least in the final outcome.
"No matter how you play to that point, no matter the situation...regardless of what happens over the course of the game, you have a chance," Brady said. "That's what football's all about. Interestingly, the plays in the first quarter are just as important as the plays in the fourth quarter, it's just the game's not really on the line at that point, but when the game is on the line, you see what guys are made of, and all those guys at the receiver position made some huge plays on the last drive."
We have come to expect perfection from the Patriots offense. Scoring drives of 10 to 15 plays and 60 to 80 yards became a regular occurrence for the Patriots of late. A longer field simply meant a delay of the inevitable. A limited amount of time on the lock meant a quicker, more blurring pace.
We haven't seen these late-game heroics from Brady with much regularity of late, but that's because the Patriots haven't been in those dire situations all that often. This year, Brady is 2-of-3 in fourth-quarter comeback attempts and now has 27 on his career.
He may not be the greatest quarterback in NFL history at pulling off unlikely wins in dire situations, but it's fair to say he's one quarterback you'd rather have on your side than playing against you in such a situation.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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