The Saints are now 5-1 on the season as the final dagger from the Patriots came in the form of a 17-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins in the back corner of the end zone with five seconds to play.
The Saints started Sunday in a 17-7 hole at the half and then fought back to take a 27-23 lead with 3:29 to play. The go-ahead play was a vintage Drew Brees pass to rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills in double coverage. The Saints added a Garrett Hartley field goal just over a minute later. When heroics like this are on display, the Saints typically come out on top.
But on the other sideline was Brady, who’s known for being heroic himself.
Brady was given the football with 1:13 on the clock, and he led his team on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that ended in that game-winning strike to Thompkins.
It’s impossible to simply clap and have both teams eat orange wedges after the game. There was good on both sides of the football for both teams. But the Saints gave away a win Sunday, a win they fought hard to come back and steal from the Patriots.
Somebody has to take the blame. But who?
It’s easy to point a finger at cornerback Jabari Greer as the guy who let Brady’s pass sail over him into Thompkins’ hands. But that was a pretty good pass from the future Hall of Famer, and Greer should have had some help from safety Rafael Bush, according to NFL Network analyst Elliot Harrison:
You could accuse tight end Jimmy Graham for having an off night. He was targeted six times and didn’t pull down a reception. It was just the third time in his career he’d been held without a catch, the first two coming during his rookie campaign.
But Graham being shut down was more a result of a great game plan from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Graham can’t be the scapegoat here. Wide receiver Marques Colston was held to just one catch, and Brees had a rough day compared to his high standards. But the Saints loss wasn’t the fault of either one of them either.
If you’re going to point a finger, aim it at the New Orleans coaching staff.
With a one-point, fourth-quarter lead and 2:33 on the clock, Brees attempted a pass to Colston on third down. Had the coaching staff called a run play to the middle of the field, it would have given the offense the opportunity to run the clock down to the two-minute warning.
Then Hartley could have kicked his field goal to put the Saints up by four, New Orleans could have kicked off to the Patriots with less than two minutes to play, and on Brady’s first pass of the drive, his pick that Keenan Lewis pulled down would have effectively ended the game.
In the unlikely event that the Patriots had found a way to get the ball back, Brady definitely wouldn't have had 1:13 to orchestrate a game-winning drive. Less time would have meant a lower chance of success.
Place this loss on the shoulders of head coach Sean Payton. His aggressive play-calling is usually the toast of the league. But sometimes, like Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., his constant foot on the gas pedal gets him, and the Saints, in trouble.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.