NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - INSIDE SLANT
Despite winning their first five games of the season and going into Week 6 as one of only three undefeated teams, the New Orleans Saints knew the next one wasn't going to be a cakewalk.
There was one big reason for that.
After surviving the previous week in a trip to Soldier Field, where they had lost three straight times, the Saints had to face the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium, where Bill Belichick's team has dropped just six regular-season games in the past 6 1/2 seasons.
The Patriots were also coming off their first loss of the season and the Saints looked like they were going to hand them two in a row until they gave Tom Brady too many chances -- the final one with a little more than a minute to play in the game.
When Brady drove his team 70 yards to a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the end zone with five seconds to play, the Patriots (5-1) gave the Saints (5-1) a harsh dose of reality going into their bye week.
The back-breaking drive came after the Saints, who trailed 17-7 at halftime, appeared to have things in control after scoring on a 34-yard pass from Drew Brees to Kenny Stills with 3:29 left to take a 24-23 lead. Then, they added to the lead with a 39-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley with 2:24 remaining after the defense turned the ball over on downs in the Patriots' end of the field.
"That's a tough, tough loss," Saints coach Sean Payton said after the Patriots pulled it out. "I thought in the second half, we fought back to get kind of in that thing."
The Saints' defense did that while the offense struggled at times, holding the Patriots to a pair of field goals and just 74 yards in the second half -- sacking Brady once and intercepting him as well -- until that last drive.
"I told the players, 'Look, we did some good things in the second half,'" Payton said. "I was proud of the way we fought back. ... But Tom and those guys made a play late in the game -- and those are tough. That's this league."
"Brady made some good throw on that last drive," defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "He came in and clearly did what we already knew that he was capable of doing. He made a lot of good throws at the end; he made a lot of good throws in this game."
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - NOTES, QUOTES
--Following their first loss of the season, a 30-27 setback to the New England Patriots, the Saints will have a long break to think about it as they head into their bye week.
The Saints will next play on Oct. 27 against the Buffalo Bills in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after getting some extended time away from the practice field.
--For the second week in a row, the Saints won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half and kick off to the Patriots.
--TE Benjamin Watson, who started his NFL career by playing six seasons with the Patriots, was given the honor of calling the toss by quarterback Drew Brees.
Watson was filling in as an offensive captain for tackle Zach Strief, who had an ankle injury and was inactive. After Watson won the toss, the Patriots marched down and kicked a field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.
--The Saints were forced to punt on their first possession, which was the first time since the season opener they failed to score points on the opening series.
After punting on their first series in the opener against the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints' offense opened the next four games with two field goals and two touchdowns.
--With a 30-27 loss to the Patriots on Sunday, the Saints are now 6-2 in the game prior to a regular-season bye since Sean Payton took over in 2006.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Kenny Vaccaro started at strong safety for an injured Roman Harper for the fourth game in a row in Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots.
--FS Malcolm Jenkins lined up as the nickel back when the Saints opened Sunday's game with five defensive backs.
--S Rafael Bush started at free safety with Jenkins playing the nickel spot that normally would have been manned by Vaccaro.
--RT Bryce Harris made his second NFL start in place of Zach Strief, who missed the game with a left ankle injury.
--TE Jimmy Graham left Sunday's game with the Patriots with a leg injury, but returned later in the contest. He was scheduled to have an MRI Monday and further evaluation if necessary, however he is expected to be ready to play after the bye.
Graham had an NFL record-tying streak of four straight 100-yard games for a tight end snapped against the Patriots. Graham, who had piled up 538 yards in the previous four games, was shut out by the Patriots after coach Bill Belichick elected to put cornerback Aqib Talib on the 6-foot-7, 265-pounder most of the afternoon.
It was the first time that Graham failed to catch a pass in a game since the Pittsburgh Steelers blanked him on Oct. 31, 2010 -- halfway through his rookie season.
--RDE Cameron Jordan had to be helped off the field with a right leg injury in the fourth quarter, but also returned.
--WR Lance Moore didn't play against the Patriots because of a hand injury that he suffered on Sept. 22, but he could return after the bye week.
--SS Roman Harper was inactive for a fourth consecutive game with a knee injury and it's unclear when he'll be back.
--RB Mark Ingram was sidelined for the fourth week in a row with a toe injury and his return is not known.
--DE Tyrunn Walker was inactive for a second straight game with a knee injury and it's not known when he'll return.
REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The Saints had one of those rare occasions where they were not hitting on all cylinders against the Patriots. The big reason was the defense the Pats threw up against tight end Jimmy Graham, who didn't catch a pass on six targets while being hounded all day by cornerback Aqib Talib, and Marques Colston, who caught one ball for 11 yards. Drew Brees completed less than 50 percent of his passes in going 17-of-36 for 236 yards with two TDs and an interception. He was also sacked once and had a passer rating of 75.7. Darren Sproles had a team-high six catches, while Kenny Stills caught three passes for 64 yards with a beautiful 34-yard TD. Tight end Benjamin Watson had 61 yards on three catches against his old team.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- In their sixth game, the Saints finally showed some signs of being the running game they want to be and came through with a solid grade in netting 131 yards and a 5.0 average -- both season-highs -- on 26 attempts. Undrafted free agent Khiry Robinson had a team-best 53 yards on just seven attempts (7.6 average) with a long of 20 and his first NFL touchdown, a 3-yard run. Pierre Thomas added 51 yards on 11 carries with a long of 13. Brees helped the cause with a 16-yard scramble.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- For the second game in a row, the Saints struggled a little as Tom Brady hit on 25 of 43 pass attempts for 269 yards with one TD and one interception. They pressured him early and sacked him four times in the first half and five times in all, but the Saints didn't come up with the big play that would have gotten them off the field in the last minute when Brady drove his team 70 yards to the game-winning 17-yard TD strike to Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds remaining. The Patriots longest pass play went for 23 yards and Brady had a passer rating of 74.7, but he had four receivers finish with at least 45 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Saints weren't terrible in allowing 141 yards on 35 attempts and a 4.0 average, but Stevan Ridley picked up some nice gains in finishing with 96 yards on 20 attempts with a pair of short touchdown runs. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry with a long of 19 yards and seemed to ignite the offense after LeGarrette Blount was largely ineffective early in the contest. Blount finished with 9 yards on seven attempts, while Brandon Bolden chipped in with 19 yards and a long of 12 on five tries. Brady had 16 yards on two scrambles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- Sproles averaged just 17.7 yards on three kickoff returns and 6.7 yards on three punts, while the Patriots managed to average 25.5 yards on two kickoffs and 6.7 yards on three punts. Thomas Morstead was solid in averaging 43.2 net yards and 44.7 gross yards on six punts with two kicks going inside the 20. Garrett Hartley made both of his field-goal attempts from 28 and 39 yards out.
COACHING: B -- After taking the Patriots' best shot on offense in the first half and allowing 232 total yards, the Saints made some nice adjustments and held New England to 74 yards in the second half until the last-minute drive went for 70 yards and the game-winning score. Until that drive, Brady, who was sacked four times in the first half, was 4-of-13 for 36 yards with an interception in the third and fourth quarters. On the other side of the ball, the Saints never could figure out how to get Graham and Colston involved as they combined for one catch for 11 yards with nine targets between them.