Saints expose Patriots' flaws
Brees tosses five TD passes as New Orleans wins, 38-17
NEW ORLEANS If the Patriots are an elite NFL team, one capable of challenging for the Super Bowl, the evidence will have to arrive in the next month. As of this morning, there is none. They have yet to win at an opponents home stadium, yet to beat a team that would qualify for the playoffs if they began today, and yet to prove their defense is something more than papier-mache when truly tested.
The Patriots received their opportunity to change all of that last night, and instead the New Orleans Saints, with an overwhelming, 38-17 victory, used the occasion to remind the Patriots of what they once were. The only juggernaut inside the Louisiana Superdome last night, the only team who can today claim themselves a championship-caliber team, wore black and gold.
They were obviously the better team tonight, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. It wasnt a competitive game like we thought it would be or like we needed it to be. Weve got to coach better and play better. We have to do a lot better to compete with a team of this caliber.
The Saints stand five games away from wiping away the once-unthinkable offensive standard the Patriots set in 2007 and joining them as the only teams to finish 16-0 in the regular season. Last night, they shredded and exposed the Patriots defense with 480 total yards, the third-most the Patriots have yielded under coach Bill Belichick and the highest total since 2001. Their receivers romped through the secondary and their backs sliced through the line while the Patriots missed tackle after tackle.
Quarterback Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes and for 371 yards while completing 18 of 23 attempts. He compiled a 158.3 quarterback rating, the highest number the system allows. Every time he missed a pass, he grimaced and shook his fist like he couldnt believe what had happened.
The Saints defense, playing with a patchwork secondary because of injuries, held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass and frustrated Randy Moss, who made one explosive play but finished with three catches. By games end, he stood alone on the Patriots sideline, helmet in his right hand.
The Saints attacked the Patriots defense in every manner. They scored on long drives. They scored on a 75-yard strike. They scored on screen passes, on long post patters, on a dump to their third tight end. They emptied both barrels.
With less than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots took over on their 25-yard line and waived the white flag. Coach Bill Belichick inserted backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and ran the ball up the middle twice, letting the clock bleed and, in the way a football coach can, asked for mercy.
The Superdome, packed with 70,768 swaggering Cajuns who chanted Who dat? all night, shook from opening kick to final whistle. The Saints borrow their strategy from an avalanche, relentless building on their momentum until they cant be stopped. The Saints made clear they and the Patriots occupy different places on the NFLs hierarchy.
We have to play situational football better against top teams, linebacker Jerod Mayo said. Up until this point, the defense hasnt done it. So hopefully were going to get that fixed in these next five weeks.
When its crunch time, we have to make plays. We didnt do that. We came in at halftime ready to go. As a defense, we havent played well coming out of halftime yet.
At the outset of the second quarter, the Patriots actually hinted they would make the showdown, hyped endlessly this week, a competitive exercise. Laurence Maroney plunged in for a two-yard touchdown, cutting the Saints lead seven. The dome almost hushed.
Then Brees took the field. He buzzed a deep slant to Marques Colston, who hopped around Jonathan Wilhite and Brandon Meriweather and ran for a 68-yard gain. Two plays later, Brees bypassed his more well known weaponry and hit Darnell Dinkins for a short touchdown pass. The Patriots did not score again, and the Saints did not look back.
We definitely thought we were still going to be able to win the game coming out of halftime, cornerback Leigh Bodden said. The defense just didnt do their part tonight. Against an offense like that, you cant have a bad game. Theyll just run up the score on you.
The Patriots offense opened the game by stashing their air-it-out offense and, instead chose to bludgeon the Saints. Twice, they went for it on fourth and one with straight-ahead power runs. Sammy Morris picked up the first, and Laurence Maroney plowed for a touchdown from four yards out for the second.
The Patriots took a 7-3 lead, but then the Saints wrested control in their avalanche style. The Saints took the lead when Pierre Thomas broke a tackle by Derrick Burgess then spun and twisted into the end zone on an 18-yard screen pass.
Brees finished the first half with a quarterback rating of 158.3, the best number the system allows. The play of the half helped. On the first play of a drive midway through the second quarter, Brees dropped back. Jonathan Wilhite screamed in from the left corner on a blitz.
In the secondary, safety Brandon Meriweather was charged with covering Devery Henderson. He drifted toward the other side of the field as if he forgot about Wilhites blitz. Brees rifled a pass to Henderson, no defender within 25 yards. He cruised for a touchdown.
For their third touchdown of the first half, the Saints breezed down the field with alarming efficiency. Three quick gains for a first down. A 25-yard catch by David Thomas, the former Patriots tight end. And then Brees flicked a 38-yard pass to the middle of the end zone to Robert Meachem, one step ahead of Jonathan Wilhite.
The drive made one wonder which team was playing without its starting cornerbacks and a veteran fresh off the street. That would be the Saints, starting Randall Gay and Malcolm Jenkins at the corners and using Mike McKenzie, 33-years-old and nine days removed from unemployment, in their nickel.
McKenzie played like a man imbued with a second chance. He cut under Randy Moss on the first play of the Patriots second drive and, as Brady threw on the run, intercepted the ball.
In the first half, the Saints caught as many passes attempted for Moss as Moss. Brady did not complete a pass to Moss until 44 seconds remained in the second quarter, a nine-yard out. One cornerback shadowed Moss while Darren Sharper provided constant support from his safety position.
Somehow, the rest of their motley secondary kept the other Patriots receivers contained. Brady finished the first half 12 of 21 for 124 yards and an interception. After Stephen Gostkowski hooked a 50-yard field goal wide left, the Saints were content to take a knee and head to halftime up 24-10, for the moment the clearly dominant team.
As the night wore, that margin would only grow.