Just when it seemed like all hope was lost, Tom Brady led the Patriots to yet another classic, 4th-quarter comeback.
It certainly wasn't easy, and truthfully, New England was fortunate even to be in position to win at the end, given the serious injuries they sustained throughout the game.
Here's what stood out from our vantage point in the Gillette Stadium press box Sunday evening:
…Cornerback Aqib Talib matched up with Saints superstar tight end Jimmy Graham from the get-go. He nicely broke up a pass intended for Graham, which helped lead to a three-and-out. In the second quarter, Talib again made a great play to swat away a Graham catch that would have been for a first-down. The result was a Saints punt.
…The Saints did their best to help Graham shake Talib later in the 2nd by putting him in the backfield. It sort of worked. Kyle Arrington wound up covering him on that particular play, but the undersized corner broke up the pass that Drew Brees threw Graham's way.
… Talib appeared to injure his left hamstring early in the third quarter. He was treated on the sideline before retreating to the locker room briefly. He re-entered the game for a play or two, but seemed to aggravate the injury further while diving to try to make a tackle. He slammed his helmet vehemently as he got up and limped to the sideline. After that, he again was escorted to the locker room with a member of the medical staff. The team later announced that it was a hip injury, which, if you'll recall, was what limited Talib at the end of last season, too.
…Arrington did a nice job taking over for Talib in coverage of Graham down the stretch, although by that point, Graham was clearly dealing with a left leg or ankle injury of his own. This was evident on the pass intended for him that Arrington intercepted deep in New Orleans territory. It's unclear when he sustained it, but perhaps he'd been dealing with it earlier, which could be a factor in how Talib was able to stick so closely with him. It's noteworthy, though, that the Saints didn't try to exploit Talib's absence by throwing immediately to Graham. That tells me they may have known Graham was not at 100 percent.
…Marcus Cannon came into the game at right guard in place of starter Dan Connolly toward the end of the first quarter. Connolly suffered what was dubbed a head injury, which typically is code for "concussion." He has dealt with numerous such injuries in the past. Cannon, meanwhile, appeared to be responsible for a Tom Brady sack in the early second quarter when he chose to double-team a d-lineman instead of picking up a blitzing linebacker.
…Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer appeared to struggled in pass protection early, allowing Saints defenders to pressure Brady from that side twice on the opening drive. The o-line overall was atrocious in the first half, surrendering four sacks of Brady. The QB was also hit several more times after releasing the ball. Credit New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with coaching his players to recognize Patriots tendencies and anticipating snap counts to get an edge in pass rush and on some running plays.
…Wide receiver Danny Amendola looked seriously injured – knocked momentarily unconscious, it seemed – when he was struck in the side of the head while diving out of bounds on an end around run. He stayed on the ground for several moments before he was able to get up with the help of medical staff. But he had trouble keeping his legs under him. Amendola was escorted immediately to the locker room. That was one of the worst results of a hit to the head that I've seen in quite some time. It wouldn't surprise me if he's out for longer than just this game.
…It was surprising that the Saints waited till late in the 4th quarter before they began taking advantage of New England's two rookie defensive tackles – Joe Vellano and Chris Jones – by repeatedly running the ball up the middle (Vellano and Jones are starting in place of injured veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly). When they did so, it met with considerable success. They very nearly ran out the clock on New England in the process.
…Stevan Ridley returned after missing a week with a knee injury, but LeGarrette Blount started the game at running back. Ridley appeared finally on the team's third series. He wound up punching it in for two touchdowns in the first half. His return helped give life to a running game that struggled to get on track last week in Cincinnati.
…The Patriots tried a "Music City Miracle"-type throwback pass on the first punt return of the day. Julian Edelman was hit as he tried to throw to Talib and the ball went backwards, but Talib was able to race over and fall on the ball to keep possession for New England. That was the first time the Patriots have tried a trick play on a punt return in quite some time. It seems to indicate just how desperate the team has been this year to generate points and field position.
…In his first game back from a hamstring injury, cornerback Marquice Cole made a tremendous play on special teams when the Patriots punted on their second possession. Return man Darren Sproles looked like he'd outraced New England's coverage unit and was about to turn the corner, but Cole came racing in from the left side and brought Sproles down with a diving effort that limited the return to just three yards. Great athletic play by Cole.
…Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui made a couple of nice catch-and-runs in the first half. He also threw a key block on Ridley's second touchdown run. Hooman's come a long way as an overall tight end since arriving here in September of 2012.
…The Patriots were beneficiaries of some, shall we say, generous calls by the officials in the first half. Case in point: an offside that was ruled a false start. Rookie Joe Vellano jumped before the snap, landing in the neutral zone. This cause a Saints o-lineman to move. The call should have gone against New England, but the refs backed New Orleans up five yards.
…Aaron Dobson had his share of drops again Sunday, including an egregious one on the first play of the game, but the rookie receiver later came back with some tremendous catches. This inconsistency has plagued the young receiving corps through the first six games of the season, yet Brady has had little choice but to continue going back to them, and they do appear to be making progress, as Kenbrell Thompkins' game-winning grab illustrates.