When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots weren't quite as determined to get the run going in New Orleans as they were in the opener but it didn't matter. Mike Gillislee was once again the lead back and he was largely held in check, picking up 69 yards on 18 carries for a 3.8-yard average. He did add another TD to his ledger, giving him four on the season. No other Patriots runner received more than four carries and with very few exceptions those attempts didn't amount to much. The jet sweeps were once again prevalent, again with mixed results. Brandin Cooks picked up 13 yards on his first carry but was dropped for a 7-yard loss late. Phillip Dorsett also picked up 6 yards on his one attempt. Overall the Patriots failed to average 4 yards per carry, finishing with 119 yards on 31 attempts for a 3.8-yard average. But that was certainly good enough thanks to Tom Brady and the passing attack.
When the Patriots passed:
Brady completed just 44 percent of his throws against Kansas City, and after watching the Saints secondary make Sam Bradford look like vintage Brady in their opener, all signs pointed to a huge rebound. That was the case on Sunday as Brady hit on 30 of his 39 throws for 447 yards and three touchdowns – all coming in the first quarter. New Orleans is playing a bunch of rookies in coverage and it showed. Despite their best efforts to man up on the banged up Patriots receiving corps playing without Danny Amendola and losing more pieces along the way, the Saints just couldn't keep up. Rob Gronkowski was the main force, finishing with six catches for 116 yards and a scintillating 53-yard touchdown that saw the best of both the tight end and Brady. The quarterback felt pressure but stuck in the pocket before flinging a pass toward open area before Gronkowski had broken free. Recognizing the situation, Gronk altered his route and the adjustment shook him free from linebacker Alex Anzalone for the long touchdown. James White caught all eight passes thrown to him for 85 yards and continues to dazzle in his role. Chris Hogan fought through some apparent physical problems and grabbed five balls for 78 yards and a touchdown. In all nine receivers caught passes and Brady was at his surgical best.
When the Saints ran:
For some reason New Orleans seems intent on trying to run the ball early in the season despite being without several starters on the offensive line. That played right into New England's hands on Syunday, allowing the Patriots to force several third-and-longs on the afternoon. Adrian Peterson was ineffective with eight carries for 26 yards while Mark Ingram had seven carries for 24 yards before tacking on a meaningless 28-yard gallop on the game's final play. Even with that irrelevant run New Orleans picked up just 81 yards on the ground on 17 attempts, which looks good with a 4.8-yard average but was quite misleading. The Patriots adjusted their front to include Trey Flowers on the left side where the injured Dont'a Hightower had lined up in the opener. He was next to Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown with Adam Butler on the right side. Alan Branch saw his role reduced after struggling in the opener. Elandon Roberts started at linebacker in place of Jordan Richards, and all the moves seemed to work as the Saints never established much of anything on the ground.
When the Saints passed:
This game came down to the Patriots making just enough plays to keep the Saints at bay, but it was by no means perfect. Malcolm Butler did not start but saw significant action. It was unclear if Eric Rowe's start was the result of matchups or something else, but in either even Rowe left early with a groin injury and did not return. That left Jonathan Jones in a larger than normal role and the corner delivered with a pair of terrific pass defenses on key plays. He knocked a touchdown out of Brandon Coleman's hands in the first half when the game was still close, and later did the same on a deep ball down the right side. But Drew Brees still make his share of plays, completing 27 of 45 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns for a 99.9 passer rating. New Orleans also made some big plays, hitting on passes of 42, 38 and 33 yards. That's something the Patriots are going to have to continue to work on. The key for New England was the play in the red zone. The score dictated that the Saints had to go for it on fourth downs and that certainly helped, but too often New Orleans had open receivers – Michael Thomas had five catches for 89 yards and at least two drops while Coleman had four for 82 yards and two that he should have held. Overall it wasn't always pretty but there were just enough plays made to keep the lead comfortable throughout the second half.
It appeared as if the Patriots plan was to have Stephen Gostkowski hang his kickoffs high and short in the dome in an attempt to pin the Saints close to their goal line. The problem was the coverage rarely made that a reality. Five times Gostkowski's kicks were returned and four of those resulted in New Orleans starting beyond the 25. Alvin Kamara nearly broke one of those before settling for a 34-yard return to the 33. The punt coverage wasn't much better, allowing Ted Ginn to take one back 16 yards to the 39 in the first half. Gostkowski also missed an extra point, continuing his inconsistent stretch. Patrick Chung handled the Saints three punts without incident, calling for a fair catch twice and catching the other as he as stepping out of bounds. It wasn't great for New Orleans either as Wil Lutz missed a field goal. Overall there weren't any significant plays on special teams but the Patriots also had a pair of penalties in the kicking game including for too many men on the field. Not the best day for Joe Judge's guy.