Tom Brady, Kenbrell Thompkins and the Patriots offense has gotten plenty of attention for the impressive comeback victory on Sunday over the previously unbeaten Saints. And it's well deserved.
Brady led an eight-play, 70-yard drive to a touchdown, taking over on his own 30 with just 1:13 on the clock and no timeouts. Julian Edelman, newcomer Austin Collie and rookie Aaron Dobson all made key plays to move the ball down the field. Then Thompkins, who's had some issues with his hands at various points in his rookie season, confidently came down with the 17-yard touchdown in the left corner of the end zone with five seconds to play to secure the victory.
Oh what a game!
But it's New England's defense -- a unit that's been much-maligned in past years and much doubted in an impressive start to 2013 -- that gave Brady and Co. a chance at the comeback. In fact, Matt Patricia's defense actually gave the offense multiple chances to get the job done agonist New Orleans.
Drew Brees and the Saints took possession of the ball twice with a four-point lead and 2:46 or less to play in the game. Any first downs or movement of the ball of any sort would end the game, keep New Orleans among the NFL's undefeated and send the Patriots into a two-game losing streak.
This version of the Patriots defense would have none of that.
Playing without the likes of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib – four of the team's top defenders and arguably the group's top players at all three levels of the defense – New England got the job done just about as well as could have been expected.
After giving up a 4-yard run to rookie back Khiry Robinson on the first snap, there would be no more efficient plays for the Saints. On second down of the first New Orleans possession looking to ice the game, Marcus Forston dropped Pierre Thomas for a 1-yard loss. Third down saw Brees try a fade down the left sideline to Marques Colston that was well defended by Alfonzo Dennard, forcing a punt.
Unfortunately Brady gave the ball right back to the Saints with an interception to Keenan Lewis on New England's first snap from its own 20.
The defense was thrust right back on the field and got right back to work. Steve Gregory stopped Robinson for a 2-yard gain. Gregory and rookie Wilfork-fill-in Joe Vellano combined to tackle Thomas after just 1-yard.
That's when Chandler Jones, on third-and-seven, made the key play by dropping Brees for a 5-yard loss when the quarterback booted out to his left on what appeared to be a designed run looking to catch the Patriots defense napping. Jones only got a hand on Brees' foot to make the play, but stayed home and played his responsibility enough to force another punt with 1:20 to play.
Thompkins earned himself the cover shot of Patriots Football Weekly.
But it was the defense, holding Brees and Co. to a total of 1 net yard on six snaps with a chance to put the game away that deserves a big chunk of the credit. Five runs, one pass and it totaled just a single net yard.
That's impressive work with or without all the injuries the unit was dealing with and it's what the Patriots needed to get the ball back to Brady to give the Future Hall of Famer another chance to add to his legend.
And it's a defensive effort that's not only changing the way we think about the defense in New England, it's also worth a second look in this edition of Take Two-sday!