I’m still, many of you are, stunned. There are no words to describe the final minutes of the Saints-Patriots game on Sunday. If you spot a more befitting word in Webster’s Thesaurus, tweet it over. (Cosmine – cosmic + divine, might work.)
To the common eye, the Pats’ victory was nothing short of miraculous. But jedi mind tricks are always being generated from the sidelines.
For some bizarre reason, my senses won’t reject the idea … that the Pats were in full control of their fate. Their final drive? Purposeful. Letting the Saints score again? Fullproof.
As crazy as it sounds (trust me I couldn’t sleep), I think that I witnessed a Belichick-led team execute a predetermined game plan to perfection. They clipped the Too-Early-To-Start-Celebrating Saints in the waning seconds. A few dropped passes misled the Saints secondary that nothing could stop them. (That false confidence actually proved to be a godsend for the “fans” in Foxborough.)
I watched the end again. And again. And again...
1. The Saints' third-to-last drive
Before leaving with a hip injury in the third quarter Sunday, the Patriots’ Aqib Talib played an instrumental role by shutting down the League’s leading receiver tight end, Jimmy Graham.
New Orleans took their game plan to a whole new level after Graham clocked out early with an ankle injury. The loss of their 6-foot-7-inch ball-magnet didn’t stop the audacious Drew Brees from heaving a 34-yard pass to the corner of the endzone … on third-and-20 … to an unsuspecting Kenny Stills (who was heavily guarded by safety Steve Gregory and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard).
No discredit to Drew (yes the touchdown pass required tremendous accuracy and unfathomable faith), but it was, in hindsight, an ill-advised throw for an unconventional play-call made by the Saints. Why take a shot from the outskirts of the red zone … only down by six … on third-and-20? Am I missing something here?
But maybe that’s why I'm not coach. (Double coverage though? Be honest.)
It’s rare for the Pats to allow a touchdown on a third down play. How rare? Out of the 88 third-down conversion attempts, only 32 were successful (36 percent), and of the 10 touchdowns that their opponents have scored, Brees/Saints was the first to do it on 3rd down (twice).
(One was a dinky pass to Travaris Cadet from the 3-yard line.)
2. Patriots' third-to-last drive: 3:29 – 2:46
On the Pats’ first play, Tom Brady shuffled his feet in the pocket and underthrew a pass to No. 47 Michael Hoomanawanui. They gained four yards - but Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were wide open along the rail against the Saints Cover 2 defense.
On second-and-6, the Saints switched to Cover 1. Brandon Bolden slipped out of the backfield, was immediately open, but dropped a weak pass in the middle of the D. Nothing but grass around him.
*Defensive back Jabari Greer bumped Thompkins after five yards off the line, allowing him blow past him …a second too late for Brady to take notice.
On third-and-6, Brady read a cornerback blitz from the left side and went with his primary read – Edelman. Saints inside linebacker Curtis Lofton however, dropped back into coverage, and both he and the corner from the left side swamped JE as soon as the ball rolled off Brady’s hands.
Thompkins is seen with his arm raised here, signaling to Brady that he’s open, again.
On fourth-and-6 with 2:50 left, New England holds three time outs. Instead of punting it deep in their own territory, they go for it, and wisely so.
Why wisely so?
Had the Patriots failed to convert, they’d still be down by eight points (if the Saints score) with enough time to tie. New Orleans wouldn’t dare to go for two, because simply the risk wouldn’t be worth a loss.
This time on fourth down, Brady fired a perfect pass to Dobson. The rookie dropped the loaf, and a surefire conversion. Against man-coverage, we watched Thompkins raising his arm at the top right of your screen. I'm open...I'm open...
The Pats four-and-out lasts all but a meaningless 49 seconds (which isn't much in the grand scheme of things.)
3. Saints’ second-to-last drive 2:46—2:29
The Saints were supposed to seal the deal this drive. After a four-yard carry (Khiry Robinson), both teams called time outs. Ensuing NO’s T.O., Pierre Thomas rushed for a loss of one, shaving an undesirable 3 seconds.
On third-and-6, Brees took a shot, a wild ball to Marques Colston along the sidelines – this flushed four ticks down the toilet. (Wide open is 6-foot-5 rookie tight end Josh Hill, who beats his man in the image below.)
4. Patriots second-to-last drive 2:24 – 2:08
Brady misses a wide open Dobson, and lobs one up for grabs to Edelman … who’s running into double coverage, recipe for disaster. Definitely frustrating to watch but no worries! All is well for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia…Pats’ fans don’t think so, and begin to exit the building. #AvoidTraffic
5. Saints final drive 2:16 – 1:20
If punting was the goal, then they missed the point. With no time-outs remaining and a two-minute warning looming ahead, Coach Sean Payton failed to move the sticks. The play-calling was sickening – especially on third-and-7 when the Patriots didn’t bite on a play-action fake. Brees was sacked by defensive end Chandler Jones for a huge loss.
6. Patriots game winning drive 1:20 – 0:10
Tom Brady morphed into Championship Brady. (In the world of Dragon Ball Z, we call this evolution, “Super Saiyan.”)
The Pats have by now, figured out how to disassemble the Saints’ Cover 2 defense.
Obviously, New Orleans isn’t expecting run – so DC Rob Ryan has them sit back in coverage and patrolling the deep end (prevent defense).
(1) Edelman runs a sweet post route and is wide open on his cut – a gain of 23 yards. By stretching the field (2) Brady finds Austin Collie (who was on his couch a couple of weeks ago) wide open in the middle for a 15-yard completion. After a (3) quick bubble screen completion to Dobson (runs out of bounds to stop the clock), (4) Brady doesn’t put enough zip on a pass to Edelman -- and the pigskin lands behind him. But guess who has his arms raised up once again? Kenbrell Thompkins, along the rail – just begggggging for it.
On a do-or-die, fourth-and-4 situation, Brady completes a perfectly-timed pass to Collie before the receiver makes his break. A presentation of incredible trust in his new weapon-toy.
The Pats stopped the clock with 10 ticks left.
(5) From the 17-yard line, New England has two options (let me know if you think there’s more): They could either, A) Split the red-zone in half, take two shots eight yards each, or B) Throw two passes, both to the corners of the endzone (this limits the risk of interceptions).
They select package B (B for Brady), exactly what I hoped for.
Remember now -- Thompkins had raised his arms numerous times before signaling to Brady how opened he is. Wait - an undrafted rookie from Cincinnati demanding for the ball from a legendary quarterback!?! That's what tells me (and us) that Thompkins is special.
The other reason why B was so great is simply this. The Patriots, often, threw the ball to the right side or the middle of the field but finally attacked the left corner pylon when the Saints’ secondary least anticipated it.
I’m claiming it now: the Patriots consciously made bold moves that set up the match-winning drive.
Lesson learned: don’t celebrate on the sidelines too early, ever.
Special requests: Please, please, if you call yourself a fan, don’t leave your games early, ever.