- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Best half of the season. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to call this the Patriots’ best half of the season. They have bounced back with a strong performance after last Sunday’s 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Talib on Graham. The Patriots, from this viewpoint, haven’t had a true matchup cornerback since Ty Law (1995-2004). They have one in Aqib Talib and we’re seeing how that type of player can be a difference-maker, as Talib has matched up almost exclusively against tight end Jimmy Graham and has held his own. Talib has a unique combination of physicality and athleticism, and this matchup was something that was foreshadowed twice leading into the game -- first in Bruschi’s Breakdown, and then in colleague Field Yates’ weekly X’s and O’s thought. Talib is playing at an extremely high level this season.
Tempo on offense. The offensive plan has been highlighted by tempo. The Patriots want to play fast, and it has proven to be effective at times. This has mostly been a three- and four-receiver approach from the Patriots and for the first time this season, we’re seeing the receivers a bit more in synch with Tom Brady, with rookie Aaron Dobson elevating his level of play. In the running game, the return of running back Stevan Ridley (2 TDs) has been a spark. He is running hard, as the Patriots had just one rushing touchdown on the season entering the game.
Intriguing chess match. In the end, it’s the players who determine the outcome of the game. But we’ve also been enamored with the chess match between two of the best coaches in the NFL -- New England’s Bill Belichick and New Orleans’ Sean Payton. On Saints tight end Benjamin Watson's 25-yard catch in the first quarter, the Patriots got caught with just 10 defenders on the field.
Saints get the ball. After winning the opening toss and deferring the choice to the second half, the Saints get the ball to open the second half.