AFC East: Patriots-Saints 113009

Video: AFC East Huddle

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
1:04
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ESPN.com's John Clayton takes a look at the state of the AFC East heading into Week 13, including his analysis of where the New England Patriots are after Monday night's loss in the Superdome, Chad Henne as the Miami Dolphins' franchise quarterback and whether Charlie Weis could be a candidate for the Buffalo Bills' coaching vacancy.

No bigger week than this one in AFC East

December, 2, 2009
12/02/09
12:23
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I was away from the blog for much of Tuesday while traveling back from New Orleans, but I just got back to the new home office in suburban Buffalo and wanted to take a few moments to acknowledge the most significant seven days in the AFC East all year.

The stretch began Monday night, when the New England Patriots cracked the door for the rest of the AFC East by losing for the second time in three games. The Patriots remain the prohibitive favorite to win the division, but we'll learn gobs this week.

For the only time all year, all four AFC East teams will play each other.

The New York Jets will play the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night in Toronto. The Patriots will visit the Miami Dolphins on Sunday in Land Shark Stadium.

I will attend both games. Counting the Patriots' collapse in New Orleans, I'll trek 4,675 miles (205 miles in my car with Florida plates and still no ice scraper and 4,470 by air) to see every AFC East team in a concentrated period at a critical juncture.

The loser of the Jets-Bills game will be all but eliminated, and even if the Bills win they still will be two games below .500 with four to play. They'd both be 5-7, would have to run the table and get serious help along the way. In other words, the Jets need this one much more than the suddenly feisty Bills do.

Sunday's game is imperative to New England and Miami.

The Patriots, preparing on a short week for back-to-back away games, are 0-4 in true road games. They're desperate for a victory. So are the Dolphins, who could've nudged a game above .500 had they beaten the Bills on Sunday but imploded in the final minutes.

This is the week that could rip the AFC East wide open or bunch everybody together for a fascinating final month of jockeying.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
11:00
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Patriots secondary: New England's defensive backs went into the season as one of the team's bigger question marks but seemed to have established themselves as one of the strengths over the previous few games. They were making plays and making opponents pay for testing them. Then Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw five touchdowns to five teammates and averaged 16.1 yards per attempt in Monday night's rout.

2. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback: In the second halves of the Patriots' four true road games, he has completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 374 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. That’s a 63.1 passer rating, more than 33 points lower than his overall rating. The Patriots have lost each of those contests.

3. Chad Henne, Dolphins quarterback: Sunday's game against the Bills had been a close one for 55 minutes. The Dolphins hadn't surrendered the lead until a 56-yard field goal gave the Bills a three-point edge. But Henne threw three interceptions in the final 2:43 to help the Bills win 31-14.

Rising


Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
Bills receiver Terrell Owens has performed well since coach Dick Jauron was fired.
1. Terrell Owens, Bills receiver: Since the Bills fired head coach Dick Jauron, the offense has awakened for T.O. Through nine games he was on pace to have his worst season, but in his past two he has 14 catches for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is dialing long distance. The TDs were from 98 yards and 51 yards.

2. Kerry Rhodes, Jets safety: The respected veteran went into the season with big expectations of a turnaround. Former coach Eric Mangini had handcuffed him, but he was supposed to get back to his playmaking ways under Rex Ryan. Last week, Ryan gave Rhodes' job to Eric Smith. Rhodes didn't start, ending a streak of 74 games that began on opening day of his rookie year. He responded with two interceptions and a quarterback hit.

3. Fred Jackson, Bills running back: Interim coach Perry Fewell has anointed Jackson the back of choice, overtaking Pro Bowler Marshawn Lynch, who is having a disappointing year. Jackson rushed 15 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 43 yards in Sunday's victory over the Dolphins.

Video: 'MNF' crew on Patriots loss

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
10:31
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video
The "Monday Night Football" crew breaks down the New Orleans Saints' 38-17 dismantling of the New England Patriots in the Superdome and where the AFC East leaders go from here.

Former Bills coach does number on Pats

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
9:18
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NEW ORLEANS -- Buffalo Bills fans had to watch Monday night's game in the Superdome and wonder how in the world Gregg Williams was such a catastrophe as their head coach.

Williams, the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, drew up a masterful game plan with a ramshackle secondary to make the New England Patriots cry uncle.

Williams went 17-31 in three seasons with the Bills, but his head-coaching stock continued to soar after the Saints held the Patriots to 17 points and snapped Tom Brady's streak of 300-yard games at five.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick pulled Brady after he threw his second interception with 7:23 left in the game. The Saints failed to convert the turnover into points, but undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer went in with 5:26 remaining and the Patriots down by 21 points.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees pulverized the Patriots' secondary, which also played a role in Belichick throwing in the towel. Sending Hoyer onto the field was a request for Saints coach Sean Payton to please, please call off the dogs.

"You always like to be out there," Brady said. "You'd rather be on the other side of it. But it's nice for the other guys to get a chance to play. They work hard. [It's good] to get some experience when the game is out of control for the other team."

The Saints' reinforcements -- they didn't have starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer or Tracy Porter and lost replacement Randall Gay for the second half -- limited Moss to three receptions for 67 yards and Welker to six catches for 32 yards to short-circuit Brady's night. The Saints were happy to let Sam Aiken have a career day with seven catches for 90 yards.

Brady finished with a 55.0 passer rating, not his worst of the year, believe it or not. He finished with a 53.1 against the New York Jets in Week 2.

ESPN Stats & Information broke down Brady's day by distance. When he tried to go more than 10 yards downfield, he completed 4 of 12 passes for 102 yards and two interceptions (both intended for Moss) for a 25.7 passer rating.

When Brady threw 10 yards or shorter, he was 17 of 24 for 135 yards for an 84.5 passer rating.

Patriots show they're not among elite

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
2:22
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Tom BradyJohn David Mercer/US PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots needed a win over New Orleans to be considered an elite team.

NEW ORLEANS -- The New England Patriots confirmed what few had been thinking before Monday night.

They are not an elite NFL team. Not at this time. Maybe they can be again, but based on the way the New Orleans Saints pillaged them in the Superdome, the Patriots aren't in the conversation anymore about the best clubs in the game.

New Orleans thoroughly outclassed New England in a 38-17 laugher.

"There's obviously a big gap between us," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.

Drew Brees made the Patriots' defensive backs, who had been thriving lately, look like a bunch of XFLers. He bombed them for five touchdowns, something that has never been done to a Bill Belichick-coached team.

"They were better than we were in every phase of the game," Belichick said in the postgame news conference. "I don't know any other way to put it. They were better coached. They played better on offense, defense, in the kicking game, they covered better than we did."

Belichick punctuated his response with incredulity at the questions about how his team failed to compete.

"They were obviously the better team," he said. "You guys had to see that. You were at the game."

It was a massacre. The 11-0 Saints made a deafening statement they're the NFL's best team. The Patriots merely whimpered in their final opportunity to record a signature victory before the postseason.

"They put it to us," Patriots receiver Randy Moss said. "We got our butts beat by 21."

New England (7-4), a team that likely will have to venture away from Gillette Stadium in the playoffs, is 0-4 in true road games and has come up short against two measuring sticks in the past three weeks.

They literally failed to measure up two weeks ago in Indianapolis. That heinous loss to the Colts resonates even more now.

"When we have expectations set high like we do, we take one game at a time," Moss said. "But we really see each week what teams are made of. I think we've shown we're up for a second, we're down for a second, we're up, we're down. It's kind of wavy right now."

At least now we know why Belichick went for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line in the waning minutes at Indianapolis. His beloved former linebacker, Tedy Bruschi, criticized Belichick afterward for not showing enough faith in his defense to punt and force Peyton Manning to go 70 yards or so for the winning touchdown.

Belichick appears justified in the light of the bonfire Brees ignited here.

The game spiraled out of control so badly in the second half that Belichick raised the white flag, almost begging Saints coach Sean Payton to stop scorching his defensive backs. Belichick removed Brady from the game and inserted undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, a signal to the Saints he'd seen enough carnage for one evening.

Nevada doesn't have as much open real estate as what Brees saw laid out before him.

To Devery Henderson for a 75-yard touchdown. To Marques Colston for 68 yards. To Robert Meachem for a 38-yard touchdown. To Henderson again for 33 yards.

"A lot of it had to do with us beating ourselves. A lot," Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "Don't get me wrong. They came out and made plays and capitalized on [mistakes]. But it seemed like at times we couldn't stop them. That's a frustrating feeling.

"A lot of the plays we gave up out there, I could've completed the ball, or I could have ran the ball. Make an offense earn it, and we didn't do that at time. It cost us."

New England's defensive backs still had their eyebrows after the game, but you half expected to see them singed off. They looked like a quintet of Deltha O'Neal impersonators.

"We had several blown coverages defensively," Belichick said. "They took advantage of enormous mistakes on our part that they turned into huge plays. You can't make those kinds of mistakes against a good football team. We made too many of them."

Brees completed touchdown passes to five teammates. He finished with a 158.3 passer rating, nearly triple Brady's paltry 55.0 rating. Brady didn't have a touchdown. He threw two interceptions. A lot of his passes sailed.

More mystifying is that the Saints fielded a slapdash defensive backfield and Brady came into the game having thrown for 300 yards in five straight games, one shy of the NFL record.

His streak was snapped by a secondary that included Patriots castoff Randall Gay and rookie Malcolm Jenkins at cornerback, and Mike McKenzie, a street free agent two weeks ago, at nickel. Gay didn't play in the second half because of a leg injury.

The Patriots' chances to knock off the Saints seemed to get stronger when the inactive list was announced. On it were usual starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, and dangerous running back Reggie Bush. Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light and running back Sammy Morris returned from injuries for the Patriots.

"It wasn't nearly as competitive as we all were expecting," Brady said.

Where was Wes Welker? One week after Welker had the best game of his life, he had his worst of the season.

What about Moss? One reception for 9 yards in the first half, three catches for 67 yards all told.

New England's top target was Sam Aiken, mainly a special-teamer. He had seven catches for 90 yards, the best numbers of his career. But when Aiken is making your best plays and has two fewer receptions than Welker and Moss combined, chances are the Patriots will break your heart.

Belichick coached with conviction throughout the game. He kept his offense on the field for two fourth downs on their opening drive. They converted both, including Laurence Maroney's 4-yard touchdown run to put them up 7-3.

Yet, a fourth-down play doomed them. Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Saints' 10-yard line with 4:12 left in the third quarter. A field goal would have put the Patriots a touchdown and a field goal behind. But Belichick knew his team needed a touchdown to keep pace with Brees.

Brady tried to force a pass to Moss in the left flat. McKenzie, out of football for 11 months before the Saints signed him, broke it up.

"That changed the momentum of the game," Saints safety Darren Sharper said.

The Patriots have a favorable schedule ahead. Just one of their final five opponents owns a winning record, the 6-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.

Next up are the Miami Dolphins in Land Shark Stadium on a short week. If the Dolphins can pull out a victory, they would be one game behind the Patriots in the AFC East standings.

"We'll rally around each other," Wilfork said. "If not, it's going to be over real soon if we don't get it going. But I have faith in these guys that we're going to get it together."

Rapid Reaction: Saints 38, Patriots 17

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
11:33
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NEW ORLEANS -- Not often can this be written: The New England Patriots were in over their heads.

The New Orleans Saints bamboozled the Patriots in almost every phase Monday night and thrilled the Superdome crowd with a 38-17 slaughter to remain undefeated.

The Patriots head back to Foxborough with a gut check ahead.

They are 0-4 in true road games and won't have the opportunity to record a signature victory the rest of the way. They still have a handle on the AFC East. Only one of their remaining opponents has a winning record, the 6-5 Jacksonville Jaguars.

But New England has a lot of question marks. The defense was pitiful, the offense mostly pedestrian.

The Patriots looked decent on the ground. Laurence Maroney rushed 15 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns, but the Saints were superior all around.

Drew Brees cast a long shadow over Tom Brady. Even the Saints' dilapidated secondary played better than the Patriots' defensive backs, who had been making big plays lately.

Not on this night, when they got caught watching Brees' long aerials sail over the heads and land in the mitts of this Saints guy and that Saints guy and the other Saints guy. Brees completed 18 of 23 passes for 371 yards and five touchdowns to five teammates.

Brady was less than phenomenal. His streak of consecutive 300-yard games ended at five, one shy of the NFL record.

He was 21 of 36 for 237 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions. The first was costly at a time the Patriots could have asserted themselves -- a 7-3 lead and one play after Wes Welker returned a punt 41 yards into Saints territory. Brady threw another bad one in the fourth quarter to kill any hopes of a comeback.

Brady completed only one pass to Randy Moss in the first half, two in the second, although they connected for 47 yards to set up Maroney's second touchdown.

Brady needs to buck second-half trend

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
10:24
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Tom Brady will need to do something Monday night he hasn't been able to manage all season.

The New England Patriots quarterback needs to conjure some second-half magic in hostile territory.

The New Orleans Saints lead the Patriots 24-10 at halftime. The matchup was supposed to be a quarterback duel, with Brady having the edge over Brees because of the Saints' patchwork secondary.

Saints starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter are out with injuries. The Patriots secondary, meanwhile, was playing supremely well. So far, Brees has shredded the Patriots deep with touchdown passes of 75 and 38 yards to Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem.

Brady has been off. The Patriots used the run on their opening drive to score a touchdown, converting a pair of fourth downs on the ground along the way. The Patriots seemed to have momentum with a 7-3 lead after forcing a three-and-out and Wes Welker returning a punt 41 yards to the Saints' 46-yard line.

The Patriots appeared to be in command. Then Brady threw an awful pass intercepted by reserve cornerback Mike McKenzie, who didn't play football for 11 months but was signed to help out with all the Saints' injury woes.

That snuffed Patriots momentum and sent the Saints on their way to a 21-point second quarter.

Brady's passes started sailing toward the end of the first half. He connected with Randy Moss once for 9 yards. We'll see if they can make the corrections. Old friend Randall Gay, who replaced Greer at left cornerback, is out for the rest of the game with a leg injury.

And that gets us back to Brady's road problems in the second half. As you may have seen on the AFC East blog this week, Brady has been less than spectacular in true road games.

In the first half of his three true road games (the Patriots crushed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London), Brady completed 61.5 percent of his attempts for 539 yards, four touchdowns and one interception for a 102.0 passer rating.

In the second half of those games he completed 54.3 percent of his passes for 261 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a 65.0 passer rating.

Of course, the Patriots led at halftime in each of those games, too. Maybe Brady will get hot in the second half and disrupt the trend, but with the way Brees is searing New England's defensive backs, it looks like New Orleans is headed to 11-0.

Pats convert twice on fourth down for TD

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
9:07
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- There's a sign in the back of the end zone the New England Patriots are trying to enter in the first quarter.

HEY BILL
GO FOR IT
11-0

Twice on the Patriots' opening drive, Bill Belichick did. Twice the Patriots converted, including the final 4 yards for a touchdown to give them a 7-3 lead over the New Orleans Saints.

The Patriots went 80 yards on 14 plays. The impressive, methodical drive lasted 7 minutes, 40 seconds.

Belichick evoked memories of Indianapolis, where he went for it on fourth down from his own 28-yard line in the final moments against the Colts. The Patriots failed to gain the first down, and Peyton Manning beat them with a touchdown strike a few plays later.

On Monday night, Belichick opted not kick on fourth-and-1 from the Saints' 36-yard line. That would have been a 53-yard attempt for Stephen Gostkowski, and as Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com noted, Gostkowski made a 53-yarder in pregame warmups.

Sammy Morris picked up the first down with a 3-yard run up the middle.

Five plays later, the Patriots had a fourth-and-1 situation from the Saints' 4-yard line. Laurence Maroney took it in for the score.

The Superdome fell silent.

Gostkowski hits from 53 yards in warmups

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
8:46
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NEW ORLEANS -- Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com noted kicker Stephen Gostkowski comfortably connected from 53 yards in pregame warmups.

With all of the talk about Monday night's game being a shootout, Gostkowski could make the difference at some point late in the game.

If memory serves, the New England Patriots have kicked a clutch field goal in the Superdome before.

Stop by Patriots-Saints live chat

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
8:37
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- If you want to immerse yourself in Sunday night's showdown between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, drop into ESPNBoston.com's live in-game chat.

Saints fans are more than welcome to get involved. ESPNBoston.com proprietors Mike Reiss and Chris Forsberg will be there, as will NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas and I.

It's the next-best place to being in the Superdome. And I offer a money-back guarantee.

Light, Morris back, Edelman third QB

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
7:43
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- The New England Patriots also have some interesting scratches for Monday night's game in the Superdome.

Left tackle Matt Light will play tonight after missing five games games with a knee injury, but rookie Sebastian Vollmer, who was playing very well in Light's absence, is out. He suffered a head injury in last week's victory over the New York Jets.

Running back Sammy Morris also returns to help out Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk in the backfield. He sat out four games with a knee injury.

Linebacker Junior Seau has been deactivated for the first time since signing with the Patriots.

Rookie slot receiver Julian Edelman will dress, but as the third quarterback. That means he cannot step on the field until the fourth quarter without disqualifying quarterbacks Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer for the rest of the game. Edelman played quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots converted him.

The Patriots' total inactive list as follows:

Bush, Greer out for Saints

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
7:22
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Some big names appear on the New Orleans Saints' inactive list for Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports running back Reggie Bush, receiver Lance Moore and both starting cornerbacks, Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, are out.

Bush had been listed as questionable with a knee injury. There was a belief that Greer, who plays the critical left side, would be able to play through a groin injury. Old friend Randall Gay will replace Greer.

Also scratched:
I will have the Patriots' inactive list as soon as it's official.

Brady's 300-yard streak nears record

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
1:32
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Buffalo Bills have gone 49 games in a row without a 300-yard passer.

The drought goes all the way back to when J.P. Losman threw for 340 yards in November 2006.

That puts a couple things into perspective when considering New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has strung together five 300-yard games and would tie an NFL record if he made it six straight Monday night in the Superdome.

Odds seem to favor that happening. The New Orleans Saints have a battered secondary. Brady and Wes Welker are clicking like never before. Randy Moss is Randy Moss. Isaiah Stanback looks like he's emerging as a threat, and rookie Julian Edelman can chip in underneath. Sammy Morris might return after missing a few games with a knee injury.

If Brady is able to throw for 300 yards against the Saints, his streak would tie three other quarterbacks for longest in NFL history. Steve Young was the first to do it in 1998. Kurt Warner matched him in 2000. Rich Gannon joined the club in 2002.

City shuts down early for Patriots-Saints

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
12:40
PM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- How big is Monday night's game?

The city is closing early to clear a path.

New Orleans has decided to shutter itself at 3 p.m. to handle the crush of jacked-up folks headed downtown for the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

Whether they're holding ticket or not, downtown will be the hot spot.

On Saturday afternoon, I sat behind the steering wheel for at least 12 light changes (I started counting after I'd put the car in park) at the intersection of Loyola Avenue and Poydras Street and didn't move a millimeter.

That was shortly after the Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern ended. The crowd spilled out of the Superdome and into the streets, creating nasty gridlock.

Estimated attendance for that game was about 50,000. The Superdome will be jammed with about 72,000 fans Monday night. French Quarter establishments will be overflowing, too.

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