- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Picked-up pieces from third-quarter review of the Patriots' 30-27 win over the Saints:
1. The Patriots' red zone defense came up with an important hold at the start of the quarter, and the third-down play reflected the overall defensive plan of disrupting the rhythm of the timing game with more of a coverage-based approach. The Patriots rushed just three, and had cornerback Aqib Talib blanketing tight end Jimmy Graham in the right flat. Quarterback Drew Brees looked immediately to Graham, then scanned the middle of the field, before coming to what was probably his third or fourth option in receiver Nick Toon, who had come open in the front left-hand corner of the end zone. Brees didn't look entirely comfortable in the pocket, bouncing up and down a bit and re-setting his feet at one point, before delivering an inaccurate throw that Toon couldn't handle. Some teams win with relentless pressure, other teams sort of choke the life out of a team more gradually and force you to beat them. The Patriots are usually in the second category and that play was a good snapshot of it.
2. Second straight strong game for rookie punter Ryan Allen, who appears to be settling into a nice groove. His 50-yard punt from the Patriots' 17-yard line with 10:33 remaining in the third quarter was expertly angled toward the sideline and had excellent hang time, resulting in a Darren Sproles fair catch. Those are the types of plays that are easy to forget unless they aren't made and Sproles is racing a punt back for a touchdown. Allen's final stat line: 4 punts, 52.5 average, 47.5 net, 1 inside the 20.
3. Also on special teams, kicker Stephen Gostkowski boomed two of his four touchbacks in the third quarter, as well as a career-high 54-yard field goal, as the ball seemed to be carrying more to the closed end of the stadium. On the day, he had seven kickoffs, six of which carried to the end zone, and three of which were returned. Gostkowski now has 26 touchbacks on the season (ranked second in the NFL entering Monday night's action) as his strong leg remains a valuable weapon.
4. There have been a couple of plays in each of the last two games where the loss of Vince Wilfork shows up. Against the Saints, they came with 9:27 and 8:58 remaining in the third quarter -- runs of 13 yards (Pierre Thomas) and 16 yards (Khiry Robinson). Bill Belichick sometimes talks about “run fits” and each player filling his assigned gaps to create a wall. On those plays, there were big gaps up front, a result of defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones and linebackers Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes getting displaced and the wall springing some leaks.
5. It's a minor thing, but we often refer to left guard Logan Mankins as the enforcer up front. Yet it was center Ryan Wendell who was throwing bodies around at one point. After a Stevan Ridley 4-yard run with 5:14 remaining in the quarter, Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton was engaged in a bit of extracurricular activity with fullback James Develin and Wendell, the team's smallest lineman at 6-foot-2 and 300 pounds, entered the fray and jarred Lofton with an authoritative shove to plant him on to his backside. Wendell might have been fortunate to avoid a flag, but that type of edge is what seemed to be lacking the week before in Cincinnati.
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