There were a ton of highs and lows for the New Orleans Saints' defense in their 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 6. That will happen when you’re on the field for a whopping total of 86 snaps. So I decided to break down the defensive film review into two parts -- focusing first on the last drive, since that’s ultimately all that mattered.
It’s a shame that things ended so poorly for the Saints' defense after it had played so well throughout the second half. But quarterback Tom Brady made it look too easy as he marched his team 70 yards on eight plays in just 1:08 to win the game.
What’s that old saying? The only thing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning? That’s not exactly how things played out for the Saints on this drive (they blitzed once, went with a four-man rush four times and three-man rush twice; the other snap was a spike). But it was surprising how much of a cushion Patriots receivers Julian Edelman and Austin Collie had on the first two pass plays that gained 23 and 15 yards. The first one was especially damaging since Brady barely got the throw off while being hit by end Cameron Jordan. Brady then followed up with a quick 6-yard completion to receiver Aaron Dobson that didn’t do much damage -- but cornerback Keenan Lewis probably regretted letting him get out of bounds at the end of the tackle.
The Saints actually dodged a couple of bullets on the next two plays. Edelman got a step behind linebacker David Hawthorne for a potential catch at the 1-yard line with 30 seconds remaining. But that was the play the Saints blitzed on, and pressure from outside linebacker Junior Galette altered Brady’s throw just enough. On the next play, Edelman started to catch a similar pass inside the 2-yard line, but Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro came in with a big hit that popped the ball loose. That set up a fourth-and-4, which Brady converted on a short comebacker to Collie against decent coverage by safety Malcolm Jenkins.
After a spike, Brady finally found the end zone when he hit receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with a beautifully placed 17-yard pass, up high in the back left corner over cornerback Jabari Greer’s head, with five seconds left. Greer’s coverage wasn’t that bad, but he couldn’t get a hand up on the ball. Thompkins (6-foot-1) got much better leverage after briefly jostling for position with Greer (5-foot-11) and caught the ball at its high point. It was almost identical to the Saints’ own touchdown catch by receiver Kenny Stills just minutes earlier across the field.
Ideally, Saints safety Rafael Bush would have gotten over to help Greer, since the Saints had seven men in coverage against four receivers spread across the field. But Bush first had his eyes on Collie coming out of the slot against Jenkins. Not sure if that was a mistake or if Thompkins appeared to be well-covered enough since he was pinned into the back corner of the end zone.
As for whether or not Patriots left tackle Nate Solder got away with holding on that touchdown throw, I mentioned this earlier in the week. Clearly Solder was hooking his arm around Galette’s neck at the end of the play -- and he easily could have earned a flag. But I’m not surprised that there was no flag thrown. When you watch the replay at full speed, the hook is brief and comes just as Brady is about to deliver the ball. I’m sure it wasn’t as blatant to the naked eye on the field as it is in still pictures or slow-motion replays. But Solder and the Patriots definitely got away with one.