FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Given his superhuman start to the 2013 regular season, just finding a way to contain Saints tight end Jimmy Graham would've been a job well done for the Patriots secondary.
After all, in each of his five games entering Sunday's contest, Graham had either surpassed 100 yards receiving or hauled in a score, three times accomplishing both in a single game.
He led the league in receiving yards entering Week 6 with 596.
And that's exactly how many yards he left Sunday's game with, as the Patriots shut out the tight end from the box score, the first time he's gone without a catch since Halloween of 2010.
Safe to say slowing Graham down was a focus for the Patriots secondary.
"All week we knew, all we kept hearing was Jimmy Graham, Jimmy Graham," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said.
And as unlikely as it might have been to achieve, McCourty said following his team's thrilling 30-27 win that shutting down Graham -- not simply containing him -- was the goal for his secondary.
"You don't come in and say, 'we just want to try and contain him,' you come in with the game plan 'we got to try and shut him down,'" McCourty said. "That's the only way we'll have a chance to win this game, because if he has the type of game he's been having, we won't have a chance."
Though he left the game in the second half with a hip injury, cornerback Aqib Talib, who shadowed Graham while he was on the field, catalyzed the effort. Talib has emerged as perhaps the team's most valuable defender, ably containing top receivers throughout much of the season.
But Sunday was his best effort yet, finding a way to slow the league's best tight end.
"There's two good football players right there," Bill Belichick said of the Talib-Graham matchup. "Aqib, he really competed hard. In the end, I don't think either one of them were on the field. I think both guys ended up being out. It was a great battle, a great matchup, I thought Talib battled him."
Second-year cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the starter opposite Talib, was in awe of his teammate's performance.
"Aqib is amazing. He is amazing," he said. "I like Aqib and I learn a lot from him."
He added that losing Talib was a difficult blow because of the game plan the team had built around using him to shadow Graham.
"It changed a lot because we had a whole little thing going by who Aqib goes to," he said. "A little matchup, so it changed a lot, but everything went well."
When Talib went down, the Patriots were forced to change things up on the fly, something they were able to accomplish in part by using McCourty at cornerback, the position he played when drafted out of Rutgers back in 2010.
He held his own at his old position and discussed the transition in a typically humble manner after the game.
"Once Aqib went down, we just had to adjust," McCourty said. "With me playing different positions in the defense, I'm able to be flexible and I was able to move around and play a bunch of different positions tonight."
In the end, regardless of who was responsible for marking Graham, who eventually left the game due to injury, it was an effort the secondary can hang its hat on.
"It's a lot of pride," Dennard said of the end result. "He's a very good tight end. Our biggest thing was to go in there and try to stop him, just stop their whole receiving corps and tight ends, so we did a pretty good job."