NFL Nation: Patriots-Saints 113009

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December, 1, 2009
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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.


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.

Patriots show they're not among elite

December, 1, 2009
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."
Drew BreesAP Photo/Bill FeigDrew Brees and the Saints are playing with confidence and it showed against New England.

NEW ORLEANS -- The best thing you can do when you get to a place you haven’t been before is act like you have.

That is precisely what the New Orleans Saints did Monday night.

A franchise that’s never been to a Super Bowl and a quarterback who has been accused of not winning big games went out and destroyed the closest thing we’ve seen to an NFL dynasty in recent times. The 38-17 victory over the New England Patriots brought the usual company line about it being “only one win’’ from every corner of the locker room.

Except for this:

“It only counts for one win on the stat sheet,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said immediately before veering from the teamwide game plan for the only time all night. “But, emotionally, those types of wins can mean a little bit more.’’

Ding, ding, ding. There, somebody admitted the obvious. This truly was more than a win. This was proof that the Saints are for real. This is the kind of win that builds confidence.

This was the kind of win this franchise really never has had before. Yeah, those wins against the Jets and Giants looked real nice earlier in the season. But that was before we found out the Jets and Giants weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

This … this was the New England Patriots (7-4). "Monday Night Football." Bill Belichick. The Saints aren’t supposed to win games like this and they sure aren’t supposed to totally dominate in games like this.

But they did. Get used to it because the Saints really are different.

“That’s confidence … confidence in the guys I’m throwing to and the guys up front blocking,’’ Brees said on a night in which he threw five touchdown passes to five different receivers against a head coach who just might be the greatest defensive mind ever. “I feel like that way a lot.’’

That’s the big thing -- Brees feels it and the entire team feels confident. Even the defense. Even when starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter weren’t able to play because of injuries and even after replacement starter Randall Gay had to leave early with a leg injury.

And even when the Saints had to turn to veteran cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister, who weren’t even on the roster two weeks ago, and rookie Malcolm Jenkins to stop Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

If you didn’t know any better and just flipped on the game, you would have thought McKenzie was a Pro Bowler in his mid-20s and not a guy the Saints let go after last season because he was old and had been through a couple of major knee injuries. McKenzie was out there on special teams and he was covering Moss and intercepting a pass.

“That’s all part of being in the NFL,’’ McKenzie said.

True, but McKenzie wasn’t in the NFL until he returned to the Saints, who switched defensive coordinators and schemes since his departure. He went through precisely four days of practice.

It wasn’t just McKenzie, McAlister and Jenkins. Defensive end Will Smith had 1.5 sacks and veteran safety Darren Sharper had his eighth interception.

“We obviously didn’t play up to their level,’’ Brady said.

Think about that statement and all its implications for a second. The New England Patriots did not play up to the level of the New Orleans Saints.

Those words never had been uttered before -- at least not this decade and at least not seriously. Now, those words have been screamed by every one of the 70,000 or so fans at the Superdome, who actually appeared to force Brady into two timeouts with their noise.

And it goes even deeper than that.

Who was the real defensive genius in the Superdome? New Orleans coordinator Gregg Williams. Not Belichick.

Belichick couldn’t figure out any answers for Brees. But, then again, I don’t think anyone could. Brees was perfect -- literally. He had a 158.3 passer rating, which is technically a perfect passer rating.

After the game, a reporter started to ask Saints coach Sean Payton about what happened on one of Brees’ touchdown passes.

“Which touchdown pass?’’ Payton asked.

He appeared to be very serious. There were plenty to choose from. There was that 75-yarder to a wide-open Devery Henderson.

“I couldn’t believe I was that wide open,’’ Henderson said.

There were the scoring strikes to Robert Meachem, Marques Colston and a screen pass that running back Pierre Thomas turned into a touchdown. And, then, there was the pass to Darnell Dinkins.

Yes that Darnell Dinkins -- the third-string tight end who is on the roster just to block. The guy who had not caught a pass this season before Monday night.

“That’s what we expect,’’ said Colston, who had four catches for 121 yards. “Drew’s going to find the open man.’’

There’s more truth in that than you realize. Maybe it’s time for us all to start expecting this kind of thing from the Saints. They are 11-0 and they’re no longer a novelty.

They’re for real and they know it. Now, all of us know it.

“I don’t think about how good we’ve been,’’ Brees said. “I think about how good we can be.’’

Rapid Reaction: Saints 38, Patriots 17

November, 30, 2009

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.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 38, Patriots 17

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- For the last hour or so, e-mails and texts have been coming in from friends, who should know better than to e-mail or text while I’m working, to ask if I saw this coming.

I’ll answer one and all now: No. Not like this. Not anything like this.

Yeah, sure, I thought the Saints were very good and had a chance to win against New England. But I thought, if they won, it would be on some dramatic last-second play.

But absolutely blowing the Patriots out? No. And if anybody told you that, they were either a delusional Saints’ fan or they were lying.

You can’t make up what happened Monday night. With rookie Malcolm Jenkins and two really old cornerbacks (Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister), who were signed off the street in the past two weeks, having to play significant roles because of injuries, this one should have been a mismatch for Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

Turned out it was a mismatch. The Saints made Brady look ordinary and I’m having a tough time recalling Moss doing anything of significance.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarterback have a better game than Drew Brees. All right, that’s all I’ve got right now. I’m heading down to the locker room for post-game interviews. I’ll be back with a full column in a
NEW ORLEANS – With that touchdown catch by reserve tight end Darnell Dinkins, which was his first catch of any sort this year, the Saints have now had 19 different players score touchdowns this season.

Pretty amazing, but it’s not a record. There are several teams who have had 20 or 21 players score in a season. With five games left, the Saints can chase that.

So far tonight, Drew Brees has thrown touchdown passes to Dinkins, receivers Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson and running back Pierre Thomas.

CB injuries keep piling up for Saints

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS – The Saints really are going to find out how much recently-signed veteran cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister have left in the second half.

The team just announced that cornerback Randall Gay has a leg injury and will not return to the game. The Saints already were without injured starters Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. Rookie Malcolm Jenkins and Gay were the primary corners in the first half with McKenzie getting a lot of work as the third corner.

Now, the Saints have moved McKenzie and McAlister each up one spot.

Brady needs to buck second-half trend

November, 30, 2009
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.

Henderson, Meachem step up for Saints

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- Marques Colston gets most of the attention for being the Saints’ best receiver.

But he’s been quiet so far tonight. Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson haven’t. Each of those two receivers has caught a touchdown pass as the Saints have stormed to a 24-10 halftime lead.

Yes, Drew Brees can make any receiver look good, but let’s give Meachem and Henderson some credit. These guys took a lot of criticism early in their careers and they have overcome it quite nicely. Henderson was pretty much a drop machine early in his career. But he became a sure-handed receiver last year and that’s only continued.

He’s having the game of his life so far tonight. Henderson has caught three passes for 116 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Meachem also caught a touchdown.

The first-round pick in 2007, Meachem was a non-factor in his first two seasons. But he suddenly has become a touchdown machine. He now has at least one touchdown catch in each of the last four games. He has caught six touchdowns in the last six games and has seven on the season.

Shockey quiet hero on Henderson's TD

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just scored on a 75-yard pass from Drew Brees to Devery Henderson to take a 17-7 lead.

But I think the real hero on that play might have been tight end Jeremy Shockey. He stayed in and picked up blitzing cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. Shockey took Wilhite out of the play and nobody picked up Henderson.

Bell will return for Saints

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- A bit of good news for the Saints on the injury front.

Running back Mike Bell, who limped off the field a few minutes ago, will return to the game. According to the Saints, he suffered a stinger.
NEW ORLEANS – History will tell us for sure, but I think we might have just seen a coming-out moment in Sean Payton’s ascendancy as a head coach.

Under the brightest of lights, he just went for it on fourth down against Bill Belichick, who already has gone for it on fourth down twice (and succeeded both times) tonight, and I seem to recall Belichick going for it on fourth down a few other times in recent weeks.

Anyway, Payton’s moved paid off in a big way. On that fourth-and-2 from New England’s 21-yard line, Pierre Thomas produced a 3-yard run.

On the next play, Thomas took a screen pass from Drew Brees and scored. That’s a lot better than settling for a field goal to give New Orleans a 10-7 lead.

I wouldn’t recommend going for it on fourth down all the time, but Payton showed he can do it too.

Pats convert twice on fourth down for TD

November, 30, 2009
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.


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 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.

McKenzie gets start for Saints

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS – He was announced as a starter in the pregame, and cornerback Mike McKenzie, who just re-signed with the Saints last week, was in the lineup on the first defensive play.

The Saints opened with three cornerbacks (Randall Gay and Malcolm Jenkins were the other two) and I think we’re going to see lots of McKenzie tonight with Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter out with injuries.

Although McKenzie hasn’t played in coordinator Gregg Williams’ system before tonight, he was a starter for the Saints before injuries prompted the team to let him go after last season. The Saints also recently signed veteran cornerback Chris McAlister.

Saints start fast

November, 30, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- It didn’t end quite the way it started, but, still, the Saints were impressive on the opening drive.

They had to settle for a John Carney field goal that hit the upright before going through. Taking three points, instead of seven, is a bit disappointing. But the Saints looked great early in a drive that went 53 yards on eight plays.

Drew Brees opened the game with a 33-yard pass to Devery Henderson and Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell each had a nice run.

Now, let’s see what the New Orleans defense can do.