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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Disheveled and winded, a victorious Bill Belichick bounded into his postgame news conference with an improbable 30-27 victory over the previously undefeated New Orleans Saints in hand.
"Sorry if you have to rewrite some your stories there at the end," Belichick quipped.
"What a football game," Belichick added. "That took about five years off my life."
For 59 minutes, 50 seconds against the Saints, the New England Patriots' passing offense struggled to make anything happen. Tom Brady overthrew Danny Amendola on one play that would have been an easy touchdown. He underthrew Kenbrell Thompkins at the goal line. His receivers dropped passes. They ran the wrong routes. The offensive line broke down in protection. The tight ends were ineffective.
|Tom Brady's 17-yard TD strike to Kenbrell Thompkins sealed the victory for the Patriots.|
It was one thing after another on a day that looked like it would end for the second time in as many weeks without Brady throwing a touchdown pass.
And then, just like that, on the one play that ultimately mattered, Brady was Brady. He threw the perfect ball. He put it where only Thompkins, the undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, could reach it: In the back corner of the end zone, a step ahead of his defender.
The Patriots won a game they should have lost for one reason and one reason only: Brady magic struck again, just like it has so many times over these past 13 years. Brady always gives New England a chance to win. He always is a threat, no matter who Brady has -- or doesn't have -- playing receiver. Brady is that kind of player who can lift an entire offense, an entire team, onto his shoulders and make them better.
"That's what he does," Belichick said of Brady's ability to read coverages, make throws and give receivers a chance to make plays. "That's what he gets paid for. That's why he's so good."
It should not have to be all on Brady, of course. The Patriots were supposed to be a different type of offense, a smoothly running version of what some other teams have tried to copy since Belichick came up with the revolutionary philosophy. New England was supposed to have two talented tight ends and a quick, reliable slot receiver to pair with Brady's no huddle offense.
New England exchanged Wes Welker for Amendola in March and banked on him being a younger version of the super reliable Welker. In April and May, the Patriots were counting on having Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski playing effectively when the regular season started.
Hernandez is in jail. After having four surgeries on his left forearm since late last year, Gronkowski reportedly is the subject of private ridicule by his teammates because he has been practicing for weeks but has yet to play in a game. Amendola is hurt -- again -- and now likely sidelined indefinitely after getting knocked out of Sunday's game from a hit to the head by a New Orleans defender.
That has left Brady with a collection of inexperienced receivers, who have at times left Brady flustered and frustrated, and a running game by committee that has struggled to alleviate the inevitable pressure on Brady's shoulders.
Brady can take a lot. He has been in nearly every situation at some point during his storied career. Brady endured 2006, when his primary targets were Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown, Doug Gabriel and Jabar Gaffney. But this season, Brady has had to be more patient than perhaps ever before because the Patriots are banking on young, inexperienced players reaching their potential quicker than they otherwise should. That's why New England has been so spotty in the red zone. It is why Brady entered the Saints game completing only 56.5 percent of his passes, by far the lowest of his career.
Until the final drive against New Orleans, Brady was 20 of 35 with no touchdowns, an interception and five sacks. With 1:13 left on the clock and the Patriots at their 30-yard line, Brady hit Julian Edelman for 23 yards, then Austin Collie for 15, then Aaron Dobson for six. Two incomplete passes led to fourth-and-4 from the New Orleans' 26. Brady threw a nine-yard pass to Collie, spiked the ball and then threw that perfect 17-yard strike to Tompkins that won the game and pushed the Patriots record to 5-1.
"When the game is on the line, you see what guys are made of," Brady said. "And all those guys at the receiver position made some huge plays on that last drive."
Yes, they did. The Patriots have adjusted. They have grown. They got a stellar defensive effort, led by cornerback Aqib Talib, that held New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham without a catch. They got big plays on offense when they ultimately needed it.
New England isn't the team we expected to see in April, but it is one that with Brady will have a chance. Always has. Always will.
"We're trying to find a way for the 2013 team to win," Belichick said. "Whatever that is -- offense, defense, special teams -- whatever those 45 guys can do, that's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to be anything other than that."
Except with Brady, the Patriots will always have a chance to be a winner. It has been neither easy nor pretty this season, but the Patriots are right there atop the AFC East, a game behind Denver and Kansas City in the race to home-field advantage in the playoffs. That is all because of Brady.