FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots’ defense had just done an unbelievable job of holding the Saints to a field goal after the team couldn’t move the ball on offense again. Then Tom Brady did the unthinkable.
The future Hall-of-Famer sailed an interception right into the waiting arms of Keenan Lewis. It was as if the ball and Lewis’ arms were connected by opposite sides of a magnet. The throw could not have been a worse decision by Brady.
Then the seats of Gillette Stadium started emptying out. There was still 2:16 left in the game, but the fans had enough. They had seen all they needed to out of this Patriots team.
But it appears those fans hadn’t been watching this team all season. Maybe they had short memories. Maybe they thought the team that lost to the Bengals was the real Patriots and that team that held the Bills, Jets, Buccaneers and Falcons were impostors.
It turns out they weren’t. Because despite being left with just one timeout, New England’s defense didn’t just stop the Saints’ high-powered offense, they drove them back two yards and forced a punt.
Obviously we all know the kind of magic Tom Brady concocted at the end, but what came in the 58 minutes prior is the real story of the season. All of a sudden, this Patriots’ defense has clicked.
Giving up 361 yards and 27 points won’t help the Patriots’ season averages. But doing that to the Saints is a huge accomplishment.
The Patriots’ defense used to be a sieve. And part of that had to do with the positions they were put in by their offense, who was constantly scoring big and fast. But they also just weren’t very good.
But now that the defense has held its opponents over and over again, it has to be said: This is a top-tier defense. They won’t admit it, though.
“We’re getting there. We’re getting there,” Kyle Arrington said. “The goal is to get better each week. Always, it doesn’t go perfect. We play a football game — especially [against] a good team like that, for us to make the plays that we did, I’m proud of our guys and, you know, we just — we’re gonna go down swinging.”
The whole “getting better each week” is a phrase the Patriots cling to. When a question comes up they don’t want to answer, the response goes, “we/I want to get better every week.” But this team may actually be getting better every week. And that’s happening despite some seemingly devastating injuries.
No team, or player, or unit is supposed to hold Jimmy Graham without a catch. Aqib Talib and his defensive back cohorts did just that. No secondary is supposed to hold Marques Colston to one catch for 11 yards. The Saints aren’t going to win many games when Kenny Stills and Ben Watson are their leading receivers.
And that’s what the Patriots forced. They got creative, throwing out a seemingly infinite number of looks and they were stout. Even without Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Aqib Talib and Jerod Mayo by the final snap.
It wasn’t pretty at times, especially as the Saints were trying to pound the ball down Joe Vellano and Chris Jones‘ throws, but they got it done.
“Honestly, I really can’t say right now,” Dennard said.” Just gotta watch film in this game and I’ll have an answer for you later on.”
The fact that the Patriots won’t just come out and say, “No, we’re not a top-tier defense” may be all that needs to be said. They know they are. They just stopped the Saints. For their sake, hopefully it takes the rest of the league to figure it out.