FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots visit the undefeated New Orleans Saints for the fifth time in franchise history. The Patriots have a 4-0 record in New Orleans, including a 3-0 mark at the Superdome. It’s the Patriots’ first road game against the Saints since 1998.
New England is 8-3 all-time against the Saints. The Pats won the first five meetings against the Saints before falling three consecutive times from 1989-95. The Patriots are currently riding a three-game winning streak against New Orleans.
The Patriots’ last trip to the Superdome worked out all right. They beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Patriots 7-3 (3-1 AFC East)
Saints 10-0 (3-0 NFC South)
Monday Night Football will bring the best out of players and teams, and this week’s marquee matchup shouldn’t be any different.
“Everybody is watching,” said Patriots cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. “The players have it in their mind, too, and the coaches know. It’s a big game. It’s one of those times. You only get a chance a couple times a year to have all eyes on you. It’s a special moment. It’s going to be a hostile environment, especially for the away team.”
The Pats are 17-21 all-time on Monday Night Football, but they’ve won six in a row underneath the Monday night lights, including a 25-24 thriller in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. Although that game brought out the worst in the Patriots for about 56 minutes, they rallied for one of the most dramatic finishes of the 2009 NFL season.
Pull off a comeback like that, or execute a highlight-reel play, and it feels like the whole planet is talking about you the next day. After the Patriots take on the Saints, the water-cooler talk will be about one of two things: Can the Saints go undefeated, or are the Patriots back in stride and ready for another Super Bowl push?
“You get pretty much everybody in the nation watching you on Monday,” said safety Brandon Meriweather, who had all of London watching his two interceptions against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season.
While it’s a big deal for some, Monday nights are just another opportunity for others, such as Patriots center Dan Koppen, who isn’t fazed by anything more than picking up an important victory.
“It’s a game,” Koppen said bluntly. “It’s a big game in our season. It’s a big game this week, so it’s not really when we play. We could play it Friday afternoon. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be big either way.”
This is the seventh time in 2009 the Patriots have played a team without a loss, including the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. New England is 3-3 in those games.
The Patriots are the first team in 11 years to play two teams with an 8-0 record or better in the same season.
The Patriots have won 17 consecutive regular-season games against NFC opponents dating back to 2005.
The Patriots are 52-10 in games after Thanksgiving since 2001.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 8-3 all-time on Monday Night Football. He has completed 249 of 390 passes (63.8 percent) for 2,952 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Brady has five consecutive 300-yard performances, which is one shy of the NFL record. Brady has six 300-yard games this season, which is four shy of the NFL record.
Brady needs 163 passing yards to break Drew Bledsoe’s franchise record (29,657). Brady also needs 505 passing yards to become the 32nd player in NFL history to reach 30,000 passing yards.
Running back Laurence Maroney has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games, and he is the first Patriot to rush for a touchdown in five straight contests since Robert Edwards in 1998.
Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain has a team-high five sacks, and he is one sack shy of setting a new career high. Banta-Cain has a pair of two-sack games this season.
Wide receiver Wes Welker has a league-best 79 receptions despite missing two games with a knee injury. Welker leads the NFL with 302 catches since 2007. He has averaged 7.6 receptions per game since joining the Patriots.
Welker has caught at least 10 passes four times this season, which is three games shy of Andre Johnson’s NFL record.
Wide receiver Randy Moss has scored one touchdown for every 6.34 receptions, which is the best rate of all-time.
Moss needs 75 receiving yards for the 10th 1,000-yard season of his career. He would join Jerry Rice (14) as the only receivers in NFL history with double-digit, 1,000-yard seasons.
Linebacker Pierre Woods leads the Patriots with 12 total special teams tackles and 10 solo special teams tackles.Saints
New Orleans has forced an NFL-high 29 turnovers this season. The Saints had forced 24 turnovers through their first eight games, which was more than they had in all of 2008 (22), 2007 (23), 2006 (19) and 2005 (19).
The Saints are ranked first in the league in points scored (369), total yards (4,205), rushing touchdowns (18), passing touchdowns (22) and net yards per passing attempt (8.0).
New Orleans is outscoring its opponents by an NFL-best 16.5 points per game this season.
The Saints are on pace to score 590 points this season, which would be one more point than the Patriots’ record-setting offense in 2007.
New Orleans has attempted 320 passing plays and 324 rushing plays this season.
Quarterback Drew Brees has 25 games with a passer rating of at least 100 since 2006, which is tied for the fourth most in the NFL in that span. The Saints are 20-5 in those games, and they’ve scored at least 30 points in 20 of those contests.
Reggie Bush has 242 receptions for 1,806 yards and nine touchdowns since he was drafted in 2006. That is the most among all NFL running backs in that span.
(From Thursday’s practice report)
Wide receiver Sam Aiken (hip) had limited participation.
Linebacker Eric Alexander (groin) had limited participation.
Tight end Chris Baker (shoulder) had limited participation.
Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (groin) had limited participation.
Nose tackle Ron Brace (ankle) had limited participation.
Safety Pat Chung (head) had limited participation.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman (forearm) had limited participation.
Defensive end Jarvis Green (knee) had limited participation.
Center Dan Koppen (knee) had limited participation.
Left tackle Matt Light (knee) had limited participation.
Running back Sammy Morris (knee) had limited participation.
Right guard Stephen Neal (head) had limited participation.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich (knee) had limited participation.
Left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (head) had limited participation.
Defensive end Ty Warren (ankle) had limited participation.
Linebacker Pierre Woods (groin) had limited participation.
Quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) fully participated.
Cornerback Shawn Springs (knee) fully participated.
Tight end Ben Watson (knee) fully participated.
In 1986, the Patriots beat the Saints 21-20 at the Superdome to extend their winning streak to seven games and improve to 10-3 on the season. The Patriots scored two touchdowns on returns in the fourth quarter. Mosi Tatupu ran a blocked punt 17 yards for a touchdown before Brent Williams returned a fumble 21 yards for the decisive score. The Saints’ defense held the Patriots to two yards on 18 rush attempts, while New Orleans rushed 42 times for 178 yards and one touchdown.
The Patriots are 5-2 all-time on this date, and they’re 3-1 on the road.
“The year he came out was the year we drafted Kingsbury. We got the wrong guy. I did a pretty bad job on that, too.”
—Bill Belichick on Wes Welker, who went to Texas Tech with quarterback Kliff Kingsbury. The Patriots selected Kingsbury in the sixth round of the 2003 draft, and he spent his rookie season on injured reserve. He was released in 2004. Welker, however, went undrafted in 2004.
The Patriots have a playoff game in November.
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Sorry, Saints, but you’re not the Patriots.
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If Ben Roethlisberger reads this, he could prolong his career.
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This will likely be the biggest challenge the Patriots’ defense faces all season — more so than the Indianapolis Colts because of the high level of unfamiliarity, and also because of the way the Saints keep teams off balance. New Orleans’ offensive play selection — 324 runs and 320 passes — shows the type of balance that head coaches salivate over. However, it should be noted that those numbers are slightly skewed because the Saints often find themselves in second-half blowouts, and they gear their offense toward bleeding the clock with their rushing attack.
That doesn’t take anything away from the running game, though, as New Orleans is ranked first in the league in rushing touchdowns (20) and has two 500-yard rushers in Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell. No doubt, they pick up some of their rushing yards in Colts fashion, with defenses so keyed on the quarterback that their rush is a successful element of surprise. But there is still an obvious talent there, and it can do some damage in power formations.
Their passing attack speaks for itself, and it’s led by Drew Brees, who is one of the three or four best quarterbacks in football. Belichick said he could add up all of the offensive formations he’ll see in the Patriots’ other 15 games this season, and they still might not equal the amount of formations the Saints could use Monday night. Brees shows his intelligence by masterfully controlling the offense throughout all of these looks.
“It’s tough to get ready for every formation, every situation,” said Patriots cornerback Jonathan Wilhite. “I don’t think you can. You’ve just got to play your game. The one thing we do good here in New England is focus on our assignments, and our job, and our techniques and what we do best.”
That’s as straight as you can put it. The Patriots have to do their thing Monday night and hope it’s better than how the Saints do their thing. Cornerback Terrence Wheatley said holding the Saints to 21 points would be a good effort, and the defense has to limit big plays, stay focused and be resilient.
The Saints’ defense lives off of big plays, but it can be beaten if the Patriots play smart and protect the football. They have forced a league-high 29 turnovers and have also registered 24 sacks and seven defensive touchdowns.
It starts with New Orleans’ aggressive front seven, which is led by defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (who is expected to return this week after missing time with a right knee injury) and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. All of them are among the best in the league at their positions. The Saints don’t really blitz more than anyone else, but they can create pressure with their immensely talented defensive line. That pressure helps the Saints’ ball-hawking secondary, which is led by safety Darren Sharper, who has a team-high seven interceptions. It’ll be another important night for left tackle Sebastian Vollmer and right tackle Nick Kaczur.
“They’ve got an aggressive front seven,” said Patriots center Dan Koppen. “They’re not afraid to bring pressure, and they’ve got a lot of good guys on that defense that can make plays. They create a lot of plays by their hustle, guys getting around the ball and getting it out.”
Still, the Saints are 17th in total defense (330.6 yards allowed per game) and 10th in points allowed (20.4), so the Patriots, who are second in total offense and third in points scored, will be able to move the ball on them.
This will certainly be a high-scoring affair, and the key matchup will be between the Patriots’ defense and Saints’ offense. After that, New England’s ball security will likely dictate the outcome of one of the best games we’ll see all season.
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