NEW ORLEANS — Super Bowl LI hero James White turned in another impressive pass-catching performance Sunday as the injury-riddled New England Patriots cruised past the New Orleans Saints.
Entering the game with just three healthy wide receivers, the Patriots instead leaned on their running backs and tight ends to carry their passing attack. White played a starring role in this effort, catching all eight balls thrown his way for 85 yards in New England’s 36-20 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“(White made) a lot of big plays,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “Every time he touches the ball, it’s important. He’s just so dependable, consistent, tough and hard-working. He shows up to work every day to do his job as best as he can with the best attitude. … I’ve played with a lot of great teammates, and James is right there at the top.”
White’s eight receptions were a team high and equaled the third-highest single-game total of the fourth-year pro’s career. He caught 10 passes in a 2015 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and 14 in Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons.
In New England’s Week 1 loss to Kansas City Chiefs, White was used more as a runner, carrying the ball 10 times for 38 yards and catching just three passes for 30 yards. He carried the ball just twice Sunday, with Mike Gillislee leading the team with 18 rushes.
The Patriots employed a creative game plan against New Orleans that featured rushing attempts by seven different players and receptions by nine. Only one-third of Brady’s 30 completions on the day went to wide receivers (top wideout Brandin Cooks had just two grabs on four targets) while running backs combined for 12 catches, tight ends had seven and fullback James Develin had one.
“It just depends on how defenses try to match up against us,” White said. “If we have good matchups and Tom finds us, we just want to be open. Everybody wants to win their matchups, no matter who’s covering you. Just be open, and if the ball comes your way, catch it and get as many yards as you can.”
He added: “(Offensive coordinator Josh) McDaniels does a great job putting us in positions to be successful. No matter what personnel group we’ve got on the field, guys just want to go out and execute. He draws up a great game plan each and every game for us to be successful.”
After completing an NFL-worst 44.4 percent of his passes in the loss to the Chiefs, Brady was 30-of-39 passing for 447 yards and threw three first-quarter touchdowns against the Saints. The Patriots’ 555 yards of total offense were their fifth-most in the Bill Belichick era.
“We clicked,” White said. “We kept it going throughout all four quarters. It wasn’t just one quarter or one drive. Guys were just locked in throughout the whole game, trying to stick together and keep the tempo up.”
Thumbnail photo via Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images