FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick was asked after Sunday’s wild finish what makes quarterback Tom Brady so special late in games.
“He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s good in all four quarters,” the New England Patriots coach said.
However, Brady wasn’t great in all four quarters Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. In fact, he wasn’t great through much of the first six games of the season. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, though, No. 12 was pure magic.
Brady, struggling with his new receivers most of the season, led his team down the field and hit rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with a 17-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left, giving the Patriots a 30-27 victory over the previously undefeated Saints.
“I just tried to put it back there where he could make a play,” Brady said after Thompkins beat Saints cornerback Jabari Greer. “That was pretty sweet.”
With much of the crowd gone, the Patriots (5-1) went 70 yards on eight plays in 68 seconds with no timeouts for the winning score — Brady’s first touchdown pass in two weeks. It was the 28th fourth-quarter drive for a comeback win of Brady’s career, tying him with Brett Favre for fifth place in NFL history. Brady led his team on a game-winning drive when either behind or tied for the 37th time.
Included in the drive were two completions to veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, who made his Patriots debut in the fourth quarter after Danny Amendola left with a head injury. Brady said the team “wanted to see what he could do, see if he can help us win a game, and that’s what he did.” One of the catches came on fourth down.
The loss by New Orleans (5-1) loss left the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos as the only unbeaten teams in the NFL.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees, quiet in the first half, led his team back from two deficits. He hit Kenny Stills with a 34-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 remaining left to put New Orleans ahead 24-23.
After taking the lead, the Saints took advantage of two Patriots dropped passes — and New England’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-6 with all three timeouts left — to take over on downs at the New England 24. New Orleans didn’t eat up much time before Garrett Hartley’s second field goal.
The Patriots got the ball back at their 20 with 2:24 left, but Brady’s first pass was picked by Keenan Lewis. However, New England got the ball back again following a New Orleans punt.
Brady, sacked five times, finished 25-for-43 for 269 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.
New Orleans nearly won even though tight end Jimmy Graham was shut out, much of the work done by cornerback Aqib Talib before Talib left with a hip injury. Graham suffered what appeared to be an ankle injury in the fourth quarter, came back and left again.
Brees, 9-for-19 in the first half, finished 17-for-36 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Both star quarterbacks were dreary at best until late.
“I know this — you can’t give Tom Brady and that offense three chances at a two-minute drill,” Brees said.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski broke a 17-17 tie with a 54-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the third quarter, then added a 23-yarder with 8:34 remaining in the game.
The Patriots, already missing tight end Rob Gronkowski and key interior linemen Vince Wolfork and Tommy Kelly, lost guard Dan Connolly to a head injury in the first half and then Talib, Amendola and linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Saints running backs Travaris Cadet and Khiry Robinson both scored their first NFL touchdowns.
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, who missed last week’s 13-6 loss to the Bengals with a thigh bruise, scored his first two TDs of the season to lead New England to a 17-7 halftime lead.
“This one’s difficult because you certainly felt like you had a chance,” Brees said.
NOTES: In addition to Graham getting blanked, Saints WR Marcus Colston had only one catch for 11 yards. … Brady moved into eighth place in all-time NFL passing yardage. … Gronkowski (back, forearm) missed his sixth consecutive game, the same number he would have missed had the Pats placed him on the physically unable to perform list at the end of camp. With reports swirling that the team wants him to play, his mother, Diane, told the Boston Herald, “All I can say is Robbie is dying to play.” … Former Patriots TE Benjamin Watson caught three passes for 61 yards. … New England WR Julian Edelman, the NFL’s all-time punt return average leader, tried a trick play in the first quarter that almost resulted in a turnover. He sent the ball backward to teammate Talib, and it was loose on the turf before Talib recovered at his own 11. Edelman caught a big pass on the final drive before failing to hold one near the goal line. … The Patriots visit the New York Jets next week, while the Saints have a bye.