FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After having a streak of 52 games with a touchdown pass snapped in last week’s 13-6 setback to the Cincinnati Bengals, Tom Brady was on the verge of going back-to-back games without one.
But the Saints defense couldn’t do what the Bengals and the rain were able to do.
The Saints allowed Brady one too many chances, giving the New England Patriots the ball back with just more than a minute remaining in Sunday’s game in Gillette Stadium — and he made them pay.
Brady wiped out a solid second half by the Saints defense when he led his team on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that he capped with a 17-yard scoring pass to rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds left for a 30-27 victory.
After Brady completed 16 of 22 passes for 163 yards in leading his team to a 17-7 halftime lead, the Saints defense — which sacked him four times in the first two quarters — stiffened in the second half.
Brady was only 4 of 13 for 32 yards in the second half with a sack and an interception before the Saints defense learned that it’s difficult to keep him down for a full 60 minutes.
He completed 5 of 8 pass attempts — including a spike that stopped the clock before Thompkins got behind cornerback Jabari Greer on the next play — for 74 yards on the drive that handed the Saints their first loss of the season after five wins.
“I told the players, ‘Look, we did some good things in the second half,’ ” Payton said. “I was proud of the way we fought back. … But Tom and those guys made a play late in the game — and those are tough. That’s this league.”
After failing to get the job done against the Bengals, Brady made a few plays when they started their final drive with no timeouts.
He started it with a 23-yard pass to Julian Edelman to the Patriots’ 47. Then, with 24 seconds to play, he converted a fourth-and-4 with a 9-yard pass to Austin Collie that kept the drive going.
“It was kind of an ebb and flow,” Payton said. “They made some plays inside (toward the middle of the field), and obviously, the clock kept going.
“It was at that point in the game where it was going to have to be bigger players. He was able to make enough really good throws and the one at the end for the score.”
Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had one of the sacks against Brady, said they saw what they and the rest of the league already knows.
“Brady made some good throws on that last drive,” Jordan said. “He came in and clearly did what we already knew he was capable of doing. He made a lot of good throws at the end; he made a lot of good throws in this game.
“In that first half, we took their best punch,” he added of the Patriots, who were held to a field goal and a pair of short Stevan Ridley touchdown runs in the first two quarters. “We played a little more consistently in the second half.”
Greer had man-to-man coverage on Thompkins on the throw that Brady, who barely missed making a big connection on two previous shots at the Saints’ goal line, in the corner of the end zone.
“We fought everything to be in a position to win, and to have one play change everything, that’s tough … especially being that person,” Greer said. “It’s very humbling. You never want to hurt your team, but I also know that I made that play a lot of times in my career.”
Until that last Patriots possession, the Saints held New England to field goals of 54 and 23 yards by Stephen Gostkowski to give their team a chance to win.
They even got an interception off Brady with 2:24 to play when cornerback Keenan Lewis picked him off, but their good work was wasted when the Saints offense couldn’t get a first down to run out the clock.
“We did a pretty good job in the second half and we stopped them a couple of times,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said, “but we have got to finish games.
“That was a tough play for Jabari,” he said. “Those guys on that side get paid to make plays, too. That’s just T.B. (Brady). He’s a great quarterback.”