Patriots quarterback ends 8-quarter drought in closing seconds; Ridley scores twice
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It had been two weeks — more than eight quarters-worth of football — since Tom Brady last threw a touchdown by the time his Patriots got the ball back, down 27-23, with 1:13 to play at Gillette Stadium.
The typically stingy Saints offense had limited the New England quarterback to 199 yards and little red-zone success to that point, but what ensued was nothing short of vintage Brady.
He orchestrated an eight-play, 70-yard game-winning drive, complete with a 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds to go to lift New England over the Saints 30-27.
The loss, New Orleans’ first of the year, was the first time the Saints defense gave up more than 18 points all season.
“That was pretty sweet,” Brady said. “We had everybody going to the end zone. He kind of snuck into the corner, I put it up there for him, and he came down with a great catch.”
The catch from Thompkins, Brady’s first touchdown pass since Thompkins reeled one in against the Falcons on Sept. 29, capped a well-rounded — and even surprising — performance from a Patriots offense that has struggled to get into a groove without its star receivers from a year ago.
Early on, New England did damage on the ground, namely with LSU product Stevan Ridley (20 carries, season-high 96 yards) and to a lesser degree with Baton Rouge native Brandon Bolden (five carries, 19 yards).
Ridley kept New England ahead in the first half by rushing for two scores in a five-and-a-half-minute span in the second quarter.
It was a rewarding return to action for Ridley, who was questionable for Sunday while being limited in practice all week with a thigh/knee injury. He had run the ball a combined 22 times in two games over the past month.
“It’s been a long time since I had been in the (end) zone, so I was just happy to be there,” Ridley said. “To come out here and find the end zone not once but twice, I’m blessed and thankful, and I don’t take it for granted.”
Ridley and coach Bill Belichick pointed to the Patriots’ no-huddle offense, particularly on the final drive, to explain the offensive success.
“We know that was something we were going to have to do coming in,” Ridley said. “That was the game-plan coming in, running that up-tempo. That was something our coaches saw, and that’s why I said I’m so thankful to be here: They do switch it up every week and try to find a way to put opposing defenses on their heels.”
How much trouble the up-tempo style gave the Saints, Belichick couldn’t quite tell. It didn’t really matter to him, either.
“It wasn’t as much about them as it was about us,” Belichick said. “Playing fast, getting to the line, being confident in what we were doing and getting it up tempo and just feeling like we wanted to go out there and be more aggressive. That’s why we did it.”
In the end, though, it was all about Brady, according to Ridley. This time, Brady’s final drive came with competitions to rookie receiver Aaron Dobson (6 yards) and newcomer Austin Collie (two catches for 24 yards). Julian Edelman had a catch for 23 yards to open the drive.
“With Brady back there, we always have a chance,” Ridley said.
“He’s an exceptional player. He’s our leader, that’s who we depend on. We’re going to lose with Tom, we’re going to win with Tom. But most of the time just win.”