Saints seek to keep perspective after frustrating finish
The Saints insisted Monday they were not going to dwell on their last-second loss at New England as they entered their off week. Less than 24 hours after the painful defeat, though, they couldn’t help but think about what might have been.
Twice in the last 2 minutes, 46 seconds, New Orleans had the ball with a chance to seal a 6-0 start to the season. Both times, the Saints failed to pick up a first down.
The defense then allowed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to direct a 70-yard drive in 68 seconds without a timeout, capping it off with a 17-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the end zone with 5 seconds left as New England won 30-27.
“The overall mood and spirits were good,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “Obviously it’s a tough loss. They understand there’s going to be some games like that where you’re wrestling over one specific play or one sequence of plays.”
The sequence began right after New England turned the ball over on downs at its 24 with 2:46 left, trailing 24-23. While fans began clearing out of Gillette Stadium, the Saints could not come up with their own exit strategy.
A 4-yard run by Khiry Robinson and a 1-yard loss by Pierre Thomas left the Saints with third-and-7 from the New England 28. Drew Brees’ pass to Marques Colston down the sideline was almost intercepted, forcing New Orleans to settle for a field goal while the Patriots held on to their final timeout.
Even a Keenan Lewis interception at the New Orleans 30 on the next play was not enough to save the Saints. They managed 2 yards on a Robinson run up the middle and 1 yard on a pitch to Thomas when he had to cut inside to avoid the risk of going out of bounds. A Brees bootleg on third down did not fool defensive end Chandler Jones, who chased him down for a 5-yard loss.
“What it comes down is just the fact that we gave them three opportunities at a 2-minute drive. And you give Tom Brady that many chances, he’s going to make you pay,” Brees said. “You just look at it offensively and say, ‘Man, what could I have done differently?’ When the defense got that first stop, maybe just get one first down.
“They had all three timeouts (left). They had the 2-minute warning. So it seems like everything kind of fell right into place for them, trying to salvage time. But we’ve got to be able to close the game out.”
The defense did not get the job done on New England’s final possession, which started at the 30 after Saints punter Thomas Morstead angled his kick out of bounds instead of trying to boom one.
Defensive end Cam Jordan almost got to Brady on a four-man rush, but Brady hit Julian Edelman over the middle for a 23-yard gain. New Orleans rushed only three on the next down, and Brady found Austin Collie for 15 yards to the Saints 32.
The Saints assumed Brady would spike the ball to stop the clock as the Patriots rushed to the line. Instead, he threw a quick strike to Aaron Dobson, who gained 6 yards and saved precious time when Lewis threw him out of bounds instead of keeping him in the field.
“He’s a big wide receiver, and he made a good play,” Lewis said. “I tried. I can’t sit up there and say my goal was to let him go out of bounds. He was already standing tiptoe almost out of bounds, but I’ll work at it and get better. It’s easy to say what you could have done in that situation.
“Definitely, (Brady) caught us wandering, which a good quarterback will do most of the time. He did a hurry-up play, so that’s what it was.”
The Saints mixed it up defensively on the next few plays, rushing five one time and three the next before Brady beat a four-man rush on fourth down with a completion to Austin Collie.
After a spike to stop the clock with 10 seconds left, he hooked up with Thompkins for the game-winner, beating cornerback Jabari Greer with a perfect throw.
“This is distribution of credit, assignment of blame Monday, so that’s just the industry,” Payton said. “Tom made a great location throw, the receiver made a real good catch above his head. You can’t beat yourself up over that. There are a lot of sequences that take place you can look at. That was a real good play by those guys.”
Twitter was abuzz with Saints fan complaints that left tackle Nate Solder clotheslined linebacker Junior Galette to keep him away from Brady on the touchdown. Lewis discounted that argument.
“Sometimes refs miss calls like that,” he said. “We can’t make excuses and say that’s the reason why we lost the game. It happens, and it’s over with.”
So is the Saints’ perfect record, leaving Denver and Kansas City as the only unbeaten teams in the NFL. Still, New Orleans enters its open week with a 21/2-game lead over Carolina in the NFC South and tied with Seattle for the NFC’s best record.
“We haven’t played our best football, and we’re sitting 5-1,” Payton said. “I like the work ethic, the competitive nature of this team. I like it a lot. Getting back after this bye, there are a few things we’re going to be able to clean up and work to improve on as we get ready for this long stretch of the season.”
Payton did not update the status of tight end Jimmy Graham or any other injured player. … The Saints will not return to the practice field until Monday, Oct. 21, and will not meet with reporters until Wednesday, Oct. 23.