Final: Patriots 36, Saints 20
A vintage Tom Brady performance and an overall solid bounceback effort from the Patriots. They went back to throwing over the middle, and incorporated a lot of throws to running backs into their attack, both things we did not see last week. It was nice seeing Rob Gronkowski playing to his usual standards; he broke a number of tackles, including one on a 53-yard TD catch. His injury, which forced him out in the third, doesn’t appear to be serious at the moment, a sigh of relief for a team that can’t afford to lose any more offensive players. Cooks wasn’t involved most of the day (just 2 catches for 37 yards), but Phillip Dorsett surprised, hauling in three catches on three targets, including a 38-yard grab near the goal line. The running backs ran for over 100 yards, with Gillislee leading the charge with 69 yards on 18 carries. It appears he’s their feature back, but with numerous options at the position, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them mix it up week in and week out. The offense overall looked like what everyone thought it would, but the big question now turns to the team’s health.
Don’t focus on the stat sheet in this game. Drew Brees threw for his usual 350 yards at home (he averaged 357 yards a game last season), but as a team New Orleans had a mere 13 points late into fourth, well below their home average. The defense gave up the yards but held strong on third down, making the Saints fail on eight out of 12 attempts. It was a true display of the bend-don’t-break defense we’ve seen in years past. The rush did a better job getting to Brees, forcing him into quick and often poor throws. The running attack of New Orleans never found too many holes, and ran for 81 on the game, 100 fewer than Kansas City last week. Fourth-round draft pick Deatrich Wise looked like a steal as well, disrupting the line upfront, and making a nice move to get the lone sack of Brees on the afternoon. This unit should continue to improve, and they definitely took a huge step forward yesterday.
After the debacle in the season opener, Belichick and Co. seemed to have things figured out in the Big Easy on Sunday. In the first half, McDaniels called a near perfect game, mixing in a good balance of runs and passes. He also returned to throwing over the middle, and made Gronk a focal point in the game plan from the beginning. Having James White lining up as receiver proved to be the right call on multiple occasions. He and Brady always seem to be on the same page. Having the running backs involved in the passing game has always worked wonders for this squad. Defensively, I wouldn’t call it a complete 180 from last week’s effort, but there were many improvements. The secondary looked better, and created far less space for the receivers to get open than they did a week ago. Despite generating only one sack, the line put pressure on Brees and forced him to throw the ball away multiple times, which is something you won’t see on the stat sheet. With quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton coming to town in the next two weeks, it’ll be interesting to see how the unit gameplans with quarterbacks who run almost as well as they throw.
Special teams: C
Missing an extra point attempt automatically drops the unit a full letter grade, at least this week. Since missing a crucial point after touchdown attempt in Denver almost two years ago, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been shaky at best. Ryan Allen’s punts were inconsistent; he had one that traveled only 27 yards. The coverage on kickoffs was hit or miss, and starting off the game by giving the Saints an extra 15 yards on a penalty was not ideal. Look for improvements: the missed PAT didn’t hurt them this week, but it could be the difference in a game moving forward.