Curran: Down but never out, Patriots find a way

Curran: Down but never out, Patriots find a way
October 14, 2013, 12:30 am
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FOXBORO – Mickey Loomis dropped his fist like a gavel.

With just under three minutes left in the game, a fourth-and-6 pass had bounced off Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson and rolled away incomplete.

With that, the Saints General Manager pounded the desk in front of him with finality. BOOM! The verdict was in.

Loomis’ team had the ball on the Patriots 24 and would be extending their lead to at least four points. They would also be extending their record to 6-0, taking both the game and a pound of flesh from New England.

Too soon, Mickey. Too soon. Over the next 165 seconds of playing time, the Patriots would allow a field goal, throw an interception, stop the Saints three times, get the ball back again, drive 70 yards in eight plays and win on a touchdown pass with five seconds left.

In the vernacular of the NFL, that fist pound is one Mickey would like to have back.

Honest to God, when the bombs do fall, the only things that will be left crawling around will be the roaches, the grasshoppers and the New England Patriots. Can’t kill ‘em.

The Patriots aren’t the most talented team in football. And with the spate of injuries they’re dealing with – Mayo and Talib laid low Sunday for a defense already missing Wilfork and Tommy Kelly – they may not be among the top dozen teams in terms of talent. But no team is more resilient and resourceful with as much regularity as the Patriots.

They are going to use everything at their disposal to wear an opponent down, even when they aren’t at their best.

On Sunday, that meant playing “complementary football” – the offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff working in lockstep – in order to take down one of the NFL’s hottest teams.

The Patriots’ savvy was never more obvious than in the final minutes where they bled a win out of what should have been a lost cause.

After four second-half drives had yielded two field goals and the Saints had erased New England’s lead, the Patriots were trying to start a fire with two soggy twigs.

The drop by Dobson on fourth-and-6 could have been a death knell. But two runs and two Patriots timeouts set up a third-and-7 at the Patriots 31. Drew Brees tried to pick up a first down that would have probably ended things by throwing to Marques Colston but Alfonzo Dennard, who had excellent coverage on the go-ahead Saints touchdown a minute earlier, leaped to bat the ball down. New Orleans settled for the field goal.

So Brady would get another chance. Which was promptly doused when he threw a 50-yard bomb off-target to Julian Edelman that was picked off.

Now, 2:16 remained. One timeout left and the two-minute warning. A run for 2 yards. A run for 1 yard. The final timeout and the two-minute warning stopped the clock after each run. With two minutes left and a third-and-7, the Saints had to have a first down to drive the stake. Instead, Chandler Jones sacked Brees as he rolled out, swiping his feet from under him.

There would be a third possession for Brady after the go-ahead Saints score.

Think back to last week against the Bengals. As badly as New England played, they still stole three points before halftime and – in the monsoon – were throwing for the end zone for the tying touchdown in the last minute. All because of clock management and situational football.

“You just try to do the best you can on that,” Belichick said of the late-game clock management. “I thought obviously, Zo [Alfonzo Dennard] had a tough play there in the end zone there on [Kenny] Stills (touchdown) and then came back and made a huge play: the incomplete pass there on second down. That saved us a timeout. It was a great play, he went up and made an excellent play on the ball. Once again, it’s the players making the plays.

“I think managing the clock, you just do what you do: you have so much time, so many timeouts, you just try to get the most out of it,” he explained. “But it was the players that are out there making the plays. We played good up front, were able to get the ball back and our offensive line, our receivers, obviously our quarterback, did a good job of going down the field after we had not moved the ball very well overall in the second half. That was a huge drive when we needed it the most. All the credit goes to the players; they’re the ones that made the plays.”

On Wednesday, Brady sent out a call to arms during his weekly press conference. “We’re going to have to play good in all three phases,” he explained. “It can’t just be a defensive game or a special teams game. It has to be a team win.”

It was. First off, the Patriots held the NFL’s most potent receiver over the first five weeks – Jimmy Graham – without a catch. Thank Aqib Talib for that. And after Talib went down, it was Devin McCourty. The defense held Darren Sproles to 73 yards from scrimmage and only half of the dozen throws Brees sent his way were completed. Thank Jerod Mayo for much of that. And after he went down, it was everyone in the secondary.

And it was the secondary and the pass rush holding Brees to less than 50 percent completions. One of the NFL’s most accurate passers went 17 for 36 on Sunday. That marked just the fifth time in Brees’ career he’d been under 50 percent and just the second time since 2004.

Punter Ryan Allen had a 47.5 net on Sunday and Stephen Gostkowski made all three of his field goals (16 for his last 17) including a 54-yarder.

There were plenty of bad plays mixed in during Sunday’s win. More egregious drops. A ton of pressure on Brady. But good teams and good players make bad plays, said Belichick.

“You have to have a short memory,” he pointed out. “You have to come back and play the next play. Look, we all have bad plays out there, every one of us: missed blocks, missed tackles, bad calls, bad throws, drops, whatever it is. But competitors come back and keep competing and come back and get it the next time. Nobody is going to play a perfect game, we know that. But you just have to keep competing and try to eliminate, make as few of those mistakes as possible.”

It’s a mindset. And when you look around the NFL at how many teams go in the tank when adversity piles up – pointing fingers, mailing in performances, letting one loss bleed into the next week – you realize how rare that mindset is.
 
The best Patriot ever is their most dogged competitor.
 
“No matter how you’ve played to that point (in a game), you have a situation: you have one timeout, two timeouts, three timeouts, no time outs, you’re backed up,” said Brady. “Regardless of what happens over the course of the game, you have a chance. That’s what football is all about. Interestingly, the plays in the first quarter are just as important as the plays in the fourth quarter; it’s just the game’s not really on the line at that point. When the game is on the line, you see what guys are made of.”