FOXBORO -- Jimmy Graham entered Sunday's game against the New England Patriots with the most reception yards in the league. And with six touchdowns in five games, the dynamic tight end would have to at least be slowed down at Gillette Stadium, if the Patriots wanted any shot to give the Saints their first loss of the season.
Nobody said anything about shutting him down completely. But that's exactly what cornerback Aqib Talib did in New England's 30-27 win on Sunday.
Talib was all over Graham, and held him to zero receptions.
"Coming into every game, we know that Jimmy's a guy that defenses have to pay attention to," said Saints tight end Ben Watson after the game. "Unfortunately for us -- we've been able to get him the ball -- but this game was a little bit different. That's how it's going to be in this league. There's a lot of good defenders, there's a lot of good defensive coordinators. Jimmy's obviously, I think, the best tight end in the league. So, he wasn't able to get the ball today, but, that's something that can happen at any time.
"We know Aqib is a great corner," added Watson. "He's had a terrific year. He was matched up on Jimmy, as well as getting some help over the top sometimes. That's a not a secret that he's a good corner. They had a plan for it, and did a good job covering him."
Talib left the game midway through the third quarter with a hip injury. Graham left the game late in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.
Still, Brees threw to Graham six times in the game, and Talib single-handedly broke up several of those intended passes in big spots.
It started early. Talib broke up a pass intended for Graham on New Orleans' second offesnive play of the game. It helped force the Saints to go three-and-out.
Then in the opening minutes of the second quarter, Talib broke up another pass to Graham over the middle on 3rd-and-10 from the Saints' 23-yard line. Had Graham caught the pass, it would have been a first down. Instead, the Saints punted to New England's 34-yard line, and the Patriots drove down the field to score a touchdown and take a 17-7 lead.
On the Saints' very next possession, Talib did it again, breaking up a pass intended for Graham on 2nd-and-7 from the New Orleans 23-yard line. The Saints punted two plays later.
"It wasn't always perfect," said Saints coach Sean Payton afterwards. "Typically, when it's not always perfect, your opponent's doing something well. And so, New England did a very good job kind of containing us offensively. We had too many three-and-outs early on.
"The one thing they do a good job with is, they disrupt you at the line of scrimmage, really, better than anyone. They do a really good job of getting their hands on receivers and tight ends. They're very well coached, they're disciplined, and they did a good job of that.
"[Talib] was on [Graham] in their nickel packages, and then he had an injury," added Payton. "But, it's the disruption at the line of scrimmage."
When Talib went down injured, the Patriots made another big stop on Graham early in the fourth quarter. Brees went to Graham down the right sideline, but cornerback Kyle Arrington ran with the tight end across the field and picked off Brees' pass to set up a 23-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Arrington broke up another pass targeted from Graham in the end zone later in the fourth.
"It's 'next man up,' " said Arrington after the game. "So, guys had to step up. I thought we did a tremendous job of fighting all the way through. Obviously it wasn't a perfect game for us defensively, but I'm proud of our guys. We fought all the way to the end."
When it was all said and done though, Talib had successfully shut down another top receiver in impressive fashion.
"It's a tremendous help for us, it's a tremendous benefit for us," said Arrington. "Aqib is a long, rangy guy himself, so he can not only cover receivers, but tight ends as well. Especially athletic tight ends."
"[Talib and Graham] are two good football players right there," said Belichick. "Aqib really competed hard and in the end, I don’t think either one of them were on the field. Both guys ended up being out but it was a great battle and a great matchup. I thought Talib battled him, went toe-to-toe with him the whole way. It was a good matchup."
And it was a matchup that worked out in the Patriots favor, and ultimately, gave them a chance to win the game.
“All week, we knew," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "All we kept hearing was, ‘Jimmy Graham’, and we knew we’d just have to come in and play. We’d have to play him tough, and you don’t come in and say, 'We just want to try to contain him.’ We can’t know the game plan, we’ve got to try to shut him down.
"That’s the only way we’ll have a chance to win this game, because if he has the types of games he’s been having, we’ll have no shot. It was a total team effort. Aqib did a great job early. We had a bunch of different guys -- Kyle [Arrington] had a big interception and a big play on the goal line against him, so guys stepped up and played tonight.”