FOXBORO -- When the New Orleans Saints kicked a 39-yard field goal to go up 27-23 with two and a half minutes left in regulation, Patriots fans left in droves. Gillette Stadium has held more people for preseason practices.
Those who stayed were rewarded. Tom Brady orchestrated a classic eight-play, 70-yard game-winning drive in 68 seconds and New England beat the formerly undefeated Saints, 30-27.
"I don't think we were very discouraged," Brady said after the game. "We just said, ‘Look, we've got to do better and if we get it back we’ve got to certainly make more plays.’ There was little margin for error there are the end based on the situation that we were in. Guys really made some great catches and certainly the last one was a great catch in the corner of the end zone."
Two crucial catches were made by Austin Collie, a veteran in his fifth NFL season.
"It's football," he shrugged. "I've seen crazier things, been a part of crazier things with two minutes left, as far as getting the football back. You see turnovers happen in those times, guys putting the ball on the ground, so it's never over. Two minutes is plenty of time."
Though this isn't Collie's first rodeo, it was his first regular season game since September of 2012. Injuries, including four concussions, have kept Collie out of football. One might have wondered if he'd be rusty in his return.
He looked sharp enough on that final drive. The highlight of Collie's night, of the series, was the 9-yard reception that kept New England alive on fourth-and-4.
"You're never down and out," Collie said. "I think we all look to No. 12 in certain situations and he's not shaking. I think that goes down the chain to all of us. I don't think any of us panicked. I think we knew we were still in it and could come back."
Brady's backlog of late-game heroics gave many of his teammates confidence.
“It’s special to have 12 on your team, just to witness that," said cornerback Kyle Arrington. "It’s just incredible, man. I was jumping for joy on the sideline when [Kenbrell Thompkins] made a heck of a catch and Tom, of course, [made] a heck of a throw. It was just a great game.”
It almost wasn't.
After the Saints booted that late field goal and kicked a subsequent touchback, New England had two minutes and 34 seconds to try and regain the lead. Brady went into shotgun and looked deep downfield to Julian Edelman. Edelman was well covered but Brady threw it up anyway. The ball fell into the arms of Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Even then, the Patriots didn't lose heart.
Said Thompkins: “We just knew that it was going to come down to the last minute. Until that clock said all zeros on it, we were going to fight until the finish. And that’s what we did, we just went out there and fought to the finish.”
Such cool calm from an undrafted rookie. But Thompkins earned those words after the catch he made.
New England was working a second-and-10 from the Saints' 17-yard line, and the clock was working against New England. With 10 seconds left to play, Brady had to make his play.
All Patriots targets ran for the end zone. Thompkins made a move, got behind his defender, and snuck into the back left corner.
The pass was perfectly placed.
"That’s what a football teams are all about: using all 53 guys on the roster to try to move the ball down the field and get it into the end zone one way or another," Brady said. "Today it took is 59 minutes and 55 seconds. We needed all that time and it took all that time.
"Great way to finish."