Picked-up pieces from 4th quarter review

Picked-up pieces from fourth-quarter review of the New England Patriots' 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints:

1. Right defensive end Chandler Jones had a strong game which was capped off by his clutch sweeping tackle of Saints quarterback Drew Brees to give the Patriots the ball back for one final drive (he credited Rob Ninkovich with tipping him off that there could be a bootleg coming to his side). On his sack of Brees with 13:02 remaining in regulation, he executed a nice swim move on left tackle Charles Brown to bring Brees down from the blindside. The play had a coverage element to as well, with Brees looking to tight end Jimmy Graham (checked by Devin McCourty with linebacker Jerod Mayo dropping into his area) before tucking it to absorb the blow.

2. Didn't realize that Brees was attempting to call a timeout before his interception with 12:20 remaining in the quarter, as the playclock nearly expired, and that seemed to contribute to the general disconnect of the overall play. It looked like officials could have called a delay of game on the play, so in that sense, the Patriots perhaps caught a little bit of a break. Similar to the third-down red zone stop in the third quarter, the Patriots rushed just three, and Brees was uncomfortable in the pocket, forced to reset his feet at times. Again, this was an example of how bringing extra rushers (which the Saints did with success) isn't the only way to win.

3. Along those same lines, Brees' 16-yard run came on one of the few Patriots blitzes in the game. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower came on what looked like a delayed blitz, rushing up the middle, but the area he initially vacated was where Brees ultimately scrambled to and there was a lot of real estate for him. Right end Chandler Jones was blocked by two Saints, contributing to the edge not being set.

4. We were somewhat critical immediately after the game on three straight runs for the Patriots from the Saints' 9-yard line on the drive after Brees interception. Looking back on it, it was really only the third-down run that seemed questionable, but now having the benefit of time to review the game has somewhat changed the perspective on that too. Going back to the Patriots' first red zone possession, the Saints had success dropping eight into coverage (Brady sack, 10:31 remaining in first quarter), so the natural counter is to run in those situations. That seemed to be the thinking in the fourth quarter, either from coordinator Josh McDaniels or quarterback Tom Brady checking to the run, but the execution just wasn't there.

5. One of the key defensive plays of the game was cornerback Alfonzo Dennard coming up with a pass-defensed on third-and-7 from the Patriots 21, after the offense had turned the ball over on downs. It was tight man coverage against the bigger Marques Colston down the left sideline, with Dennard playing his technique perfectly and reaching up just as the ball arrived. As Bill Belichick had pointed out in his weekly interview on WEEI, Dennard had been in coverage on the Saints' go-ahead touchdown on the previous drive (it was difficult to tell if safety Steve Gregory was partly responsible) and needed to have a short memory. If he doesn't make that play, forcing the Saints to kick a field goal, the Patriots probably aren't in position to win the game.

6. On Brady's interception on the Patriots' next drive, on a long pass to Julian Edelman, the play was doomed from the start. Bad decision, bad throw. Brady told Peter King of TheMMQB.com: “I saw Julian running through the safety and made a bad read. My worst play of the night.”

7. With linebacker Mayo out with a right shoulder injury, four-year veteran Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins were thrust into the lineup at linebacker as part of the team's short-yardage package, along with Hightower and Brandon Spikes. If Mayo is going to miss some time, Fletcher and Collins will likely be asked to do more.

8. As for the final drive, it was recapped here. Magical stuff.