Graham silenced: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t catch a pass Sunday after racking up four consecutive 100-yard games previously. In a rare tactic, the Patriots used standout cornerback Aqib Talib to shadow Graham for much of the game, as well as frequent double teams. But Graham’s shutout was only a mild surprise, since it’s obvious that a defense would try to do whatever it could to contain him. The bigger surprise was that the Saints weren’t able to exploit their other options.
Receiver Marques Colston had just one catch for 11 yards. Quarterback Drew Brees completed just 17 of 36 passes overall (his biggest coming late when he nailed receiver Kenny Stills for a 34-yard touchdown in double coverage). The Patriots succeeded by getting physical with the Saints, chipping with big guys at the line of scrimmage and running a lot of bump-and-run coverage with their defensive backs.
The good news for the Saints is that such a game plan requires great execution across the board. Maybe other defenses will try to copy the plan, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pull it off.
Graham injured: The bigger concern going forward for the Saints is that Graham left the field late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Graham briefly went back into the game after being taped up, but he eventually limped off the field. The team didn’t offer any postgame updates. Fortunately for the Saints, they have a bye in Week 7 to give him extra time to heal. Perhaps receiver Lance Moore will be close to returning from a hand injury in Week 8, too.
Second guessing? The Saints gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady too many chances to win the game before he finally pulled it off with five seconds remaining. Since hindsight is 20-20, perhaps Saints coach Sean Payton wishes he was more aggressive in his play calling on New Orleans’ final two drives (the Saints attempted one pass on third-and-7 on the first drive and none on the second drive). But Payton didn’t want to throw incomplete passes and stop the clock. He also said he trusted his defense the way it was playing -- and rightly so.
“We can wrestle with that for a while, but they made the stops when they needed to, got the ball back and made plays,” Payton said.
Defense comes close: The Saints' defense ultimately folded with five seconds remaining when cornerback Jabari Greer let receiver Kenbrell Thompkins get behind him in the end zone. It’s a shame the game ended on that note, though, because New Orleans’ defense had been downright dominant for most of the final three quarters. It had held New England out of the end zone on eight previous possessions, including an interception by cornerback Keenan Lewis on the second-to-last drive. The Saints also sacked Brady five times.
Greer shouldered the blame for letting that final play get past him. But he wasn’t the only one.
“We know how to finish. And we never counted them out. They just finished, and we didn’t,” Saints pass-rusher Junior Galette said. “The end result was we didn’t finish, and we’re in the business of winning.”