Jon Scott: The Patriots misfired on three or so plays that could have kept them in it late, that is if their defense had any ability whatsoever to slow down Brees and company. The first was a crucial interception by Brady in the first quarter right after Wes Welker returned a Saints punt 46 yards. The second was in the second quarter when Brady completed a 2-yard pass to Wed Welker on third-and-5, forcing NE to kick a FG on the Saints 18. The Pats marched down the field methodically and could have answered the 75-yard bomb with a TD, but instead fell behind 17-10. And the last was the missed FG by Gostkowski which could have cut into the Saints lead before the half.
The Saints were able to stifle Randy Moss and Wes Welker by doubling the players while still getting pressure on New England's offense line with just a four-man rush. It was an ugly performance by New England's banged-up line, and the pressure helped the banged-up Saints secondary cover just long enough to frustrate Brady into checkdowns and secondary targets.
Q: Was Randy Moss just being polite when he complimented Vontae Davis and Sean Smith after the Nov. 8 meeting at Gillette Stadium, or do you sense a genuine respect for the Dolphins' rookie cornerbacks?
JS: I think Moss did a gracious compliment for the Dolphins who played a good game but lost because they couldn't close a one-score lead late in the game. Moss knew that. The press wrote about how Moss chewed up the Miami defense the last time Brady and Moss were together, but that didn't happen. I think Randy is gracious enough to give young players a certain level of respect when they're humble. Guys like Darrell Revis and the Jets don't get the respect because they claim they shut Moss down single-handedly. I think Moss does have respect for the young Dolphins defenders.
Q: Wes Welker continues to rack up the catches, but his yards per catch average isn't very high; just where do you rank him among the elite NFL receivers?
JS: Welker is the blue-collar receiver that every team needs to keep the offense rolling. He's just better at getting open and making yards after the catch than many receivers in the NFL. His numbers are down because teams have figured out how to cover both him and Moss without getting beaten by the tight end or the 3rd/4th WR or even a RB.
Is he elite? In a different sense maybe. I don't think many players can do what Welker does each season. Before the Saints game he was on pace to lead the league in receptions … again, after missing two games due to injury. He may not be the highlight reel catch type of player, or an Andre Johnson/Randy Moss/Larry Fitzgerald type, but Welker is just as valuable … at least to the Patriots.
Q: The offensive line was dealing with some injuries at the time of the first meeting; how is the line now?
JS: Probably worse. LT Matt Light is still banged up, and he rotated in and out of the lineup since his original injury. Rookie OT Sebastian Vollmer took over for Light and did an admirable job, but he left the Jets game with a head injury and didn't play Monday vs the Saints. Starting RG Stephen Neal also missed time due to injury, he played, but is still dealing with recovering from bumps and bruises. RT Nick Kaczur was hurt two weeks ago, but returned to the game because the Patriots didn't' have any other healthy tackles left. Center Dan Koppen also missed some time due to injury.
So you're going to see players like OT Mark LeVoir, OG/C Dan Connolly and OG Rich Ohrnberger fill in on the line, until the starting five are healthy again. That disruption caused havoc with the Patriots' ability to sustain drives. When healthy, they're a much better unit.
Q: Why aren't the Patriots running Laurence Maroney more than they have been?
JS: Negative plays. Maroney has more of them than any other back on the roster. Fumbles, negative runs, missed adjustments; they're all there. Maroney knows he has to improve. For the Patriots, it isn't always about being a 100-yard back in a game, it's about doing what's expected on a play and achieving part,if not all, of the objective (4-5 yards per carry). Sometimes Maroney will get you 10 or 12 yards, while other times he'll take a 2-, 3-yard loss, or worse, cough the ball up.