Patriots Do Enough to Win -- Again

Drama? New England wouldn't be the same team without it. In what should have been a blowout from all accounts, the New Orleans Saints almost pulled out an amazing comeback in a game they should have, rather could have, given up on. It's a testament to how hard the Saints players are playing that they still had an opportunity to tie the game on their last drive in the game. It's also a testament as to how vulnerable the Patriots are against a solid passing attack.

PHOTO: New England Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin (59) celebrates teammate Eugene Wilson's interception on the last play of the game in front of New Orleans Saints Kendyl Jacox at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Sunday, Nov. 20, 2005. The Patriots won 24-17. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Patriots Do Enough to Win -- Again
By Darren Kelly

In a game that was a lot closer than it appeared it was going to be, the Patriots held on for a 24-17 win over the scrappy New Orleans Saints. With several opportunities to put the game away, New England had to hang on until the final play of the game to secure the win.

Needing a first down to run out the clock, the Patriots were called for a holding penalty, then went 3-and-out. With 1:36 remaining, and the Patriots clinging to a 7-point lead, the Saints took over on their own 22. Aaron Brooks (27-for-50 for 343 yards), who had been racking up yards against the Patriots through the air all afternoon, completed his first 3 passes on the drive, moving the ball to the Patriots' 42. With no one open on the next play, Brooks took off up the middle for a 20-yard gain. With just 15 seconds remaining, Brooks lofted one into double coverage in the end zone for Joe Horn (6 catches, 80 yards), but Eugene Wilson intercepted the ball, sealing the win for New England.

The Patriots dominated the Saints for most of the first half in every aspect of the game -- except on the scoreboard. The Saints moved 40 yards in 9 plays on their opening drive, connecting on their first two 3rd downs. But New Orleans had to punt after Brooks threw incomplete to Horn.

The Patriots, starting from their own 2-yard line, marched 98 yards in 16 plays to take the lead. Tom Brady (15-for-29 for 222 yards) completed big passes to Deion Branch and Ben Watson (4 catches for 66 yards) on 3rd downs, and had 83 yards passing on the drive. New England capped the drive with a Brady 2-yard touchdown pass to Branch.

The Saints went 3-and-out on their next possession, as Willie McGinest -- who played a great game -- stopped Antowain Smith (11 carries for 32 yards) on a running play and then pressured Brooks on 3rd down. Following the punt, the Patriots went 48 yards in 5 plays for the 14-0 lead. Brady hit Pass with a 30-yard screen play to the 2-yard line. Mike Vrabel capped the drive with the 6th touchdown reception of his career, a 1-yard toss from Brady.

New England played some solid defense on the Saints' next possession, forcing another 3-and-out, and it looked as if this game might be a blowout. Tim Dwight returned the punt 23 yards to the New Orleans 42, and Brady completed another big 3rd down pass to Watson. But 2 plays later, Will Smith beat Patriot lineman Nick Kaczur from Brady's blind side, forced a fumble, and New Orleans recovered.

The Saints moved the ball to the New England 27, but went for it on 4th down. McGinest rumbled in untouched and forced Brooks to throw early and incomplete. The Patriots went 3-and-out for the first time, and the Saints finally got their offense in gear. Following a McGinest sack, Brooks completed 3 straight passes, including a 3rd-and-20 to Aaron Stecker. The Saints capped the drive with a 7-yard pass to Donte' Stallworth (6 catches for 76 yards), cutting the lead to 14-7 at the half.

New England's offense continued to sputter to start the 2nd half, as Brady was sacked for the 3rd time. The Saints moved the ball well, marching 34 yards in 8 plays, as the Patriots had trouble getting pressure on Brooks. Zachary Hilton (6 catches for 72 yards) hauled in a 25-yard pass on 2nd-and-26, but the Patriots stuffed Stecker on 3rd down, forcing the Saints to punt.

4 plays later, New England was in the end zone. Brady -- who had been trying to go deep without success all day -- finally connected with a deep pass. Following a great play-fake, Brady threw a perfect pass to Andre' Davis for a 60-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

The Saints moved the ball well on their next drive, but once again the Patriots' defense stiffened when necessary. New Orleans came away with nothing as John Carney missed a 30-yard field goal.

The Patriots took over 5 minutes off the clock on their next drive, as they picked up some key yards on the ground thanks to Heath Evans (16 carries for 74 yards). They were aided by 34 yards in penalties on the Saints. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 37-yard field goal to increase the lead to 24-7.

The Saints came right back with a 9-play 48-yard drive, as Brooks hit Stallworth with a 12-yard touchdown toss, cutting the lead to 24-14.

Following a Patriots punt, the Saints had the ball again, but this time had to settle for a field goal. Carney -- who had missed form 30 yards earlier in the game -- connected from 46 yards. This cut the lead to 7, setting up the dramatic finish.

New England, who played solid running defense (holding New Orleans to 87 yards) but struggled once again in pass defense, improved to 6-4 to remain in first place in the AFC East. Up next for New England is a trip to Kansas City to face the Chiefs (5-4 heading into their Sunday night match-up with Houston).

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Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"

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