New Orleans had opportunities to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions in Foxborough, but they couldn't quite come up with the final score to tie the game. New England's philosophy of bend-don't-break defense allowed them to keep the Saints out of the endzone enough to allow Tom Brady to outscore the opponent. Brooks passed for over 340 yards in the comeback, but it was the final ten he needed to force OT. Report cards for both teams.

PHOTO: New England Patriots defensive back Eugene Wilson holds up the football after an interception during the final seconds of the game against the New Orleans Saints in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday Nov. 20, 2005. The Patriots beat the Saints, 24-17. At right is Patriots defensive end Marquise Hill. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By Site Staff


PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- A strange day for Tom Brady, who completed just over half his throws (he entered the game connecting at a 62.9 percent clip) but finished with three touchdowns and his fourth-highest passer rating of the season (111.6). Brady opted for low-percentage passes all day, throwing deep eight times and connecting only once -- with Andre' Davis on a 60-yard TD bomb. Tight end Benjamin Watson was big early but didn't catch a pass over the game's final 40 minutes. Three sacks, including one that led to a lost fumble, were a major negative.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- With Corey Dillon (calf) inactive, Heath Evans (16 carries for 74 yards) and Patrick Pass (13-53) combined for 29 rushes and 127 yards. Pass got almost half of his work (six carries for 21 yards) on the Patriots' opening drive, which covered 98 yards. Pass' 31-yard run on a third-and-8 from the Pats 9 in the third quarter got them out of trouble and set up Davis' TD on the next play. Evans ran hard for the second straight game and had a 20-yard gain to go along with a 21-yarder from the previous week.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Applied good pressure on Saints QB Aaron Brooks, although he was sacked only once. Brooks became the third straight QB to pass for 300 yards against the Patriots (343 yards), although 125 of those came in the fourth quarter when New Orleans was trying to dig out of a 24-7 hole. The Patriots defensive backs made a last-second defensive stand for the second straight week, but four Saints -- Joe Horn, Donte' Stallworth, Zachary Hilton and Aaron Stecker -- had six catches each for between 72 and 80 yards.

RUN DEFENSE: A -- Take away Brooks' 30 yards on scrambles and the Saints got just 57 yards on the ground. The Patriots bottled up former teammate Antowain Smith (11 carries for 32 yards), and a Saints running back didn't pick up a first down on the ground until the final two minutes of the third quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Aaron Stecker's 46-yard kickoff return that set up a Saints touchdown in the fourth quarter was the lone blemish on another solid day of coverage. New Orleans' other four kick returns went for 22, 23 and 23 yards, and Az Zahir-Hakim averaged just 7 yards on four punt returns. Tim Dwight's 23-yard punt return was a highlight, and Adam Vinatieri hit his lone field-goal attempt.

COACHING: B-plus -- Trying circumstances for head coach Bill Belichick, given his father's death the night before. The offensive play calling was curious at times -- Why so many deep throws when they weren't connecting? What happened to Watson after the first drive? -- but injuries have greatly diminished the Patriots' options on that side of the ball. Had the game ended midway through the fourth quarter (with the Patriots up 24-7), it would have been their most efficient victory of the season. As it was, the Patriots were able to win back-to-back games for the first time this year.



PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Aaron Brooks had his best game in several weeks as he completed 27 of 50 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns and only one interception. Brooks was sacked just once and he had a passer rating of 80.7. The Saints averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt as four players had at least 70 yards receiving. Joe Horn caught six balls for 80 yards, Donte Stallworth caught six for 76 yards and a pair of TDs, and tight end Zach Hilton and Aaron Stecker each had 72 yards on six receptions.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Saints averaged 4.1 yards per carry, but they ran only 21 times as they tried to throw more to take advantage of the Patriots' beat-up secondary. Antowain Smith finished with a team-high 32 yards on 11 tries, and Brooks and Stecker had 30 and 25 yards, respectively. The Saints, however, failed to make a critical third-and-1 play on a run up the middle by Stecker late in the third quarter, and four plays later the Patriots scored at the end of a 91-yard drive.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- After Tom Brady hit on 10 of 13 passes for 118 yards and two TDs on the Patriots' first two drives, the Saints played decently against the pass as he completed 5 of 16 for 104 yards with three sacks and a lost fumble the rest of the way. One mistake was costly to the Saints: his 60-yard scoring strike to Andre Davis that gave the Pats a 21-7 lead late in the third quarter. Brady was 15 of 29 for 222 yards with three scores, no interceptions and a passer rating of 111.6. The Saints did a good job on Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, as he had five catches for 38 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Patriots were missing Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk because of injuries, so unheralded Heath Evans and Patrick Pass took full advantage of the situation to gash the Saints' porous run defense. Evans, a fullback, rushed for a game-high 74 yards and 4.6 yards a pop on 16 carries, while Pass, who had been out with a hamstring injury, added 53 on 13 carries. One of Pass' runs went for 31 yards on third-and-8 from their own 9, and Brady threw the 60-yard scoring pass to Davis on the next play. As a team, the Patriots finished with 132 yards on 30 carries and averaged 4.4 yards a carry.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Once again, the Saints played poorly on special teams. Even Pro Bowl punter Mitch Berger struggled as he averaged just 32.3 yards on four kicks. Two of his punts were shanked, and the other two were short on purpose as the Saints downed them inside the Patriots 10, leaving him with a net average of 26.5. K John Carney missed a 30-yard field-goal try but came back to make a 46-yarder that pulled the Saints within 24-17 late in the game. The Saints also had three penalties, including a delay of game before Carney misfired and a block-in-the-back call on Terrence Melton that forced them to start their final drive that could have tied the game from their own 22 instead of the 32.

COACHING: B -- Coming off a bye week, the Saints' coaches did a good job keeping their players focused during a tough road game even though they fell behind 14-0 after the Patriots' first two drives. But they rebounded from it and outplayed the two-time defending Super Bowl champs over the final 43 minutes and even had a chance to get to overtime with two shots from the Pats' 22 in the closing seconds.

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