The best way for the Patriots to protect their patchwork secondary is to get after opposing quarterbacks. Last week outside linebacker Willie McGinest was the defensive backs' best friend in that regard.
Showing a spark that has been missing for much of the season, McGinest led a sustained pass rush that had Saints QB Aaron Brooks on the move from New Orleans' very first offensive play. The Patriots managed just one sack - by McGinest, giving him a team-high 3 1/2 for the season - but the pressure kept Brooks from getting into a rhythm until the fourth quarter.
That was a welcome switch for the Patriots, whose 14 sacks have them tied for 31st in the league and far off the pace of their three recent Super Bowl championship seasons. New England had 41 sacks in both 2001 and 2003, and 45 last year.
"I thought he had a pretty good game," defensive end Richard Seymour said of McGinest, who turns 34 next month. "He was beating his man off the edge. Anytime we can get pressure on the quarterback and make him get the ball out of there quick, it's an advantage for us."
McGinest, the fourth overall pick of the 1994 draft, missed 19 games over a five-year span from 1997-2001 as he battled a variety of injuries. He has sat out only twice since then, and his current streak of 32 consecutive starts is the longest on the Patriots' defense.
"When I came here (as a rookie in 2001), a lot of guys were writing him off, saying that he should retire and on and on and on," Seymour said. "But he just kept working hard and he's been one of the cornerstones of this team ever since I've been here. I think just his hard work and his attitude are what have (given him) his longevity."
Recently, McGinest has played with a wrap on his right hand to protect an injured finger.
"I kind of don't think about (the pain)," he said. "It is what it is. You can't cry over it. That's the sport we play. Every guy out here has something banged up or messed up about him. You have to fight through it and keep playing."
--QB Tom Brady remains on pace to set a franchise record for passer rating. Brady is at 96.2, good for fourth place in the NFL behind Carson Palmer (105.6), Peyton Manning (104.6) and Drew Brees (100.0). Tony Eason holds the Patriots record with a 93.4 mark in 1984.
--RB Corey Dillon, who hasn't had a carry the last two games, has slipped to 31st in the league in rushing. Hampered by ankle and calf injuries, he remains stuck at 441 yards.
--K Adam Vinatieri is tied for 21st in the league in scoring with 63 points. He led the NFL with a career-high 141 points in 2004.
--P Josh Miller is ranked second in the NFL in gross average (46.5 yards) and fourth in net average (39.4 yards).
--CB Artrell Hawkins saw plenty of action in his first appearance with the team last week. Hawkins, who signed five days before the game, started out as the nickel back but moved up the depth chart in the fourth quarter when starter Asante Samuel was injured. Hawkins also played on multiple special teams units.
--LB Don Davis leads the team with 17 special teams tackles.
--TE Christian Fauria narrowly missed catching his first TD pass of the season last week as Brady overthrew him in the end zone in the first quarter of last week's win over New Orleans.
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