5 takeaways from the Patriots-Saints game

Here are five takeaways from the Patriots’ 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints Sunday in which Tom Brady proved for the 38th time in his career that he, and only he, is the lion of Foxborough.

1. Short-term memories — The most profound aspect of Tom Brady’s game-winning drive is his rather amnesiac response following a brutal fourth-quarter interception. That turnover should have sealed the team’s fate. But in Brady, as well as his teammates, there was no sense of loss or any dispiritedness afoot.

“I think the whole team is like that,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “But Tom is great competitor. Everybody has to – you have a short memory in this game. Same thing with Zo [Alfonzo Dennard] on the long pass and then the breakup on the go-route on our sideline. You have to have a short memory. You have to come back and play the next play. Look, we all have bad plays out there, every one of us: missed blocks, missed tackles, bad calls, bad throws, drops, whatever it is. But competitors come back and keep competing and come back and get it the next time. Nobody is going to play a perfect game, we know that. But you just have to keep competing and try to eliminate, make as few of those mistakes as possible.”

Said Brady: “You have to [have a short memory] in football. As great as a win as this is, we have to come to work tomorrow and we’re on the clock against the Jets. They’re going to be motivated. They lost, they’re playing at home and we’ve already played them once. No matter what happens, you have to start working on next week. We have to learn from the things we did well and learn from the things we did poorly and try to get to 6-1. That’s the goal this week.”

Brady turned around from that fourth quarter interception and went 5 of 8 passing for 70 yards, including the winning 17-yard touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins. Prior to that drive, he had thrown for only 36 yards in the entire second half.

2. Austin Collie comes up huge in a pinch — There’s a lot to be said about the complexities of the Patriots offense, particularly for wide receivers new to the scheme. But apparently the team’s 1-minute offensive playbook is slim enough for any sage veteran to learn it well. Collie, signed on Oct. 3, subbed in for injured wide receiver Danny Amendola on the final drive of the game and was able to come up with two huge catches for 24 yards. It was remarkable that he was able to have such a huge impact at a critical juncture in the game. But it doesn’t come without a week’s full of extra preparation, according to his coach.

“He’s worked hard,” Belichick said. “Chad O’Shea, our receivers coach, and Austin have worked very hard on the assignments and plays, formations and all that. Those guys spend, it must be like two, two and a half hours a day after everybody else does, just going over stuff, walking through it and it really paid off today.

“You have to give Austin a lot of credit for coming in here and being ready to go, like you said, really at the most critical time in the game.”

Read the full post: 5 takeaways from the Patriots-Saints game – Extra Points – Boston.com.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Saints – Boston.com

FOXBOROUGH – There will be a huge emphasis on how the Patriots perform on offense against the New Orleans Saints, especially considering the team is coming off its worst offensive outing in four years.

Here’s what you should be looking for:

1. Does Stevan Ridley give the Patriots a boost? – The third-year running back is listed as questionable for today’s game. He missed last week’s game against the Bengals with a knee injury. It just so happens that the Patriots had a season-low 82 yards rushing in his absence, brought on by both a lack of production at his position and a viable passing attack. We know Ridley can help. But will the Patriots consistently go to him?

2. Improvement upon improvement – We’re now a month away from the debacle that was the New York Jets game, in which Patriots receivers were so far off their marks with Tom Brady that the veteran quarterback’s frustrations were quite visible. In the weeks following, we’ve seen the Patriots’ new receivers – Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and even Danny Amendola – prove to be much more on the same page, but quite far off from consistent. They’ve had issues with drops (Amendola had three last week) and running the right routes. So now, against a formidable defense and the class of the NFC, would be a good time to show that they have demonstrably improved.

Read the whole story: What to watch for as the Patriots host the Saints – Extra Points – Boston.com.

Yahoo Source: Roman Harper, Jo-Lonn Dunbar earned cash incentives for hits during Saints playoff win – Yahoo! Sports

Source: Roman Harper, Jo-Lonn Dunbar earned cash incentives for hits during Saints playoff win – Yahoo! Sports.

Mike Silver has the story that sheds a little more light on this Saints bounty scandal. Again, this would all make a little more sense if fans — and players — had a better idea of what the league’s evidence was against the team. So far, everything is just obfuscated.

My divisional playoff picks: Patriots, 49ers, Texans and Giants

Are you shocked already? You should be. I’m going on a limb here, both because of a rookie quarterback, some new faith in Alex Smith and the New York Giants.

Make no mistake about it, this is a weekend in which a lot of faith is necessary. The 49ers will not have an easy go of it against the New Orleans Saints. There’s no team hotter in the NFL right now. What Drew Brees can do with a football makes my eyes light up like a little kid. But the same can be said of the 49ers’ defense. There’s no team like it in the NFL, and also in that sense, there’s no team like the 49ers that changes the offensive strategy of an opponent. Opposing teams literally have to give up their running game. With an eye on defense, and the unbelievable possibility that Alex Smith will surprise, I see the one of three big upsets occurring in the divisional playoffs. Yup, I went there.

Saints at 49ers — See above.
My pick: 49ers

Broncos at Patriots — I happen to think that the Patriots are a better team than the Steelers offensively in every fashion. So much better than the Steelers, and Broncos, that I believe Denver’s defense will find itself on its backside by midway through the second quarter. The onus will be on Tim Tebow to save his team by helping the Broncos put up more than 30 points, something they haven’t done since early December. The Patriots average 32.1 points per game, almost two touchdowns more than the Broncos (19.3). In the last go round, everything came down to turnovers. This time, everything will be much more offensively oriented. At least that’s my prediction. (Depending on how you look at it, that could mean defensively oriented.) The Patriots win that battle.
My pick: Patriots

Texans at Ravens — On the road against a rested and feisty Baltimore Ravens team, I envision the T.J. Yates led Texans beating the Ravens. Not because of the rookie though, but because of its phenomenal defense (amazing effort against the Bengals) and the lack of a passing game that has come to characterize the Ravens’s offense (No. 19 in the NFL) in the final weeks of the season. I don’t believe a weekend away from the gridiron can correct their problems. On the other hand, there’s game film on these two from Week 6, a 29-14 win for the Ravens, when Joe Flacco was still pitching like a top-flight quarterback and Matt Schaub was healthy. The difference now, it seems to me, is that one team is hot and the other is not. Any team that struggles with the Cleveland Browns and falls to the San Diego Chargers isn’t deserving of going forward from this point. But then I also said any team that loses three in a row to end the season is bound for a plane ticket home too.
My pick: Texans

Giants at Packers — It is my humble opinion that when an awesome defense faces an awesome offense, and a very good offense faces a mediocre-to-poor defense, the team with the awesome defense will win. What we saw in wild-card weekend was an awesome defense, fiery and dominant in every respect. The Packers are an amazing team, but even in their 38-35 win over the Giants in Week 13, they allowed an alarming amount of points. Imagine if the Giants can wipe at least one touchdown off the board? Don’t imagine it. It’s going to happen.
My pick: Giants

Last week: 2-2
Regular season: 135-83 (61.9 percent)

Reaction to wild-card weekend, Tebow strikes again

Tim Tebow, the incredible, struck again. This time, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Why is it every time I feel the odds are stacked against Tim Tebow, particularly when I think there is NO WAY he can overcome them, he goes ahead and wins football games in the most stunning of fashions? Certainly I’m not the only one to feel this way. And I guess that’s what adds to the phenomena behind Timothy Richard Tebow. He simultaneously surprises, enthralls, inspires and enrages football fans. The way he wins, both awkward and unorthodox, late but timely, and marvelously highlight driven, is uncharacteristic in any regard. It’s spawned Tebow Time, and Tebow Magic, something no quarterback has ever done in comparison. It’s historic. It’s humbling. It galvanizes. It’s pure entertainment.

On the first play of overtime, Tebow found Demaryius Thomas over the middle of the field on a play-action pass for an 80-yard touchdown. Heads are still spinning. With Thomas’ quick stiff arm and 55-yard sprint, he left a wake of dropped jaws and speechless Twitter users. (How many times did you see just “Wow” in your Twitter stream?) Not to forget a felled Pittsburgh Steelers team that was destined to go in and challenge the juggernaut in New England. I can’t think of a play even as close to amazing as that one from the entire weekend.

But besides the Broncos shocking the world (there is truly a “world is against them” aura floating over there), there were three other games going on of high interest. Saints-Lions, Texans-Bengals and Giants-Falcons. Just a couple of thoughts on each.

– I swear the Lions would’ve won against the Saints if they could simply catch the gift-wrapped interceptions Drew Brees was floating to their defensive backs. A failure to capitalize on turnovers is just as much as a failure to score points in the playoffs. It was so egregious I was ready to suit up and sub for Aaron Berry (no relation) to get the job done. (C’mon dude, no one would ever know….)

– The Falcons are disappointing. Forget the fact that I picked against them in this game, but at least have the cajones to put some points on the board. Two points? 2? Dos? That’s irresponsible. Outrageous even. You can’t win unless you score some points, plain and simple. Credit to the New York Giants for shutting them down. Matt Ryan is not an elite quarterback.

– How many times was Andy Dalton going to go for the home run, rather than look for a single? Yes, let’s use a mixed sports analogy here in describing the quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals. Dalton’s three interception were inexcusable in the Bengals’ loss to the Houston Texans. Particularly his fourth quarter bomb to Houston’s Danieal Manning with seven minutes remaining. That’s what sealed the loss. Forget the pass to Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, which was a freak of athletic nature. But his final two interceptions really were boneheaded picks, something only a rookie would do. On the flip side, I liked T.J. Yates’ game and Arian Foster. I can see the Texans doing well against the Baltimore Ravens. And on that note …

I’m going to follow up with my picks for the divisional playoffs later today. It’ll be the first time I pick for, or against, the Patriots. So there’s that. Check it out.

The ‘I told you so’ post died with 4 minutes to go

Man, it sucks to be wrong. But I’m glad I am.

There’s no way I should take a loss well after my last post, but I think I can accept this one. The New Orleans Saints were galvanized by the soul of their city (no laughing matter) for a 31-17 win in the Super Bowl. It showed when they came out in the second half, immediately puncturing the placidity of the game with a successful onside kick. (Surely an instant addition to the best plays in Super Bowl history.)

The scrum in that pile was some of the most inspiring stuff I’ve seen in a long time, with players grappling and fighting with one another for almost five minutes. Five minutes.

Five minutes.

Tracy Porter’s interception on Peyton Manning’s go-to play (a three-step drop and slant pattern to one of three receivers) was the obvious deal breaker. But it was the constant poise of quarterback Drew Brees — an accurate 32-of-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the game — that paced an almost methodic New Orleans team. He was much better than I could have ever expected. (A whopping 114 quarterback rating.)

And it was because of his long passes to Marques Colston, two-point conversion to Lance Moore and dump offs to Jeremy Shockey and company, that the Saints were able to keep the Colts and Manning off the field long enough to stunt Indianapolis’ fast start.

I’m just glad the Saints won in this fashion. Because it was suspenseful. It was inspired. It was a culmination of an amazing season and an even more amazing Cinderella story for the city of New Orleans. Prospects of a Saints win were doubtful all the way up until Shockey scored that touchdown. It was pretty much a guarantee that the Colts were going to beat the spread (-6).

Everything unraveled on that onside kick. That Saints recovery meant everything to the team — its first break of the game. And it kept Manning off the field long enough for Brees and company to finally put six on the board the old fashioned way.

Amazing.

And yes, I’m glad to be wrong about the outcome.

Not drinking the Saints kool-aide (or daiquiri)

Somehow, you knew this was coming.

You had to. Otherwise, you’re just some fair-weather reader and you’ll be naturally disgusted one way or the other with my reasoning.

Boo hoo.

The New Orleans Saints are not going to win the Super Bowl. Sorry dad, mom, grandma, granddad, and everyone else in the family who is pinning their hopes on some Miami miracle. It ain’t happening. (Or, as I almost titled this post, “Who dat say they gonna beat dem Colts?” Thank God for sanity … and a journalism instructor that drilled into my mind the wisdom to shun abnormally overused clichès.)

Indianapolis Colts (-6) over New Orleans Saints

Chalk it up to the tale of two defenses. One is sketchy beyond measure, while the other (while healthy) is manageable and decidedly the game changer. All week you’ve been inundated with talks of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Reggie Bush, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney. Of all of those amazing names, and much more unnamed, only Freeney will ultimately shift the makeup of this game and alter its outcome simply by his presence.

Because out of the five names, we know exactly what four of them will do. And yes, they will all have amazing games, as we’ve grown accustomed to. But it’s Freeney (not Wayne) who we worry will play in any decent shape.

There’s a reason for all of the Freeney hype you’ve read in the last two weeks.

When Brees is pushed to the limit — I’m talking about hurried, hit and sacked — like all good quarterbacks, he steps up to the plate. Taking a closer peek at the numbers reveals. In what should be a heralded offensive line, Brees has gone through the entirety of the 2009-10 season being sacked only 20 times, which was seventh best in the NFL among 32 qualifying quarterbacks. (Based on games played and passes attempted. Also, his counterpart, Manning, was ranked second behind only Vince “I played half a season” Young.) Coupled with a great arm, amazing accuracy and above solid wide receivers, he’s exploded this season, completing 70 percent of his passes and throwing 34 touchdowns to only 11 interceptions. His quarterback rating is off the chart, so to speak (109.6).

But in games where No. 9 took on two or more sacks, the Saints’ margin of victory (11.27) increased to (14.4). That’s right, increased.

What does this say? Or, more precisely, what doesn’t it say? When Drew Brees has time to think, he doesn’t make quick decisions, getting rid of the ball and therefore putting more points on the board for the Saints.

What else does it say? That if I’m right, and Freeney (13.5 sacks) is less than 100 percent (wondering if he’ll take one of those shots in the rear) than the state of Indiana wants him to be, the Colts will lack the pass rush they think is necessary. In a confused, round about way, this will work to the Colts’ advantage. Brees will over-think things, tossing into the wild. (This is, as I would presume, the one game where you don’t want your players to think too much.) And make no mistake about it, Freeney is someone you have to think about, account for and put in the gameplan. He’ll keep Brees’ mind off of any sort of awkward throws he would concoct in his own right. But without him, the question mark on Brees’ game will only bolden without the pressure.

We’re talking mind games here people.

And let me tell you something else, that Manning fella is pretty good about not letting anyone get into his head — for any reason. Plus, every time I’ve bet against Manning I’ve lost. So I won’t suggest to you such an idiotic expenditure of your precious coin without toying with some other concocted reasoning. I know, it sucks. But so does NASCAR. Wait, whaaaa?