In the win, the Patriots held Drew Brees to a paltry 47.2 completion percentage on 36 throws – his lowest mark of the season. They held him to 236 yards and 6.6 yards per attempt – also both season lows. They held a future Hall of Fame quarterback in check that had been playing at an elite level. Keep in mind that in the prior two weeks, Brees had a quarterback rating of 120 or greater, and had only seen the ball hit the ground 15 times. And this was against a couple of pretty solid defenses in Chicago and Miami.
The Patriots were able to get off the field quickly yesterday. They forced an eye-popping seven three and outs against the Saints, including two in the final minutes to give Tom Brady and the offense the extra chances they needed to win the game. They also held a normally efficient Saints offense to a 35% third down conversion rate.
At the beginning of the year, we were all hesitant to say that the Patriots defense was back. They were playing teams with questionable quarterback play, and while they were shutting those opponents down, the critics said that they wouldn’t know if the defense had really improved until weeks four through six. The Patriots opponents during that stretch were, in order, the Falcons, Bengals, and Saints - three teams with established quarterbacks and high powered offenses.
Guess what? Week six has come and gone, and the Patriots defense has held up. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are elite or at the level from their championship years. But the days of saying “oh, well, the Patriots defense sucks” are over. The defense is back – and it’s time that everyone recognizes them as what they are: a good unit.
That being said, not all is perfect on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots have had their fair share of injuries. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is out for the year and his counterpart Tommy Kelly is out for the time being. This has had an effect on the Patriots’ normally stout run defense. The Saints, who generally have a weak running game, were able to pound the Patriots between the tackles with relative ease in the second half yesterday. The Patriots also suffered injuries of an unknown severity to two key three-down players yesterday – Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib.
Nonetheless, even without those key pieces in the closing moments yesterday, the unit stepped up. And for the first time in quite a few years in New England, it looks like the defense can finally be relied upon to help the team win games.