Tom Brady’s birthday was a glorious day. We discussed greatness and watched highlights of the ageless wonder. Patriot Twitter legend, @fearthe_beard11, created an amazing thread of Brady highlights to brighten everyone's day. One clip in particular, the infamous Brady throw to Kenbrell Thompkins in the endzone, caught my attention.
With the Saints in town for joint practices before their first preseason game, it’s great to remember their last non-preseason matchup. The week six comeback is largely unnoticed as an incredible, historic drive, even with all the circumstances around it.
Look onto the field for the game winning drive and you'll see wideouts Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Austin Collie. Not as frightening as you'd think. The Patriots were at a disadvantage following Danny Amendola being KO'd in the third quarter and with their star tight end Rob Gronkowski inactive.
Julian Edelman played just 42 snaps of the offense's 87 (48%), compared to Dobson's 92%, Thompkins' 68%, and even tight end Michael Hoomanawanui's 86% of offensive snaps. Needless to say, the Patriots faced an uphill battle.
From Scott Zolak’s call in the booth (Unicorns! Showponies! Where’s the beef!?) to the perfectly placed football in the back corner of the endzone, the drive constructed by Josh McDaniels and Brady was magnificent.
I decided to take another look into the past to see how it was all created.
All footage is credited to NFL Game Pass.
1st & 10, ball on NE 30, 1:13 remaining, Edelman 23 yard reception
At the beginning of the snap, New Orleans appeared to be in Cover 3. Then, Malcolm Jenkins, now an elite safety in Philadelphia, rolled back as a deep safety as the Saints switched to a deep quarters coverage. The coverage is known for being successful against vertical attacks, and the Saints were willing to give a play up underneath.
The Patriots were lined up in doubles formation with 10 personnel, a running back and four wide receivers. Brady didn’t take the bait with a short pass to Brandon Bolden, instead, he looked deep for his favorite target, Edelman.
It appears as if Edelman slightly modified his route to take advantage of the quarters coverage they faced. Edelman released outside of the linebacker in coverage, pushing the deep safety closer to the boundary and forcing him to take notice of the streaking Dobson. The safety was a step too far outside as Edelman bent his route inside into the open space.
Brady delivered an extremely difficult and impressive throw to Edelman. Brady and Edelman were on the same page as Brady recognized the soft spot in the coverage, rifling the ball in between the linebacker and deep safety.
1st & 10, ball on NO 47, 0:53 remaining, Collie 15 yard reception
The Patriots remained in their doubles formation as did the Saints with their quarters coverage. The Saints rushed three and sent the rest back in coverage. Seems like a pretty full proof plan, having eight players in coverage, right? Nope.
In what should be a simple pass off between Jenkins and linebacker Curtis Lofton, Collie was left wide open with Jenkins chasing him. Technically, with the Saints' quarters coverage, the ideal situation would have been Jenkins picking up Bolden on his "out" route and Lofton taking on Collie's 10 yard "in" route. However, Lofton failed to read the play correctly and failed to notice Collie behind him, chasing Bolden on the quick-out.
The miscommunication between Jenkins and Lofton left Jenkins stumbling. Collie's and Bolden's hard cuts happen simultaneously, and as Brady noticed Lofton take a slight step towards Bolden, he began his throwing motion towards Collie.
1st & 10, ball on NO 32, 0:39 remaining, Dobson 6 yard reception
Brady played his classic mind tricks, motioning that he will spike the ball before the snap. With the Saints asleep before the snap, he threw a quick screen to Dobson, who managed to pick up a decent gain and get out of bounds to stop the clock.
About thirty seconds into the drive and Brady had completed three consecutive passes, and, more importantly, the Patriots had already picked up 44 yards. Just how they had it drawn up.
If only it had been a tad bit more effective, like Dan Marino's classic fake spike.
2nd & 4, ball on NO 26, 0:35 remaining, incomplete pass to Edelman
Before the snap, the Saints appeared to be in Cover 1 with their 3-3-5 personnel. With the Patriots’ “go” routes on the boundaries, the Patriots would have had the advantage against a deep single-high coverage, which would have forced the safety to choose one of the two.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker Ramon Humber showed blitz on opposite sides, and Jenkins attacked the line at the snap as the defensive backs rolled into Cover 2. Humber dropped into coverage, leaving an unbalanced blitz on the left side of the offensive line.
McDaniels and the Patriots offense ran a simple “four verticals” scheme, and Edelman had a step on the linebacker that was covering him man-to-man. Keenan Lewis - the defensive back responsible for the right side of the field - was unable to help over the top of Edelman’s route because Dobson was well ahead of his man.
Brady felt the pressure and was forced to release a second early, slightly underthowing a diving Edelman. If Logan Mankins had been able to stop the pressure from Junior Galette’s loop into the left side “A-gap,” there’s no doubt in my mind that Brady would have fired a rocket to Edelman for the win here.
3rd & 4, ball on NO 26, 0:30 remaining, incomplete pass to Edelman
The Patriots remained in doubles formation, but Thompkins lined up closer to the hashes as two receivers on the left side were bunched together. The Saints showed a Cover 4 look with two deep safeties about 20 yards off of the ball.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, the Saints chose to only rush three, hoping that Brady won’t be able to find a weakness in their zone coverage. Brady does in fact find a weakness, just not the right one. Edelman runs a deep post, and just as soon as he’s past the second-level, Brady fired away. Edelman happened to split the two high safeties to find the open field, but Brady’s pass was just ever so slightly behind him, forcing Edelman to slide awkwardly. The safety, Vaccaro, reached Edelman just in time, pouncing on him and forcing the ball loose.
It’s a game of inches.
Brady’s biggest mistake on this play wasn’t the missed throw; Edelman holds onto that ball in that situation nine times out of ten. However, as stated earlier, the mistake is that he didn’t find the right weakness in the zone defense. The two bunched receivers on the left allowed Thompkins more space outside the numbers, and, for just a brief moment, he was in an open window - a throw that Brady would certainly make. Also, Brady missed Bolden as the defense made two mistakes to leave Bolden wide open on the wheel route. The outside linebacker, watching Brady so intently, failed to see Bolden on the route, while the cornerback followed Dobson’s deep “go” route, leaving Bolden open on the boundary.
I don’t blame Brady for his decision, though. With no timeouts and on a third down, he was likely not so sure of how many more chances he had to get into the endzone.
4th & 4, ball on NO 26, 0:24 remaining, Collie 9 yard reception
On the crucial fourth down, the Saints line up in a Cover 2 Man defense. New Orleans was confident that their press cornerbacks could stay with the receivers between the sticks, and, if a receiver won deep, that their two deep safeties could close the gap.
The Patriots altered their doubles formation, sending in Hoomanawanui for Edelman. That means, Brady’s “weapons” for the do-or-die fourth down included Collie, Hoomanawanui, Dobson, and Thompkins (thankfully).
With one quick stutter step, Collie had a step on the defender. Collie then completed his 10 yard “comeback” route, leaving the defender off-balanced for a slight second. Brady was able to find Collie at the numbers for the first down.
What might go unnoticed here is how close New England was to losing before Brady even threw. The Saints only rushed four, but those four gave the Pats OL everything they had. At the snap, Sebastian Vollmer engaged Cameron Jordan, who then, with one quick swat of the hands, looped inside to the right side “A-gap” between RG Marcus Cannon and OC Ryan Wendell. The defensive tackle did his job, driving Cannon back from the line of scrimmage, leaving Cannon unable to complete the switch. Jordan had a clear shot at Brady before Wendell luckily chipped the defensive end, slowing him down. The loop didn’t bother Brady as he stood strong in the pocket and kept the game alive.
1st & 10, ball on NO 17, 0:11 remaining, Brady spikes ball
Not much to say here. The Patriots had about two more shots to the endzone.
2nd & 10, ball on NO 17, 0:10 remaining, Thompkins 17 yard TD
Brady and the Pats had about two shots left to the endzone; they only needed one. The Patriots were lined up in 11 personnel with Thompkins, Collie, Bolden, Hoomanawanui, and Dobson all on the field.
The Saints lined up in Cover 2 Man, but with a couple modifications. For one, the right cornerback was about 10 yards backed off of his assignment, Dobson, as he wasn’t worried about anything underneath with only 10 seconds remaining. Additionally, instead of being man-to-man with Bolden, the middle linebacker dropped into deep zone coverage, nearly creating Cover 3.
With man responsibilities underneath, the two deep safeties split the field in half for their coverage. However, with the Patriots’ two outside wide receivers, Thompkins and Dobson, each running a fade route, it would have taken a safety like Devin McCourty to hunt down the ball, if thrown properly.
Brady released the throw before Thompkins had even beat cornerback Jabari Greer. With confidence in the undrafted rookie free agent, Brady delivered a perfect ball in the window between the trailing corner and the closing safety. Five seconds remained and the Patriots covered the kickoff to seal the comeback.