The New England Patriots faced the New Orleans Saints without much of the starting offense. No QB Tom Brady. No RB Dion Lewis. No WR Julian Edelman or WR Danny Amendola or WR Chris Hogan or WR Keshawn Martin. No TE Rob Gronkowski. No RT Sebastian Vollmer.
No problem, said the defense, as they really set the tone early on.
Edge defender Jabaal Sheard stripped the ball from the running back earlier on, but back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was unable to generate any offense behind a line of Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon, and the Patriots gave the ball right back.
That’s okay, said linebacker Jamie Collins, who intercepted a pass and returned it to the house for the first score of the game.
The Patriots converted the 2-point play with a James White run, and then Jamie Collins made an incredible tackle on the first play of the next drive.
The offense stalled for much of the first quarter, with Garoppolo completing just 3/7 for 33 yards, all to TE Martellus Bennett.
We got some good tape on the offensive line and rookie left guard Joe Thuney looked like he deserved to start, while right guard Shaq Mason offered some good protection.
Once the Patriots started to rest their defensive backs, the Saints marched down the field and scored on a goal line dive to make the score 16-8, early in the second quarter.
The Patriots substituted Bryan Stork in for Andrews at center for the start of the second quarter and this remains a competition to watch. Garoppolo found his groove and completed a quick pass to Aaron Dobson on the outside and diagnosed a blitz to get the ball to James White, who carried it 56 yards to the one yard line; Mason and Bennett helped spring White free.
LeGarrette Blount bulldozed his way into the end zone, but the Patriots failed the 2-point conversion to make the score 16-14.
The youngsters on the Patriots defense made some plays, with sophomore edge defender Trey Flowers generating pressure and defensive tackle Malcom Brown making an excellent stop against a double team.
Garoppolo responded with a tremendous drive and a beautiful pass to rookie Malcolm Mitchell on the sideline, but capped it off with an awful throw into serious traffic that was, fortunately, not intercepted. Stephen Gostkowski knocked home a field goal to take a 17-16 lead.
The defense held the Saints and Garoppolo led a two minute drill with the help of rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell flashed great hands, awareness of the sidelines, and yards after the catch for a rookie and looks to have a relatively big impact over the coming months. Unfortunately, he exited the game right before the half with an apparent arm injury. We’re hoping for positive news and a speedy recovery.
Garoppolo led the offense to the 8 yard line and the Patriots went for it on 4th down instead of taking the field goal. White was flexed out wide, but a Saints linebacker broke up the pass as the two went to the ground.
The Patriots lead 17-16 at the half. Let’s hope for no more injuries.