NEW ORLEANS – Just in case any Saints fans forgot about Oct. 13, 2013, the New England Patriots sent a forget-me-not to the City of New Orleans on Saturday night.
10/13/13 was the day the 5-0 Saints led the Patriots 27-23 with 2:24 to play on a 39-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley. And New Orleans could not finish the Pats off, losing 30-27 on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to rookie free agent wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
On Saturday night, August 22, 2015, the Saints led New England 24-20 with 8:54 to go on a 21-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins and could not finish it. New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski, a Baton Rouge native to boot, booted a 36-yard field goal with 3:21 to go and the game winner from 35 yards out with 19 seconds left for a 26-24 exhibition victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“There were good things, and there were bad things that make you,” Saints coach Sean Payton said and audibled to another comment. His original call may have been, “that make you sick.”
He opted for, “that get you frustrated as a coach” to finish his sentence. “I think you want to have a good taste in your mouth. You want to win the game,” Payton said.
But it was just preseason, and the Saints did look much better in the first half as it took a 21-0 lead with 1:08 to go in the second quarter on a 6-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Luke McCown to tight end Josh Hill.
And quarterback Drew Brees looked as good as ever in his first action of the preseason after sitting out last week’s preseason opening loss at Baltimore. Now 36, Brees completed 8 of 10 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns, including a perfect 45 yarder to second-year wide receiver Brandon Cooks, age 21, in which he hit him in stride right on the hands. Brees looked 21, too.
“I felt like it was the best I’ve thrown the ball in a long time,” Brees said. “It was time to kick things up a notch.”
And just like that he called it a night after one quarter with a 15-0 lead over New England. New Orleans led 21-7 at halftime and had the Pats out gained 251 yards to 152 at the time. McCown completed 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards.
“I was pleased early on emotionally,” Payton said. “I thought we came out ready to play. I thought defensively we did a good job.”
Until the end, that is. The Saints also blew a late lead last week at Baltimore. They led 27-23 in the final moments before falling 30-27.
The Saints nearly threw a shutout in the first half with every member of its starting secondary not playing a down because of injuries. They held the Pats to 152 yards in the first half as Brady was just 2 of 5 for 13 yards. And this was when both teams had their front line players in the game.
But whether the fourth quarter was a backup bonanza or not, old habits apparently die hard.
And defensive coordinator Rob Ryan needs to nip this nasty late game habit in the bud right now.