FOXBOROUGH — Saints quarterback Drew Brees knew his offense couldn’t give Tom Brady and the Patriots too many chances late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
But in its last two possessions, that’s exactly what New Orleans did.
With a 1-point lead and 3:29 remaining, Brees and Co. failed to run out the clock twice, giving the Patriots one last shot. And they cashed in, Brady marching them 70 yards and hitting Kenbrell Thompkins for a 17-yard score with five seconds remaining for a 30-27 win at Gillette Stadium.
“You sit there and rack your brain about, man, we needed to get just one first down so that we could’ve put ourselves in position to run out the clock,” Brees said, “or at least got the clock down so far that it would’ve been nearly impossible to come back.”
The Saints (5-1) had the ball and the lead with 2:46 to go at the Patriots’ 24-yard line, but two straight runs yielded just 3 yards.
The Patriots (5-1) burned two of their three timeouts, so it was third and 7 with 2:33 left. The Saints went to the air as Brees threw to Marques Colston at the goal line, but it was broken up by Alfonzo Dennard.
New Orleans settled for a 39-yard Garrett Hartley field goal to keep it a one-possession game at 27-23 with 2:24 to go.
Saints coach Sean Payton said the pass was an attempt to be aggressive and win the game, even though it left the Patriots with a timeout remaining as well as the two-minute warning.
“You kind of go back and forth with that,” Payton said, “trying to win it, and then you’re also paying attention to how your defense is playing.”
Payton’s defense got the ball back one play later when Brady was intercepted by Keenan Lewis on an ugly, ill-advised deep throw into double coverage intended for Julian Edelman.
The Saints had yet another chance to run out the clock, and this time Payton played it more conservatively.
Khiry Robinson carried for 2 yards on first down, and the Patriots used their final timeout. Then, after Pierre Thomas’s 1-yard run and the two-minute warning, Payton had Brees keep it on a naked bootleg toward the New England sideline, which Chandler Jones swallowed up for a 5-yard loss, forcing a punt.
The conservative approach backfired when the Patriots got the ball back with 1:13 left and Brady gashed the Saints’ secondary with a 23-yard completion to Edelman, and Austin Collie’s first two catches as a Patriot, for 15 and 9 yards, to set up the throw to Thompkins in the back of the end zone.
“They got some chunks,” Payton said of the Patriots’ winning drive. “It was at that point in the game where it was going to have to be some bigger plays, and [Brady] was able to make enough really good throws and the one at the end for the score.”
Payton said his coaching staff considered what to do on the Saints’ final possession and factored in the defense’s ability to get off the field the previous drive before deciding to run to close out the game instead of putting the ball in the air.
“We can wrestle with that for a while,” said Payton as the Saints head into their bye week, “but they made the stops when they needed to and got the ball back and made enough plays.”
Thompkins’s touchdown grab came after a completion to Collie on fourth down brought the ball to the Saints’ 17-yard line and Brady stopped the clock with a spike.
Thompkins got behind Jabari Greer and Brady lobbed a pass to the back left corner, where the rookie hauled it in to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
Greer expressed his frustration on allowing the winning score, saying he’s defended that play “a lot of times in my career.”
“We fought with everything to be in a position [to win],” he said, “and to have one play change everything, that’s tough. You never want to let your team down.”