FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots put together a drive in the closing minutes of their season-opening game against the Bills that enabled them to get close enough for the winning field goal, but that drive was quite a bit different than the one they needed Sunday to beat the Saints.
In Buffalo, Tom Brady had well over four minutes, three timeouts, and the two-minute warning to work with, meaning the team didn’t have to run the no-huddle. And with the Patriots trailing by 1 point, they only needed to get into field goal range.
That afternoon, Brady went to the two faces he trusted most at that time to move the ball: Shane Vereen, with whom he’d been working for going on three years, and Danny Amendola, the veteran but newcomer to the receiver group with whom he’d developed a quick rapport.
But against New Orleans, Brady got the ball with a mere 73 seconds left, with no timeouts or two-minute warning, and the Patriots trailing by 4 points — meaning they had to get into the end zone to win the game. And they had to use the no-huddle, which because of all the new faces being integrated into the offense hasn’t been used nearly as much as it had in recent seasons.
Making matters a bit tougher, Vereen was at home nursing a broken wrist suffered in that Bills game, and Amendola wasn’t available either: he was out of the game with a concussion suffered in the third quarter.
So when Brady took the field at the New England 30, he had Julian Edelman, the only player he’d worked with before this April, rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, and newcomer Austin Collie, signed just 10 days earlier.
Despite the restrictions, Brady and the offense made the plays necessary, with completions to all four of those receivers, capped by Thompkins’s 17-yard winning touchdown.
On Monday, Thompkins acknowledged that the drive may not have been possible a month or so ago and it’s a sign of the offense’s growth that the unit was able to get it done.
“Definitely, definitely, I’m thinking we’re getting better every week, so that’s a positive note, to know that we’re getting better each and every week,” he said. “Just going out, just trying to get better and focus on the next opponent.”
“The best part for me was just looking in that huddle and realizing that every guy was ready to do what it took to win,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI. “That’s pretty clutch to me. That’s going to give us some really good motivation over the course of the year that no matter what the situation is, we’re going to be able to try to figure a way out.”
Brady added that the young wideouts have stepped up this season.
“No one gave up yesterday at any point,” he said. “What the receivers have done, really making it a receiver-oriented offense without [Rob] Gronkowski, it’s all fallen on their shoulders. If they make the plays, we win. If they don’t, then we lose like we did last week. But we’re going to keep feeding those guys, see if they can come up with the plays. They give me no reason not to believe in them.”
Interestingly, Brady said the Patriots had run the touchdown play to Thompkins several times in practice, but that it hadn’t been completed much, if at all. But Thompkins said they ran the play Friday, and it was successful.
Either way, against the Saints, it worked just when they needed it to most.
Getting snaps together in game situations is invaluable, but part of the reason the Patriots’ offense has shown improvement — even if it hasn’t always been consistent improvement — are weekly film sessions run by Brady on Tuesdays, which is typically the players’ day off.
“It helps us in all kinds of ways,” Thompkins said. “It actually gives us the — just a point of how you want things done and actually helps us, helps us offensively, helps us individually and it can give us an edge.”
“We’re just in there, we might watch a couple of games by ourselves and get our communication right,” Dobson said.
Even with their ability to move the ball so well late against New Orleans, Dobson expects they’ll all be together again this Tuesday.
“Probably, no doubt. Just have to stay ahead of the game,” he said.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.