Last-minute, game-winning drives used to be so easy for Tom Brady. Prior to this week's winner against the Saints, he'd done it 31 times. I sort of assumed the same thing would happen when New England got the ball back, trailing 24-23, with three and a half minutes left in regulation.
Eventually, the unicorns and show ponies came, ridden by fire-breathing horsemen asking the stragglers at Gillette Stadium where the beef was, the answer determining their fate. Or something like that.
Game-winners used to be easier for Brady, but such is the state of the Patriots in 2013.
Sean Payton's return from exile figures prominently in the Saints' red hot start to the season. But his clock management skills were positively Andy Reid-esque inside the three-minute mark.
New Orleans got the ball back on the Patriots 24-yard line with 2:46, leading by one point. Khiry Robinson gains four yards. New England stops the clock with a timeout. Then New Orleans takes a timeout. They run it again on second down, and the Patriots call for another timeout.
Third-and-7, Drew Brees throws deep to Marques Colston, incomplete. They were going for the touchdown, but Alfonzo Dennard broke up the pass. Why not just try and move the chains, burn more clock time and kick the field goal? The Saints did get the three-pointer after that play, but it left New England with a timeout and the two-minute warning to come.
Fast forward to the Saints' next possession. Brady throws deep for Julian Edelman, but it gets picked off. That should do it, right?
Third-and-7, two minutes left. Brees runs a bootleg to the left, and is tackled for a five-yard loss. Another third-down, another bizarre call. It gets weirder.
On fourth down, the Saints punt, leaving a full nine seconds on the play clock. Worse, Thomas Morstead punts it out of bounds ... at the 30-yard line.
New England takes over with more than a minute to spare. Saints lead, 27-23. One first down and another, Brady moves the ball 38 yards down the field. Then, the 2013 Patriots showed up again. Edelman can't hang onto a pair of passes on second and third down, both should have been touchdowns. Fourth-and-four. Austin Collie catches a nine-yard pass. New England has a new set of downs starting at the Saints 17-yard line, but only 11 seconds left.
Randy Moss won't save you. Neither will Wes Welker, or Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski. Danny Amendola's out of the game with a head injury. There's no time to run the ball, not if they want to squeeze two plays out of the clock. Everyone left for Brady to throw to is just as likely to drop the ball as they are to catch it.
Kenbrell Thompkins comes up with it.
Brees bemoaned the three chances his team gave Brady and the Pats after the game. He didn't really explain the actual decisions on the field, the hideous clock management, that let that happen. Useful nuggets of insight are as rare as unicorns in any post-game press conference.
Sean Payton credited the Patriots for making the stops they needed to make, then demanded the next question when asked about the sequence at his post-game presser.
The Saints could have done more to stop it. For instance, safety Rafael Bush should have come over and helped Jabari Greer on the touchdown pass. It should have never gotten to that point.
Unicorns, show ponies and where's the beef?
Where's the beef indeed.
A healthy RGIII made his first appearance of the season on Sunday night. I was wondering if we'd ever see him again. He had a terrible fourth quarter with a fumble and an interception. A rough 15 minutes aside, he moved better, and didn't make throws off his back foot. The team around him was brutal, and he wasn't perfect. Washington's not going to catch the Cowboys at this point, but with RGIII rounding back into form, at least Washington can look forward to next year again.
I really thought the Patriots were done when Aqib Talib left the game in the second half. Talib spent the better part of his day smothering Jimmy Graham in coverage. I wondered if Graham might resurface after Talib left. Nope. When Bill Belichick has his mind set on keeping a team's best player in check, he does it. Ask Tony Gonzalez or Marshall Faulk.
Here's an example of what the Patriots did to Graham after Talib left.
Devin McCorty hands him off to Jared Mayo, and he's triple-teamed. Brees threw at Graham six times, but the tight end, who was leading the league in receiving yards, didn't come up with a single pass. He eventually left the game with a leg injury.
Chip Kelly's Eagles are going to be really good ... once he gets the defense rebuilt. Some NFL pundits have already written his approach off. There was even a rumor that Kelly could replace Lane Kiffin at USC (as if anyone could replace Lane Kiffin). However, Philadelphia's offense became one of four NFL teams to accumulate more than 400 yards of offense in its first six games (Denver joined them later in the afternoon).
The Chiefs are still perfect, and they owe a lot of that to the defense. Tamba Hali had 3.5 sacks, just over a third of Kansas City's 10 total sacks on the day. Ten. Rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper stepped in for Brandon Flowers and didn't miss a beat. Oh, he's an undrafted rookie. Yes, I realize that this was the Raiders the Chiefs defense was suffocating, and their schedule hasn't been tough. But 6-0 is 6-0.
Where's the beef?
Go ahead and bury the Houston Texans. Arian Foster rushed for 141 yards, and they still couldn't beat the St. Louis Rams. Matt Schaub, booed off the field with an ankle injury, didn't throw a pick. T.J. Yates, his replacement, did immediately thereafter, which Alec Ogletree returned for a touchdown. Houston lost two fumbles too; one was returned for another Rams touchdown. Houston added seven penalties for 95 yards to make it especially ugly. The Texans were an easy pick to contend in the AFC this season. Now, they might not make the playoffs. Gary Kubiak's in trouble.
How much longer can Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hide behind a single poll and a few flimsy shreds of anecdote? Bob Costas turned on him Sunday night, with a soliloquy that could have been reduced to a few words. Jerry Jones assured fans that Snyder understands because he's Jewish. Okay! Eventually, Rick Reilly's going to run out of people to misquote. Unlike most of the league's fights, this one isn't going away with help from time and high-priced lawyers. The longer Snyder holds on, the more people turn against him.