Patriots right ship with democratic game plan vs. Saints
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Patriots coach Bill Belichick responded dismissively when questioned about receiver Brandin Cooks’ seemingly limited role against the team that traded him away last spring.
He tersely dispelled the notion that New England’s game plan could be influenced by Cooks’ motivation to perform well in the city where he spent his first three NFL seasons.
”I’m not really that concerned about the stats,” Belichick said in a muted, scratchy tone. ”I mean, I know everyone else is, but we came down here to try to win.”
And win they did , in convincing fashion, 36-20 on Sunday in a game highlighted by Tom Brady’s 30 of 39 passing for 447 yards and three touchdowns.
Brady threw only four times to Cooks, who had two catches for 37 yards. That’s despite the fact New England (1-1) has been trying to compensate for star wideout Julian Edelman’s season-ending injury in August, as well as Danny Amendola’s more recent absence because of a Week 1 concussion and knee injury.
But Cooks, whose sliding 22-yard catch at the Saints 2-yard line set up Mike Gillislee’s touchdown run in the second quarter, seemed fine with his role with the defending champs.
”It was fun to come back here and play,” Cooks said after his return to the city where he began his NFL career.
The 2014 Saints first-round draft choice described his relatively short time with the Patriots as ”special,” adding, ”I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Time will tell if Saints quarterback Drew Brees has the same to say about New Orleans after the final season of his contract. Brees already has 647 yards and three TDs passing without an interception through two games, but it hasn’t been nearly enough for the Saints, who’ve lost by each game by 10 or more points despite scoring late, inconsequential touchdowns.
With a road game against NFC South foe Carolina looming in Week 3, Brees didn’t want to look too far ahead.
”There’s not much time to dwell on anything other than making the corrections that need to be made and focusing on a good game plan for this upcoming week,” Brees said.
Some takeaways from the Patriots’ dismantling of the Saints:
New England’s offense got contributions from numerous players, albeit against a seemingly discombobulated Saints defense. Brady’s 30 completions were spread among 10 receivers, including running backs James White, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James Develin.
”We have a lot of versatile running backs,” Brady said. ”All of them are good matchups against linebackers.”
Meanwhile, seven different rushers helped the Patriots gain 119 yards on the ground.
The Saints, who’ve ranked 27th or worse defensively the past three seasons, had said they saw evidence of improvement in the preseason, when they racked up sacks and gave up few TDs. Perhaps not. The first two QBs they’ve faced, Minnesota’s Sam Bradford and Brady, have combined to complete 80.3 percent of their passes for 793 and six TDs against no interceptions.
”That’s two weeks in a row where there have been too many quick-strike plays,” coach Sean Payton said. ”Early in the game, we weren’t able to get off the field, and that hurt us.”
Twice, Brady successfully lobbied officials to discuss and ultimately change calls. In the first instance, he told officials they were wrong to flag his team for a pick play on a touchdown pass, asserting the contact occurred within a yard of the line of scrimmage, where it would be legal. In the second, he persuaded officials to void an interception he threw by flagging New Orleans for too many men on the field. Brady said he’d called for a quick snap specifically because he saw a 12th defender trying to get to the sideline.
”I was looking right at (Saints linebacker Manti Te’o) when I snapped it and he was 3 or 4 yards away from the sideline,” Brady said. ”I was just trying to get the penalty. … I didn’t see (a flag) on the field and I said, `What the heck? I saw him.”’
The Saints, who finished 7-9 each of the past three seasons, are off to their fourth straight 0-2 start.
During preseason, coaches and players stressed the importance stacking up early victories, but now find themselves answering questions about a 1-11 record in September since 2014.
”It puts you in a little bit of a hole, but we can’t cry over spilled milk here,” Brees said. ”We’ve got to find a way to get a win.”
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