Brady helps Patriots roll past Saints
NEW ORLEANS — Tom Brady didn’t look quite like himself in the season opener, but it took the New England Patriots’ future Hall of Famer exactly 30 minutes Sunday to transform himself into the man in the mirror, with a nice assist from the defensively inept New Orleans Saints.
Brady threw for 302 of his 447 passing yards in a 30-point first-half explosion, and the Patriots rolled up 555 yards and 29 first downs in a 36-20 spanking of the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“We were 0-1, and with the 10-day break, it felt like a year,” Brady said. “It was a good four quarters of great competition. We got off to a good start with some situational things, but we still left some things out there.”
Brady completed only 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards in an opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7, but he connected on 19 of 25 for 302 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone against the Saints.
New England (1-1) raced to a 30-13 halftime lead and coasted to the win. Brady finished 30 of 39 for 447 yards.
“We had a really good week of preparation, and it showed up this afternoon,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick, adding that the offensive blitz came despite communications issues in getting the plays in to Brady.
“Communication was difficult — before the game and all game. We always try to play well early and get off to a fast start. We were able to do that, and that was good.”
It was the first time in Brady’s career — spanning 273 games, including the playoffs — that he threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter.
Brady connected with three different targets for scores on the Patriots’ first three series. He found running back Rex Burkhead for a 19-yard catch over rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone and then threw a sideline pass to Rob Gronkowski that the big tight end converted into a 53-yard score, niftily side-stepping rookie safety Marcus Williams at the 10.
“He had a crossing route, and I was able to hold on to the ball because I got great protection,” Brady said on the throw to Gronkowski. “I made eye contact and I saw it was open behind him. If he does the wheel route, the linebacker doesn’t have any vision. He turned and caught it. He’s a tough guy to handle in the open field, and we need more of those plays. You make those type of plays and it hurts the defense pretty bad.”
Brady’s final scoring pass went to wide receiver Chris Hogan, who was wide open in the left corner of the end zone on a rub route that resulted in a 13-yard touchdown and a 20-3 lead.
Gronkowski played just eight games last season because of injury and looked somewhat rusty with just two catches in the opener. He caught six passes for 116 yards on Sunday before exiting the game in the fourth quarter with a reported groin injury.
Gronkowski had a chance at another touchdown, but dropped a lob pass from Brady in the end zone at the end of the first half.
The Patriots rolled up 354 yards in total offense and 18 first downs in the first half, and Brady was nearly perfect. The Patriots could have made it even more lopsided, but their final three scoring drives ended inside the New Orleans 10-yard line with field goals of 28, 24 and 27 yards by Stephen Gostkowski.
The Patriots scored on five of their first six possessions and punted only twice in the game until the final minute.
Drew Brees (27 of 45 for 356 yards and two touchdowns) tried to keep the Saints close, connecting with Brandon Coleman on a 5-yard fade that began a 10-point comeback in the second quarter and cut New England’s lead to 20-13.
“We only have one way to go, and that’s up,” Brees said after the Saints (0-2) lost their ninth consecutive game in September.
But the Patriots responded by scoring 10 points in the final 4:47 of the half and put the game away.
Trailing 27-13 with under three minutes left in the half, Saints head coach Sean Payton elected to gamble on fourth-and-3 from the New England 25, passing up a field-goal attempt. Brees’ deep fade for Ted Ginn Jr. fell incomplete.
“Obviously, to start off like this, there’s disappointment,” Payton said. “Yet, we have the right type of locker room. We’ve got Carolina on the road (next Sunday). We’ll find out what we’re made of.”
NOTES: The Patriots played without WR Danny Amendola (concussion/knee) and LB Dont’a Hightower (knee). ... WR Chris Hogan also looked gimpy in the second half before returning. ... The Patriots are 43-6 following a loss since 2004. ... The Saints dropped to 0-2, not a good omen for them. In their last three 7-9 seasons, in which they failed to make the playoffs, they started 0-2, 0-3 and 0-3. ... CB Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ No. 1 pick, was put under the concussion protocol after a fourth-quarter tackle. ... RB James White had eight receptions for 85 yards as Brady picked apart the Saints underneath.