FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Kenbrell Thompkins was calm as he lined up with 10 seconds left.
Make the catch and the New England Patriots cap a stunning comeback. Miss it and they have just one more play.
“Every day in practice we work on those situations, last plays of the game, two-minute situations,” the rookie wide receiver said Monday. “So I just kind of just played it like practice.”
And, like in practice, it worked.
Thompkins caught Tom Brady’s perfect arcing throw in the left back corner of the end zone, a 17-yarder with 5 seconds left that gave the Patriots a 30-27 win Sunday. It sent the crowd that remained into a frenzy and brought a pained look to the face of New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
A smiling Thompkins was surrounded by ecstatic teammates – and thousands of empty seats left by fans who had lost hope.
“After the game my phone was dead from text messages,” he said Monday. “I was fortunate and I was happy for this team, most importantly.”
The Patriots improved to 5-1 despite playing all season without their top five pass catchers from last year. The Saints slipped to 5-1, losing a game in which they allowed the Patriots three possessions in the last four minutes.
Thompkins was the unlikely star.
Rookie receivers have struggled badly with the Patriots over the years. And Thompkins wasn’t even drafted out of Cincinnati.
But he and second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson had the advantage of plenty of practice repetitions that past rookies lacked.
The Patriots really had no choice after parting with Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, their top two wide receivers last season.
That extra work carried over into the film room. The new receivers have been meeting with Brady on Tuesdays, the players’ usual day off.
“It helps us in all kind of ways,” Thompkins said.
“It actually gives us just the point of view of how he wants things done and actually helps us.”
Dobson also made a big catch on the winning 70-yard drive that began with the Patriots having just 73 seconds and no timeouts left.
With 35 seconds remaining, he got out of bounds to stop the clock after a 6-yard reception gave the Patriots a second-and-4 at the Saints 26.
“It certainly wouldn’t have been worth it to pick up 5 yards and get tackled inbounds,” Coach Bill Belichick said.
“So getting out of bounds was really the key play there.”
Dobson, a standout at Marshall, also has learned from those Tuesday sessions with Brady, a 14-year veteran and two-time NFL MVP.
“We might watch a couple of games just by ourselves, just getting the communication right,” Dobson said.
Having worked overtime to learn the Patriots’ complex system gives Dobson great appreciation for what Austin Collie, making his Patriots debut, was able to contribute.
He entered late in the game and made two catches – one a 9-yard gain on a fourth-and-4 – on the winning drive.
“Just for him to come in that quick and get a grasp of the offense, it’s great because I know how hard it is,” Dobson said. “I’ve been through the transition. It’s definitely a tough thing to do.”
Dobson led the Patriots with six catches on Sunday and has 19 for the season with one touchdown. Thompkins caught three passes and has 21 receptions and four touchdowns for the year.
The last was the biggest, and he wasn’t surprised he was open. “I thought I was open a couple of plays before that,” Thompkins said.
And then the player who no team drafted was in the spotlight of an exciting victory.
“I’m kind of just going out there, just living in the moment, just playing football,” Thompkins said, “just trying to make a play for my team.”
NOTES: The Patriots had no update on four players who didn’t return after being injured Sunday:receiver Danny Amendola (head), cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), linebacker Jerod Mayo (shoulder) and guard Dan Connolly (head). …
Talib did an outstanding job on star tight end Jimmy Graham, who didn’t have a catch for the first time in 46 games.
“I’m sure fantasy guys are going nuts because they’re bummed that they got no points from him,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.