FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Admit it. You thought the New England Patriots were done.

Thousands of people at Gillette Stadium did. After the fourth-down gambit failed, after Garrett Hartley gave the New Orleans Saints a 27-23 lead with his second field goal of the game with 2:24 remaining, the exodus began from the seats at Gillette.

Michael Hoomanawanui noticed. The New England Patriots tight end saw the stands emptying.

Unlike those folks, though, he believed in Tom Brady. And, really, after everything we’ve seen from him in all these years, shouldn’t you, too?

So Brady did what he does best. He drove the Patriots 70 yards in eight plays with no timeouts and connected with rookie Kenbrell Thompkins for a 17-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining to lift New England to an improbable 30-27 victory over the previously unbeaten Saints.

Defensive back Kyle Arrington, on the sideline watching the magic again, jumped. “For joy,” he said.

“It’s special to have 12 on your team,” he continued. “Just to witness that is incredible.”

Of course, we’ve seen this before. This was the 38th time Brady has led the Patriots to a victory after they trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter, and the second time this season. But what made this one more special was who the Patriots beat, and who Brady beat them with.

This was New Orleans, a powerhouse led by Drew Brees, who had never lost to the Patriots. And Brady wasn’t doing this with Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and those other receivers from yesteryear.

In fact, he didn’t even have a full complement of this year’s receivers on the drive, as Danny Amendola was out (perhaps cold) after a vicious hit late in the third quarter.

So Brady took the field at his own 30 with 1:13 remaining, looking to throw to a receiving group that included Julian Edelman, Thompkins, fellow rookie Aaron Dobson and newcomer Austin Collie, a veteran who signed 10 days ago.

That he was able to drive the team 70 yards in 68 seconds was remarkable.

Collie, who played with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, has seen Brady from afar. He had an inkling of what could happen.

“I’ve been familiar with this team, and you’re never down and out,” he said. “I think we all look to No. 12 in certain situations like that. We look to Tom and he’s not shaken, and so, I think, that kind of goes down the chain to all of us. It kind of rubs off on us and I don’t think any of us panicked.”

Here’s how the final drive unfolded:

First down from the 30: Brady throws 23 yards over the middle to Edelman.

First down from the Saints 47: Brady hits Collie on a slant from the left for 15 yards.

First down from the Saints 32: 6-yard completion to Dobson on the right.

Second-and-4 from the Saints 26: Incompletion to Edelman down the middle.

Third-and-4 from the 26: Incompletion to Edelman at the goal line.

Fourth-and-4 from the 26: 9 yards to Collie on a slant left.

First down at the 17: Brady spikes ball to stop the clock with 10 seconds left.

Second down at the 17: Brady looks right, turns and finds Thompkins behind the defense on left. He throws a perfect pass to back corner. Thompkins leaps and catches it, and gets both feet down. Touchdown. Five seconds left. Patriots in the lead.

Thompkins, as you might expect, was thrilled. Long after the game, as he walked through the locker room, the ball was tucked under his right arm.

“We live for moments like that,” he said, “to get your number called and have your quarterback put the trust in you and give you the opportunity to make the play.”

Brady spoke highly of his rookie receiver, who has had his share of yips and drops thus far. He never hesitated to make the throw, which had to be precise.

“We were sending all the guys to the end zone,” he said. “At that point you’re just trying to pick a side. You look right, (I) came back left, I saw K made a move and slipped behind (Saints defensive back Jabari Greer) and just tried to put it back there where he could a play. So that was pretty sweet.”

It was. And it invoked memories of other seasons, of other years when Brady had more weapons and won more games. The Patriots are now 5-1 with an offense that is still getting to know each other and a defense that continues to lose bodies.

Linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were already out. Cornerback Aqib Talib, who played Saints tight end Jimmy Graham straight up and held him without a catch, left with a hip injury in the third quarter and did not return. The Patriots led 17-10 when he went out.

Then linebacker Jerod Mayo, perhaps the heart of the defense, left with a shoulder injury late in the fourth.

That the team came back to win under those circumstances, when many fans had given up, is what makes this one extra special.

“It’s huge,” said Hoomanawanui. “Especially in the fashion we did it, the fight in everyone. Not giving up. Seeing the stands getting a little emptier

“I mean, when time gets down and people don’t give you a shot? Everyone on the sideline, we were all ready to go. That’s what we can do. Everyone has faith.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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