By: Bob George/
October 13, 2013

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FOXBOROUGH -- Shame on you if you headed for the exits early.

The Patriots had three chances to take the lead and walk off with a come from behind win. It is amazing that the New Orleans Saints allowed the Patriots to have three chances, when they should have only had one. But they had three chances. With Tom Brady at the helm, Sean Payton and Rob Ryan had to be sweating this one out.

If there was ever a time when the "third time is the charm", this was it. Trailing 27-23 with 1:13 left in the game and no timeouts, Brady was able to lead the Patriots on an eight-play, 70-yard drive, capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins with five seconds left. The Patriots shocked the entire northeast corner of the USA with an electric 30-27 win at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, a win that seemed certain to be a loss.

Things went bad for the Patriots with 3:35 left in the game and the Patriots leading, 23-17. The Saints were at the Patriot 34-yard line, facing third and 20. Drew Brees dropped back, had all year to throw the ball, and lofted a soft toss towards the right corner of the end zone. Rookie wideout Kenny Stills was double covered by Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory. Despite Dennard leaping to knock down the pass, somehow Stills managed to make the catch and give the Saints a 24-23 lead. How Dennard doesn't make that play is hard to fathom. Gregory got there just a wee bit late but provided enough to defend Stills. And Stills still makes a catch he had no business making.

So, the Patriots get the ball back at their own 20. Brady needs to kill off three minutes and change, get Stephen Gostkowski into field goal range, and have him pump one through the uprights with no time left. Easy, right?

First down: Michael (Who needs Gronk?) Hoomanawanui catches one off his shoe top which was actually an incomplete pass for four yards. Second down: Easy left flat toss to Brandon Bolden. He whiffs. Third down: Julian Edelman gets open on a left slant route. Drop. Fourth down: Same route, this time Aaron Dobson. Stonefingers. Saints get ball back at the Patriot 24 with 2:46 left.

Bill Belichick went for it on fourth down when it was thought that he should have punted (remember fourth and two?). Ultimately, Garrett Hartley did kick a 39-yard field goal. But only 17 seconds elapsed, as Brees tried to hit Marques Colston in the end zone on third down. The Patriots now trailed, 27-23, but had 2:24 left and still one timeout plus the two-minute warning. The decision to throw on third down by Brees and the Saints cancelled out any grumbling directed at Belichick for going for it on fourth down, as this was a far worse decision which directly led to what followed.

Brady got the ball back, but on the first play he threw a lob pass down the right sideline intended for Edelman which got picked off by Keenan Lewis. The ball was thrown right to Lewis. The stands emptied as Brady seethed on the sideline, all the blame directed at himself instead of his flawed receiver corps.

Surprise. Brady would get the ball back again. Thanks to their one remaining timeout and the two-minute warning, plus a nifty sack by Chandler Jones of Brees on third down, the Saints punted after only about a minute ticked off. The Patriots had the ball at their own 30 with 1:13 left. Chance number three.

Okay, quick. Honk if you paid attention to the fact that during this past week, the Patriots signed former Colt receiver (and former Peyton Manning target) Austin Collie. With Danny Amendola knocked out of the game with a head injury, and everyone else suffering from the dropsies, why not use Collie?

Brady did. On first down, Brady hit Edelman over the middle for 23 yards to get into Saints territory. On the next play, Brady hit Collie over the middle for 15 yards to the New Orleans 32. Then Brady finds Dobson on the right side for six yards and gets out of bounds with 35 seconds left, another key play which saved precious time. Brady then twice tried to hit Edelman near the goal line but underthrew both throws. On fourth down at the New Orleans 26, Brady found Collie in the left flat for nine yards and a first down. After a spike on first down, Brady had 11 seconds and roughly two shots at the end zone.

It took only one.

Brady dropped back, lofted a touch pass to the left back corner of the end zone, and Thompkins hauled in the perfect pass for the winning score. Just like the Stills touchdown, Jabari Greer was in perfect defensive position, and somehow Brady was able to float the pass over Greer and into the hands of Thompkins as Gillette Stadium exploded into a temporarily insane state. The Patriots defended the ensuing kickoff with Jamie Collins recovering a botched lateral at the Saints' 7, and it was game over.

This game suddenly morphed into "just like old times" thanks to Brady being Brady, but also because the Saints failed to kill off the clock like they were supposed to, not once but twice. Ryan, the Saints' defensive coordinator and former Patriot linebacker coach, could only stand on the sideline and wince as Brady carved up his defense given a third chance to win the game in the last three minutes. Brees' incomplete pass prior to Hartley's last field goal, Jones' sack of Brees to curtail the final Saints' drive, and yes, Dobson getting out of bounds on that sideline pass on the final drive, added up to a Patriot win and a Saints loss.

Brees thus loses to the Patriots for the first time in his career. He had been 3-0, with two wins coming while he was with San Diego. Brady hadn't beaten Brees since he was at Michigan and Brees was at Purdue. Both Brady and Brees had roughly the same passer rating (Brees 75.7, Brady one point less). Both teams had decent rushing stats, as Stevan Ridley rushed for 96 yards and the Saints averaged five yards per carry as a team.

Going further, the first two Patriot touchdowns were scored by Ridley, on runs of one and four yards in the second quarter. The first two Saints touchdowns were scored by reserve back Travaris Cadet (3-yard pass) and reserve running back Khiry Robinson (3-yard run). No receiver topped 100 yards; Stills and Dobson (64, 63) led their teams in yardage respectively.

Credit the Patriots with a gritty and exciting win. Peyton and his Saints will chew on this one for quite some time.

And it's nice to know that Brady still has it.