Final score: Saints 27, Patriots 30
One of the best lines from "Independence Day" is Will Smith's iconic, "I ain't heard no fat lady!"
Part of me likes to believe that Tom Brady thinks about that scene every time he faces yet another late-game comeback opportunity.
And that was indeed the case as the second best game 2013 had to offer was coming to a close. The comeback opportunity, that is. Not so much the "Independence Day" part.
During the Week 6 showdown between the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, Giselle's arm-candy was staring at a 6-point deficit with 2:24 remaining in the fourth quarter. Anyone who has watched the NFL over the last decade could see the writing on the wall. Brady leads a comeback win, and Saints fans cry into their beignets for the next week.
Only that wasn't the case. Yet.
Brady hurled a deep ball in the direction of Julian Edelman that was about as accurate as the aliens trying to shoot down Randy Quaid. The pass was easily intercepted by Keenan Lewis. On first down, no less.
Comeback over. Or ... so we thought.
Midway through the ensuing Saints possession, Belichick's boys were out of timeouts as Louisiana's favorite brain trust faced third-and-7, looking to put the game away. A first down wins it. The safe call is to run the ball to eat up some clock and maybe get the first down, but Sean Payton has never been the "safe" type.
He called a sneakier play-action naked-bootleg, hoping to catch the Pats off guard as Drew Brees sprinted for the first down. And it would have worked, too, if it wasn't for that meddling Chandler Jones. Jones stayed home, read the play, and put the ball back in Brady's hands with 1:13 left in regulation.
There it was. Brady had been gift-wrapped a redo; a fresh chance to deliver the Pats to victory. And boy did he ever. Brady went five of seven (excluding a spike) for 70 passing yards with one unforgettable touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds on the clock.
That sound ringing throughout the stadium was indeed the fat lady singing.
Brady had closed the curtain on the Saints' hopes of stealing a win in Foxborough, and tied an unforgettable bow around our second top game of 2013.
The New England cornerbacks earn this honor. They had the tall task of blanketing Jimmy Graham, who entered the game leading the NFL in receiving yards. Limiting Graham would have been one thing, but they shut him out. Completely. That hadn't happened since October 31, 2010, when the former Miami Hurricane was seeing limited action as a rookie. Although Brady received all of the postgame attention, Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty -- you the real MVPs.
What else could it be? Brady to Thompkins, 5 seconds left, game over. The play was so incredible that a local radio announcer shouted "Unicorns! Show ponies! Where's the beef?" in exultation after the touchdown. Nothing to see here, no homerism at all.
Tom Brady wins. A lot. But just how good has he been historically speaking? Take a look at the stat board to find out.
This was a showdown of brilliant football minds -- Sean Payton, Rob Ryan, Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, et al -- which meant doing the small things became crucially important to gain enough of an edge to emerge victorious. In this NFL quiz show, the victors were the Patriots' brass. New Orleans had come into the game leading the league in time of possession, controlling the clock in all of their previous matches leading to a sparkling 5-0 record. To counter that, McDaniels dialed up the rushing attack, while Belichick schemed to shut down the Saints' main chain-mover (Graham). The result was a possession battle won by New England, 31:51 to 28:09. Why is this important, you might ask? Had New Orleans won possession as usual, there wouldn't have been enough time for Tom Terrific to be terrific once more.
Had Brees and co. sealed the deal and taken home the victory, it would have moved them to 12-4 on the season, tying them with the Carolina Panthers for the best record in the division. Yet, thanks to a number of tie-breakers, the Saints would have won the division and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
So ... San Francisco would have played a much warmer game in Philadelphia, while Carolina would have been the lucky recipient of a trip to the Frozen Tundra to face the Green Bay Packers. Essentially, one Tom Brady toss could have given the NFC playoffs an extreme makeover that would have put Ty Pennington to shame.
NFL Network will feature games No. 10 through No. 1 in an all-day marathon from 6 a.m. ET to 10 p.m. ET, Sunday, July 6.
-- by Alex Gelhar. Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar.