The New England Patriots' failed fourth-down decision with 2:50 remaining was the first blow. That cleared out about half of Gillette Stadium.
Then Tom Brady's lob/punt-like interception with 2:24 left knocked out another several thousand.
When the Patriots took over the ball for a third possession in the final three minutes, trailing 27-23, hope was all but gone as Brady — once the master of late-game comebacks — appeared almost incapable of leading his team down the game for a game-winning score. Not with these receivers, the ones who had dropped countless passes in the game, including three in the fourth-down possession.
Would you believe that the Patriots beat the New Orleans Saints in one of the most thrilling and incomparable victories in recent memory?
Suddenly, on the final possession, Brady awakened. Twenty-three yards to Julian Edelman. Fifteen to Austin Collie (!!), who had not been heard from the previous 58 and a half minutes of the game. Facing another fourth-down, Collie again — this time for nine crucial yards into the red zone.
After a spike, only 10 seconds remained. Brady found a somewhat wide-open Kenbrell Thompkins, who had slipped behind the coverage of Jabari Greer and caught — the most important part, to anyone who watched this game or any Patriots game this season — the ball for the game-winning score.
Anyone want to explain how they do it?
Look at the injuries: Aqib Talib, who had blanketed Jimmy Graham all game, was out. Starting right guard Dan Connolly out. So, too, was Danny Amendola and Jerod Mayo. They were held together with rubber bands and chewing gum, MacGyver-style. But Brady, after an afternoon of chewing apart his teammates for their errors and his own missed opportunities, did just enough to win.
Great coaching, clutch situational playing. It's a tried and true formula for victory. Nowhere more than in New England.