How badly did the New Orleans Saints manhandle the New England Patriots on Monday night? So badly that Patriots Coach Bill Belichick threw in the towel with 5:22 to play down 38-17. He benched quarterback Tom Brady and the offensive stars even though the game was theoretically winnable (we've seen stranger things on Monday night football). I never thought I would see Bill Belichick wave the white towel with so much time left in a game.
Maybe it was hard to blame him. He obviously has no confidence in his defense, which allowed Saints QB Drew Brees to throw five touchdown passes and could have thrown a few more if he had to (Brees had a perfect quarterback rating for the night). This comes two weeks after his defense couldn't hold a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against the Colts.
In their last two games against quality teams (the Jets last week don't count), the Patriots have allowed a combined 73 points and nine touchdown passes. If Brady is off like he was Monday, New England has no chance. Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 against the Colts looks a little more defensible after Monday, since he can't trust his defense to stop an elite quarterback.
The Patriots will still win their division, but they face a big obstacle if they hope to make it to the Super Bowl -- they can't win on the road. They are 0-4 in real road games this season; their only win was in neutral London against the awful Tampa Bay Buccanneers. If New England is a No. 3 or 4 seed, they would likely need to win back-to-back road games to make the Super Bowl. In the Belichick Era, all four Super Bowl visits have come when the Pats were a 1 or 2 seed and had a first-round bye.
As for the Saints, they join the Colts at 11-0 and look like the league's best team. With games against the Bucs (1-10), Redskins (3-8), Panthers (4-7), Falcons (6-5) and Cowboys (8-3), the Saints have a real shot to go 16-0. With the 10-1 Vikings breathing down their necks, the Saints will have to play their starters every week. The Colts, in contrast, could earn home field advantage as early as two weeks from now and Coach Jim Caldwell has already said that winning the Super Bowl and not going 16-0 is the main focus.
But I caution anyone who is already penciling in a Colts-Saints Super Bowl. There has not been a matchup of two No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl since 1993, and the 2003 Patriots are the only top seed this decade to win it all. There are still five weeks to go in the season, and that's an eternity in the NFL. Just ask everyone's Super Bowl pick after 11 games in 2008 -- the Titans and Giants, both of whom lost their opening playoff game.