The New Orleans Saints' 3-0 start was a surprise. A 4-0 record would have been a shock, and they almost pulled it off.
The New England Patriots dug in on defense to force a New Orleans field goal with 1:29 left, then used some last-minute magic from Drew Bledsoe to end the Saints' unlikely streak with a 30-27 victory Sunday.
"I feel like I've always been excellent at responding to adverse situations," Bledsoe said. "I'm accused of not being a fiery enough leader, but one of my attributes is keeping my cool and being able to come back."
After New Orleans tied the game at 27 with 1:29 remaining, Bledsoe completed passes of 9, 16, 10 and 27 yards to set up Adam Vinatieri's third field goal -- a 27-yarder with three seconds left to win the game.
"We used to get in these wacky games a lot when I first got here," Patriots receiver Troy Brown said. "It seemed like then we always came out on the losing end. Now we're learning to win these games."
The Saints, who started the season with three victories over teams with a combined 1-10 record, tied the game after a heady play by punt returner Andre Hastings. New England (3-1) led 27-24 when the Patriots punted.
| Saints quarterback Danny Wuerffel is sacked by Patriots linebacker Chris Slade during the first half. (AP) |
New England's Tebucky Jones batted the ball out of the end zone to Larry Whigham, who unsuccessfully tried to down it.
With the ball bouncing around, Hastings grabbed it and raced 76 yards to the Patriots 26, with punter Tom Tupa saving the touchdown. Six plays later, Doug Brien kicked his second field goal to tie the score.
"As soon as the kick team touches the ball, that's where it goes into play," Saints special teams coach Bobby April said. "If an opposing player kneels on a punt, it's not dead until one of their guys touch him. They never touched our guy."
"You've got nothing to lose trying to run it back, but in eight years of coaching I've never seen it happen before."
The Saints gave up some long plays -- Bledsoe hit Terry Glenn for 43 and 35 yards and Derrick Cullors for 43 yards --- but also came up with some big plays of their own, including three sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The Patriots, the only NFL team with no turnovers through three games, saw the streak snapped quickly against the Saints.
In the first quarter, New England drove to the New Orleans 18 before Bledsoe's third-down pass was intercepted at the goal line by Alex Molden.
Ninety seconds into the second quarter, Bledsoe fumbled after he was sacked by Ink Aleaga, who was making his first NFL start. Keith Mitchell scooped up the ball and ran 63 yards for a touchdown that put the Saints up 7-3.
On the Patriots' next drive, Bledsoe was intercepted when Wayne Martin batted down a pass and La'Roi Glover grabbed it.
Despite the turnovers, the Patriots led 17-14 at halftime. Vinatieri kicked a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter, Bledsoe hit Vincent Brisby for a 6-yard touchdown in the second and Robert Edwards ran for an 8-yard score, his fourth touchdown in as many games.
"It's difficult to overcome four turnovers versus an undefeated team with a great crowd," Patriots coach Pete Carroll said. "I think this is a good football team that we just played. They did some very good things and made it difficult."
New Orleans scored with no time left on the clock in the half when Danny Wuerffel hit Cam Cleeland for a 1-yard touchdown.
Wuerffel, who completed 25 of 47 passes for 278 yards, was sacked seven times, pressured constantly and intercepted twice. New England defensive lineman Henry Thomas intercepted Wuerffel's third pass of the second half and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown that put the Patriots up 24-14.
The Saints cut New England's lead to 27-24 with 7:30 left in the game when Wuerffel led New Orleans on a 75-yard drive. Wuerffel completed passes of 15, 19, 22 and 20 yards before hitting Lamar Smith for a 7-yard touchdown.
Bledsoe completed 21 of 35 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown.
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