FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Thousands of fans had given up on Tom Brady and the Patriots.
His rookie receiver never did.
"Until that clock said all zeros on it, we were going to fight until the finish," Kenbrell Thompkins said. "And that's what we did."
And that's why New England stunned the previously unbeaten New Orleans Saints 30-27 on Brady's 17-yard touchdown pass to Thompkins with 5 seconds left Sunday.
Gillette Stadium was nearly half empty when the Patriots began marching down the field. While they were beating the Saints, the fans were beating the traffic. A big roar went up from those who remained — and about 30 miles away at Fenway Park from fans waiting for the start of Game 2 of the AL championship series between the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
The Patriots (5-1) had taken a 23-17 lead on Stephen Gostkowski's 23-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Then the Saints (5-1) went ahead 24-23 on Drew Brees' 34-yard pass to Kenny Stills and 27-24 on Garrett Hartley's 39-yard field goal with 2:29 remaining.
Brady began the winning drive at his 30-yard line with 1:13 left and no timeouts remaining. He ended it with the pass that Thompkins caught on the left side of the end zone.
On his previous possession, Brady threw an interception.
"We were saying on the sideline the whole time that we were going to get another chance," Thompkins said. "And when we get that chance, we have to take full advantage of it."
They certainly did.
Five things to know from the Patriots' wild win over the Saints:
PATRIOTS RECEIVERS ARE IMPROVING: Add Austin Collie to the group of new Patriots receivers. In his first game with the team, he made his first two catches on the winning drive. After losing their top five pass catchers from last year, the Patriots have shown progress with the newcomers who include rookies Thompkins and Aaron Dobson and free agent pickups Danny Amendola and Collie. Those four combined for 13 of Brady's 25 completions.
SOLID DEFENSE: No matter how many players they lose, the Patriots' defense still does enough to win. Starting defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were out with injuries, top defensive back Aqib Talib didn't return after hurting his hip in the third quarter. And their best linebacker, Jerod Mayo, left with a shoulder injury one play before the Saints took their 24-23 lead.
SAINTS HAVE TIME TO RECOVER: The Saints have plenty of time to get over the sting of their first loss. They have a bye next weekend then play at home against the struggling Buffalo Bills. Thompkins made the winning catch while guarded by cornerback Jabari Greer.
"That's something that you'll replay in your mind for a long time. It's going to be hard to digest," he said. "I'll just have to bear the burden for this week and get ready for Buffalo. And I can do it. I'm a big boy. Just got to make that play next time."
SAINTS OFFENSE STALLS: After leading the Saints on consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter, Brees kept the ball on the ground as they went three-and-out and punted with 1:20 to go, giving the Patriots their chance. The Saints finished with 361 yards, 44 below their season average. And Brees completed fewer than half his passes for the first time this season.
WHERE'S JIMMY?: Looks like the Saints can't depend on star tight end Jimmy Graham every game. He had at least 100 yards receiving in his previous four games but was held without a catch for the first time in 46 games.
"It was a total team effort," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "Aqib did a great job early. We had a bunch of different guys. Kyle (Arrington) had a big interception and a big play on the goal line against him."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org