NEW ORLEANS — If Tom Brady and the Patriots were suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, it looks as though a trip to New Orleans pulled the defending champions out of it.
The 40-year-old Brady hasn’t often looked better in his long, illustrious career, providing an audible contingent of traveling Patriots fans who chanted their star quarterback’s name ample reason to spend the rest of their Sunday celebrating on Bourbon Street.
Bouncing back with a vengeance from a season-opening loss, Brady threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter for the first time, eclipsed 300 yards passing in the first half for only the second time, and New England scored 30 first-half points en route to a 36-20 victory over the winless Saints.
Brady’s maiden Super Bowl triumph in the Superdome back in February 2002 is bound to be one of his fondest memories, but the 18-year veteran excelled in his latest visit. He finished 30 of 39 for 447 yards without an interception — at least not one that counted. The Saints caught Brady’s passes twice, but both plays were wiped out by penalties. Brady joined Warren Moon as the only players 40 or older in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Rob Gronkowski had a 53-yard catch and run to highlight his six-catch, 116-yard performance, but left the game in the second half with a groin injury.
In Brady and the Saints’ Drew Brees, the game featured the top two active quarterbacks in terms of career yards and touchdowns. Their 922 TD passes and 128,251 yards passing combined coming in represented the most by starters in the same NFL game.
But in this matchup, Brees couldn’t keep up.
He was 27 of 45 for 356 yards and two TDs. The Saints’ desperation to stay close was encapsulated by a failed attempt to convert a fourth down — despite being well within field-goal range on the 25-yard line — with 2:27 left in the first half and New England up by 13.
Brady responded by marching New England to the 10 to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal, making it 30-13 at halftime.
The Patriots’ first three drives ended with a 19-yard TD pass to Rex Burkhead, Gronkowski’s long TD and a 13-yard scoring pass to Chris Hogan.
New Orleans briefly rallied with Brees’ 5-yard TD pass to Brandon Coleman and Wil Lutz’s field goal on consecutive drives, pulling within 20-13. But New England responded with Mike Gillislee’s short scoring run on a drive highlighted by downfield passes to Gronkowski, Hogan and former Saint Brandin Cooks.