The Patriots have already surpassed their season-high in points with a 30-13 lead on the New Orleans Saints at the half.
Short personnel, the entire first quarter for New England was vintage Tom Brady. Playing back in the same stadium where he won his first Super Bowl title, Brady completed 11 of 15 passes for 177 yards and his first three touchdown passes of the season in the first quarter alone.
With only three wide receivers active, Brady looked to his running backs and tight end Rob Gronkowski to move the chains on the first drive. James White and Gronkowski bailed Brady out on consecutive third down situations, but the usage of Rex Burkhead is perhaps the most noteworthy.
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On the 10th play of the opening drive, Burkhead lined up in the backfield to the strong side. Brady sent him in motion to the slot – a place where Burkhead said himself he’d be comfortable if need be – and ran a perfectly executed fade route over rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone in man coverage to open the game’s scoring with a 19-yard strike. Burkhead had established a new career high in receiving yards by first quarter’s end, with 41.
Gronkowski, who was quiet in the opener vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, reintroduced himself in a big way on the ensuing series for the Patriots. Back-to-back runs by Mike Gillislee left New England facing third-and-6 from its own 47-yard line. Seemingly a broken play, Brady exploited Anzalone once again. Gronkowksi was fairly well-covered as the play initially developed, but Brady lobbed the ball in No. 87’s direction, once again right over Anzalone. Gronkowski fought through an attempted tackle by another Saints rookie, Marcus Williams, around the 10-yard line on his way to the end zone for the 69th receiving touchdown of his career (70th overall).
Brady’s three touchdown passes in the first quarter marked a new career high; he completed the hat trick with a 15-yard pass to Chris Hogan on a legal pick play on third-and-7 to give the Patriots a 20-3 lead.
Mike Gillislee scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the season to give New England a 27-13 lead, capping off a third scoring drive of exactly 75 yards, while Stephen Gostkowski connected on a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots a 30-13 lead heading into the break.
Gostkowski missed his first PAT attempt of the game but has been perfect in the meantime.