By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — 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 ample reason to spend the rest of their Sunday celebrating in the French Quarter.
“Hopefully they’re all on Bourbon Street,” said Brady, whose name was chanted by fans as the game wound down, and again when he walked across the field to the team bus. “It was a good road game to come to.”
Bouncing back with a vengeance from a season-opening loss , Brady threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter for the first time in his career, 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.
“Being 0-1 with a 10-day break felt like a year,” Brady said, alluding to a Thursday night loss to Kansas City in Week 1. “All the veterans had a chance to say the things they wanted to say to their different (position) groups. … I’m glad we executed. There were a lot of tight plays and we made them.”
Saints coach Sean Payton bemoaned another poor outing by his defense, which also gave up a slew of quick strike plays to Minnesota in Week 1 .
“We’ve got the right type of locker room, but we’re going to have to respond quickly,” Payton said. “We’ll find out a little bit about what we’re made of.”
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 looked like a superior QB in his latest visit. He finished 30 of 39 for 447 yards. He committed no turnovers — at least not any that counted. Saints defenders twice caught Brady’s passes, but both plays were wiped out by New Orleans penalties. Brady joined Warren Moon as the only QBs 40 or older in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and 3 TDs 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 NFL’s 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 in NFL history by starting QBs the same 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 in field goal range on the Patriots 25-yard line — with 2:27 left in the first half and New England up by 13.
Brady responded by quickly marching the Patriots to the Saints 10 to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal, making it 30-13 at halftime.
When asked to explain what’s wrong with New Orleans, it seemed Brees wasn’t sure where to begin.
“Unfortunately, it’s just been a little bit everything right now,” he said.
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 as close as 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.
“Our team responded well to this week of practice,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We made some plays early in the game. We were able to play from ahead, and that was a good thing. A lot of different people contributed.”
SEPTEMBERS TO FORGET
The Saints are now 1-11 in September since 2014, having begun 0-2 in four straight campaigns. The Saints have finished 7-9 the past three seasons.
“It puts you in a little bit of a hole, but we can’t cry over spilled milk here,” Brees said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a win.”
Patriots: In addition to Gronkowski’s groin injury, Burkhead had a rib injury in the second half. Hogan appeared to trying to treat soreness in his right leg in the second half. DB Eric Rowe was treated for a groin injury.
Saints: Rookie CB Marshon Lattimore left the game to be evaluated for a concussion. DE Trey Hendrickson left the game late in the first quarter with what the club described as a leg injury. DE Mitch Loewen needed help off the field after injuring his left leg in the fourth quarter.
Patriots: return home to face the Houston Texans.
Saints: open NFC South divisional play at Carolina.
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