FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Kenbrell Thompkins was calm as he lined up with 10 seconds left.
Make the catch and the New England Patriots cap a stunning comeback. Miss it and they have just one more play.
“Every day in practice we work on those situations, last plays of the game, two-minute situations,” the rookie wide receiver said Monday. “So I just kind of just played it like practice.”
And, like in practice, it worked.
Thompkins caught Tom Brady’s perfect arcing throw in the left back corner of the end zone, a 17-yarder with 5 seconds left that gave the Patriots a 30-27 win Sunday. It sent the crowd that remained into a frenzy and brought a pained look to the face of New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
A smiling Thompkins was surrounded by ecstatic teammates — and thousands of empty seats left by fans who had lost hope.
“After the game my phone was dead from text messages,” he said Monday. “I was fortunate and I was happy for this team, most importantly.”
The Patriots improved to 5-1 despite playing all season without their top five pass catchers from last year. The Saints slipped to 5-1, losing a game in which they allowed the Patriots three possessions in the last four minutes.
Thompkins was the unlikely star.
Rookie receivers have struggled badly with the Patriots over the years. And Thompkins wasn’t even drafted out of Cincinnati.
But he and second-round draft choice Aaron Dobson had the advantage of plenty of practice repetitions that past rookies lacked. The Patriots really had no choice after parting with Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, their top two wide receivers last season.
That extra work carried over into the film room. The new receivers have been meeting with Brady on Tuesdays, the players’ usual day off.