PRO FOOTBALL : New England Does It the Hard Way Again : Patriots Score Twice in Last Four Minutes, Come From Behind to Defeat Saints, 21-20

<i> From Times Wire Services </i>

It got even more like a soap opera for the New England Patriots on Sunday, and it was a most unlikely cast of characters that contributed to their victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The Patriots beat the Saints, 21-20, scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes, neither of them by the offense.

Eugene Profit, a rookie from Yale activated only two days earlier, blocked a punt, and Mosi Tatupu, a nine-year veteran, picked it up and raced 17 yards for a touchdown with 3:51 left.


Two minutes later, with 1:49 left, 278-pound rookie defensive lineman Brent Williams ran 21 yards with a fumble recovery.

“It’s the sort of thing you dream about,” Profit said. “If I’d written the script, it couldn’t have come out any better--maybe intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown, but it couldn’t have been much better.”

It was New England’s third straight dramatic late-game victory. Two weeks ago, the Patriots beat the Rams with a desperation pass on the last play of the game, and last week they defeated Buffalo with a touchdown drive in the final two minutes.

The victory lifted the Patriots’ record to 10-3 and tied them with the New York Jets for first place in the AFC East with three games remaining.

Profit said he didn’t see anything particularly unusual about the way the Patriots won.

“It’s been that way all season. If the offense doesn’t score, then the defense does or the special teams,” he said.

Adding to the soap opera feeling was the fact that Profit, 22, was born 80 miles north of New Orleans. His family moved to California when he was 7 years old.

He said while television might relive dramatic moments in slow motion, it all happened so quickly for him that he couldn’t remember exactly what happened.

“I felt kind of like a foot hitting me in the stomach,” he said. “I didn’t know I’d got it until I saw Mosi running in with it.

“I knew if I got the punt I’d be a hero, and if I didn’t I’d be the goat.”

New Orleans led 13-7 when Brian Hansen dropped back to punt from his 31-yard line with less than four minutes remaining. Profit swept in untouched from the right side of the Patriots’ defense and blocked the kick. Tatupu picked up the ball on the 17 and raced in for the touchdown.

Williams, from Toledo, Ohio, scored when Saints quarterback Dave Wilson eluded the rush of Garin Veris and tried to pass. However, the ball slipped from his grasp and fell behind him, and Williams picked it up and ran in for the winning score.

New England’s offense scored its only touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Tony Eason to wide receiver Stephen Starring in the third quarter. Eason completed 22 of 38 attempts for 271 yards.

New Orleans (6-7) built its lead with the help of 157 yards rushing in 33 carries and a touchdown by rookie Rueben Mayes and field goals of 28 and 38 yards by Morten Andersen. The Saints scored again with 28 seconds left on a 10-yard pass from Wilson to Eugene Goodlow, but failed to recover an onside kick.