PATS 30, FALCONS 23
-- Patriots hang on for win over Falcons
-- Wilfork tears Achilles, probably out for season
-- Talib comes out on top again
-- Key play: Blount's long TD run
-- Paoletti's game superlatives
TOM E. CURRAN
-- The Patriots are still Brady's bunch
-- WATCH: 'Remarkable performance' by defense
ATLANTA – A subdued Tom Brady dressed quietly in the Patriots locker room, speaking to no one.
Thirty points on the road against the Falcons. A game that was a test of Brady’s patience, talent and resolve didn’t leave him jubilant. It actually seemed to leave him exhausted.
His postgame comments were brief. In response to a question about room for offensive improvement, Brady answered, “Well, we’re missing quite a few guys. Hopefully when they come back we’ll be more efficient.”
And with that, he shut it down and headed for the bus.
The margin for error is tiny. The performance by Brady and the evolving Patriots offense was huge.
The Patriots have who they have and they are finding a way to make it work. Because of Brady.
The Patriots had the ball three times in the first half. After an opening punt, they executed a 12-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown -- with 10 runs in a row after a screen to open the drive went for 24 -- was capped by Brady cramming the ball between two flailing Falcons and finding Matt Mulligan. They followed that with a seven-play, 62-yard drive for a field goal after starting on their own 8. The feature play on that drive was a 49-yard heave to Kenbrell Thompkins, on which the rookie made a great play fighting for an underthrown ball.
You can look at those drives and think the heat was off. The running game executed on the first one; Thompkins came up huge on the other one. But the reality is, the onus is always on Brady.
“You got one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game back there,” said LeGarrette Blount, who popped a 47-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. “It takes a lot of pressure off me, [Stevan] Ridley, Brandon [Bolden]. It takes pressure off those receivers. He’s one of the greatest ever, so there’s not a lot of pressure on any of us. Except him. And he’s been doing it for so long, I don’t think there’s any pressure on him either.”
Blount was joking. Blount knows that, even though Brady’s gotten people used to him making it look easy, the burden is heavy this season. On the road against a talented team, Brady didn’t take a sack and didn’t throw a pick while passing for 316 yards. That’s hard to do with an experienced complement of players around. With guys still learning, it’s remarkable.
But, as I mentioned, the margin for error is tiny. And a botched snap on a fourth-and-inches play that would have sealed the game with 1:54 remaining wound up putting the Patriots in a position where they had to hang on defensively to seal the win.
One Brady mistake and a night’s work almost wasted. Which may have led, in part, to his being subdued.
In the second half, the first-half work the Patriots did on the ground paid dividends in the passing game. After an awful drive to open the half, Brady led the Patriots on a 14-play, 89-yard march, flipping a bad field position situation and getting a field goal out of it. Brady completed passes of 10, 18, 17 and 34 yards. With the Atlanta defense loading up to stop the run, simple routes with just two receivers running patterns turned into big gains.
The biggest play of the second half may have been the dart Brady threw to Thompkins on third-and-19 from the Patriots 12. The reception was good for 26, an additional 15 for a hit to the head of Thompkins moved the ball to the Falcons 47, and Blount carried it in from there on the next play to make it 20-10. An Atlanta field goal was followed by another Patriots touchdown, this one highlighted by another excellent Thompkins catch.
Three touchdowns. The scorers: Mulligan, Blount and Thompkins. Nobody’s idea of heavy impact players. But the Patriots make do with what they have and keep progressing.
Now they’re 4-0. Lurking in Denver is Peyton Manning and his own 4-0 team, obliterating defenses and putting up 50 with an embarrassment of riches.
The Patriots are doing it with savvy game-planning, contributions from players who’ve elevated their games and – most of all – because they have Tom Brady. And nobody else does.