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 -- The best and most entertaining game of the Patriots season by far. It got a little hairy at the end, and the Falcons made New England sweat after a couple of mistakes, but the Patriots defense closed out a game it certainly would have lost in prior years.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
New England’s run the ball pretty effectively so far this season, particularly last week against the Bucs. There have been outlier plays that have bolstered their numbers – Brandon Bolden carrying three times for 51 yards last week – but overall, they are establishing a good identity on the ground. Expect them to stick with that in Atlanta where the Falcons have been pretty good (79 yards per game, a 3.8 average) but the teams they’ve faced – Saints, Rams, Dolphins – are disinclined to push it on the ground. The Patriots will stay with the balanced running back approach, but LeGarrette Blount may be less of a factor against a speedy Atlanta front-seven. The Falcons will be missing linebacker Sean Witherspoon all season. In the air, the Patriots simplified and had success last week. Against a Falcons secondary that’s allowing 66 percent completions and 7.56 yards per attempt to opponents, the Patriots will stay on the upswing. With another week under their belts, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins will be making another step forward. They’ll need to because you can expect the Falcons to focus on slowing down Julian Edelman as they did last week with Dolphins No. 1 Mike Wallace (2 catches, 22 yards). Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola are looking like game-time decisions. Info I have is that Amendola’s a long shot for this week, more likely for Cincy. The return of Gronk will help in various ways, one of which is possibly opening things up for Zach Sudfeld to begin making an impact in two tight end sets. The position has been mostly ignored by Brady in the passing game. Finally, Brady coming off a poor performance is a beast and last week qualified. If defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wants to try and blitz Brady – not an unreasonable idea given the sight adjustments and hot routes his young receivers would be consigned to running – I’d still say advantage Brady. Rookie Desmond Trufant mans one corner and the aging but still dangerous Asante Samuel is on the other. Safety Thomas DeCoud is pretty good.
The Patriots ran it for 132 on 31 carries and broke up the touches again – Blount had 9 for 64 and a 47-yard touchdown; Ridley was 11 for 53 with two catches for 26 and Bolden had six carries for 17. They all run exceedingly hard and the Falcons got overwhelmed. The running game set up the passing game as Tom Brady came out of halftime with nine attempts and wound up with 31. Julian Edelman had seven catches for 118 all after halftime as the area opened up inside the numbers every time the Patriots showed run. No impact whatsoever from the tight end but Kenbrell Thompkins – still not consistent but a tremendous competitor for the ball – had six catches for 127. Brady was so good it was ridiculous. And while the fourth-down fumble was a bad look when the team had a chance to close it out, his ballhandling in play-action and his accuracy for the most part were terrific.
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
Atlanta’s banged up on offense as well. Steven Jackson is likely out, Julio Jones has been limited in practice with a sore knee, Roddy White’s got a high ankle sprain, left tackle Sam Baker has ankle and knee issues, The strength of Atlanta is its explosiveness. It will be, by far, the best quarterback/skill position group the Patriots have faced. But it’s held back by those injuries. In Matt Ryan, the Falcons have a player who lifts the performance of his offense and team. He’s accurate (68 percent passer last year), takes great care of the ball (133 to 62 TD-INT over his career) and is actually underrated mostly because of a 1-4 playoff record. He and Julio Jones are the most dynamic young QB/WR combo in the league and Jones is having the best season of any wideout so far with 27 catches and 373 receiving yards. Look for the Patriots to put Aqib Talib on him and always have deep safety help eyeballing Jones’ movements. Tony Gonzalez has been OK so far (11 catches, 93 yards) at the tight end spot. He’s not what he used to be. Roddy White has been a shell so far with just seven catches for 56 yards. Slot receiver Harry Douglas is a tough little weapon though. The Patriots have been straightforward on defense so far, but they could get a little more inventive to try and slow the roll of an efficient quarterback like Ryan. Watch Chandler Jones on Sam Baker, the left tackle. With Baker dinged up, Jones could have a day. The Falcons running game isn’t going to scare anyone with Jaquizz Rodgers. Expect the Patriots to be in nickel or dime defense much of the day.
The Patriots had a helluva time holding down Tony Gonzalez who had 12 catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan put up great numbers 421 yards and two touchdowns, but he hurt the Falcons with a pick and a horrific throw on a fourth-and-1 play inside the Patriots 5 in the first half. Jones was kept in check by a collection of defenders until he caught a big 49-yarder on the Falcons last drive – get throw and catch that was pretty indefensible. The Patriots brought much more pressure than they did in the first couple of games and the result – getting Ryan to rush throws and work on the move,.
THE KICKING GAME
Douglas is talented but he’s done nothing on punt returns so far for Atlanta. Both Matt Bosher and Stephen Gostkowski figure to put all kickoffs through the end zone in the Dome. This will be Ryan Allen’s first game punting in a dome for the Patriots. He hasn’t punted to his capabilities yet. Expect a solid night from him. Bosher is a terrific young punter and is averaging a 45.1 net. Gostkowski is on a field goal hot streak at the moment and this prime-time game in a dome is a chance for him to keep feeding his confidence.
Special teams wasn’t a factor other than Stephen Gostkowski remaining hot on field goals – 48, 22, 49 – and Zach Sudfeld making like Karch Kiraly on the onsides kick recovery.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Noise is going to be a big factor for the Patriots offense to deal with. It gets exceedingly loud in the Georgia Dome and on a Sunday night, it’s gonna be raucous. There’s no room for miscommunication between wideouts and quarterback on any night, even less on this one. A lot of mental pressure on the Patriots young players.
Noise. Not a major factor.
SICK BAY: PATRIOTS
Out: WR Matt Slater (wrist)
Questionable: WR Danny Amendola (groin), CB Kyle Arrington (groin), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), S Nate Ebner (ankle), TE Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm), T Will Svitek (knee), T Sebastian Vollmer (foot), RB Leon Washington (thigh)
Probable: LB Jerod Mayo (ankle), TE Zach Sudfeld (hamstring), DT Vince Wilfork (foot)
The Patriots come out with a broken Wilfork, a hobbled Alfonzo Dennard (apparent ankle), and a sore Aaron Dobson (neck or shoulder). Brandon Bolden left briefly with a knee issue. Washington was inactive again and so were Gronkowski and Amendola. Vollmer was able to go, though. Nice rally from him.
SICK BAY: FALCONS
Questionable: T Sam Baker (foot, knee), WR Julio Jones (knee), CB Asante Samuel (thigh), WR Roddy White (ankle)
Probable: C Peter Konz (knee), CB Robert McClain (knee), G Garrett Reynolds (knee), RB Josh Vaughan (ankle)
The Falcons took a blow when Baker went out. Samuel wasn’t able to go. Roddy White was fairly inconsequential aside from drawing a long pass interference. Jones rallied and came on strong even though you could see him limping a bit on the final Atlanta drive.
PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP …
Julio Jones. Very simple. Take away the other team’s most dynamic player and make someone else beat you.
For the most part, Jones was handled. He had three catches for 22 yards through three quarters before finishing with 6 for 108. The Patriots sent everyone at Jones at different times and usually had either Steve Gregory or Devin McCourty lurking to give support.
FALCONS GOTTA STOP …
Julian Edelman. The guy Julio Jones is tied with for the NFL lead in receptions is Edelman. He is currently the most sure thing the Patriots have in their passing game and – when it’s third-and-4 at their own 32 and noisy – do you think Tom Brady is going anywhere else with the ball?
As the Patriots did with Jones, Atlanta did with Edelman. For a while. Then Tom Brady started finding him and got him going to the tune of 118 yards on seven catches.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF …
All those Atlanta injuries add up and put the Patriots in position for a surprisingly easy win.
I did play it both ways between this and my prediction, so I won’t take a victory lap by any means.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“We have to play our best game, there’s no doubt about it. If you go three-and-out, if you just put what happened last week with us, we had three three-and-outs to start the game, it could be 21-0. That’s the way they play. We have to be able to start fast. We have to put points on the board, we have to get people in the end zone. Obviously the critical plays like turnovers, critical third downs, scoring opportunities in the red area are all going to be crucial to winning the game.” – Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback, on the importance of starting quickly.
The Patriots did start well. Defensively, a surgical Atlanta drive stalled and a field goal was settled for. On the Patriots second drive of the half, they scored a touchdown and then they got a field goal on their only other first half drive.
THAT SUMS IT UP FALCONS STYLE
“He is a very physical, athletic corner that has the capability [if] they want to match him up with the number one receiver. We’re very familiar with him from having played against him while he was in Tampa, so we’ve seen him a number of times and we know that he is an outstanding player. We anticipate we’ll get his best shot this week. He is a good football player, their best cover guy by far.” – Mike Smith, Falcons head coach, on Aqib Talib
Talib keeps playing at a Pro Bowl level.
THE WINNER IS...
I’m basing this on the talent and experience of the two teams and the fact Atlanta cannot drop to 1-3. This is a massive game for them.
Falcons 27, Patriots 21
Patriots 30, Atlanta 23