Patriots clip Falcons’ wings
Sunday, September 29, 2013
While it seems Patriots fans have been waiting for the team to play like the Pats of old this season, perhaps the team has simply reinvented itself along the way?
With a defense that lost an anchor in the middle early on, and an offense that's still missing a couple of sparkplugs, New England came up with big plays on both sides of the ball to batter Atlanta 30-23 Sunday night at the Georgia Dome, and improve to 4-0 on the season. The Falcons fall to 1-3.
Early, Atlanta showed a comfort level on offense usually reserved for a home team...13 plays and 75 yards, operating smoothly behind QB Matt Ryan right down the field after the opening kickoff. But the Patriots defense stiffened at its own five and forced the Falcons to settle for a 23-yard Matt Bryant field goal with 9:23 left in the first. The drive was notable for two reasons - New England's ability to keep the Falcons from the end zone, but also for NT Vince Wilfork injuring his right ankle and being carted off to the dressing room.
While the Patriots' rookie receivers (Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins) each dropped a Tom Brady pass that could have meant a first down on NE's first possession, the defense looked prepared for taking on the challenge of clipping the Falcons' offensive wings, even with Wilfork's early exit to the sidelines. Beginning their second drive on their own 25, the offense then chose to pound away at the middle of ATL's defense with the running game. Behind the hard-charging efforts of Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden, facing 3rd and goal Brady found rookie TE Matthew Mulligan open on a 1-yard TD toss to give the Pats their first lead at 7-3, capping the 12-play drive with 12:43 to go in the 2nd quarter.
As the Falcons marched upfield on the NE defense once again, the bend-but-don't-break mantra took hold and forced Atlanta into a Ryan misfire on 4th-and-two at the Patriots' seven yard line. Taking over from there, Brady hit Thompkins on a 49-yard jump ball completion, but the drive stalled and Stephen Gostkowski booted a 48-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead with 2:23 left in the half. Ryan finally seemed to figure out the Pats "D" at this point, by finding his reliable target in TE Tony Gonzalez. A 21-yard pass and run completion to the 37-year-old former All-Pro capped an eight play, 80-yard drive to tie the score 10-10 at the half.
After both offenses were stuffed on their first possessions of the second half by the other team's defense, Brady finally found his range through the air - connecting with Julian Edelman four times on a drive that began at the NE seven. However, as has been the case through the first three weeks, the drive stalled in the red zone, even with a first-and-goal at the Falcons' nine. Gostkowski hit a 22-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead with 5:25 left in the 3rd period.
Both defenses came up with big stops late in the 3rd quarter...the Patriots killing a Falcons' drive with a Joe Vellano sack of Ryan, while Atlanta's Jonathan Massaquoi tripped up Bolden for a loss with running room in front of him. However, the NE offensive line gave Brady a ton of time to find Thompkins for a first down on a 3rd-and-19 play, and coupled with a 15-yard personal foul moving the ball into ATL territory, Blount pounded at the middle and broke free on a 47-yard run for a score and a 20-10 lead early in the 4th. The rushing TD by Blount was the Patriots' first on the ground this season.
Needing another big play by the defense, NE's Michael Buchanan took Ryan down on a 3rd-and-5 play with the Falcons moving on the ensuing drive, which forced Atlanta to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Bryant and a 20-13 game with 11:52 to play, the first points allowed by the Pats "D" in the 4th quarter this season. The offense then seized the moment, and the momentum, provided by the defensive effort. On a 3rd and 8, Brady hit Edelman for 44 yards up the sideline, and then found Thompkins on a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab in the end zone from 18 yards away.
It was 27-13 with 9:43 left. But Atlanta had been de-feathered.
Aqib Talib, who had covered WR Julio Jones as well as anyone may be capable, intercepted Ryan on a deep route intended for Jones. Gostkowski made ATL pay for the miscue with a 49-yard FG for a 30-13 advantage. But it was the inspired play of the defense, especially with the early-game departure of Wilfork in the middle, that made Atlanta pay all game long. Gonzalez caught a second TD grab from Ryan with 4:49 left - his 11th catch of the night for 140 yards. But his great night wasn't quite enough. An onside kick recovered by the Falcons led to a 25-yard Bryant FG to bring the score to 30-23.
Another onside attempt proved unsuccessful...but the Patriots could not convert on 4th and 1, with a bobbled snap between Ryan Wendell and Brady.
One play later, Ryan found Jones outsizing Devin McCourty for 49 yards to the Patriots' 13. With 4th and seven at the NE 10 and :41 seconds remaining, Ryan's attempt for Roddy White in the end zone was knocked away by Talib.
The offensive juggernaut may yet arrive in New England this season. But for now, it's the defense that's carrying these Patriots into familiar territory - the win column.
Post Game Notes
Brady's touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter to Matthew Mulligan gives him 52 straight games with at least one TD pass, two shy of tying Drew Brees' record of 54. The catch was Mulligan's first reception of the year...and the first to a Patriots TE this season...Brady had just nine pass attempts in the entire first half, completing five...the 4th down stop in the second quarter by the defense leaves opponents 0-for-5 on 4th down attempts this season...Ryan started the game connecting on his first seven pass attempts, and hit TE Tony Gonzalez seven times for 90 yards in the first half (12-148 total) as the Patriot defense focused its efforts on stopping WR's Julio Jones and Roddy White...former Patriot CB Asante Samuel was inactive for the game, out with an injury...rookie DT Joe Vellano, replacing Wilfork in the lineup, came up with a sack of Ryan for a 13-yard loss with 3:06 left in the 3rd, the first QB sack of his career...the Boston Globe was first to report Wilfork's injury is a torn achilles tendon, and the injury is expected to keep him out for the remainder of this season...