The Patriots burst out to a 30-13 lead and held on down the stretch to come away with a 30-23 win over the Falcons Sunday night in Atlanta.
The late flurry from the Falcons might overshadow a superior defensive effort for the first three-plus quarters from New England, which managed to hold Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White in check for most of the night. Their work helped the Patriots build a 17-point second half lead, but New England had to sweat it out down the stretch. However, when Aqib Talib knocked away a pass for White in the end zone with less than a minute to go, the victory was secure.
On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady went 20-for-31 for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan was 34-for-54 for 421 yards with two touchdowns and one pick.
New England moved to 4-0 with the win, the third time the Patriots have started a season with four straight wins out of the gate under Bill Belichick. The other two years — 2004 and 2007 — ended with New England making a trip to the Super Bowl.
Here are a few quick notes on the game:
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• The Patriots were able to contain Jones most of the night, thanks almost entirely to the work of Talib. It was exclusive, but Talib played a sizable role in leaving one of the league’s best receivers completely ineffective through much of the evening. Jones had two catches for six yards in the first half, and Talib came away with his fourth pick of the year on a ball midway through the fourth quarter. Jones ended up with 13 catches for 108 yards — with 49 of them coming on a great play late in the fourth quarter — but wasn’t much of a factor throughout the evening.
• The New England running game was tremendous, as the Patriots were able to consistently move the chains and get good yardage throughout the first half. On New England’s first touchdown drive of the night — a series that encompassed the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter — 10 of the 12 plays were runs, with Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden picking up some good, between-the-tackles yardage on the 75-yard drive. (The series ended with a pass from Brady to Matthew Mulligan to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead — the first touchdown pass to a tight end this season for New England.) New England was able to keep that going in the second half when LeGarrette Blount tacked on a 46-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 10-point lead. Blount had 64 rushing yards and Ridley added 53.
• The offensive highlight of the night came in the second quarter on a Brady pass to Kenbrell Thompkins that went for 49 yards down the sideline, a heave from Brady that saw Thompkins go up and fight for the ball against the Atlanta defenders who were in coverage. It was the longest pass play of the season for the Patriots, besting the 39-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson in Week 2 against the Jets. That series ended with a 48-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski that made it 10-3 with 2:57 remaining in the first half. All in all, while Dobson saw his night cut short with a neck injury — more on that later — Thompkins had a big night, finishing with 11 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in the win.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• While the Patriots — and Talib — did an excellent job shutting down Jones, they weren’t so lucky when it came to slowing down Tony Gonzalez. The veteran tight end had seven catches in the early going, including the second-quarter touchdown grab that tied the game at 10 just before the half. He finished the night with 14 catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. He’s no longer the week-to-week offensive threat he once was, but Gonzalez proved that he can still bring it with the best of them when his quarterback needs his help.
• New England made a point of playing three complete games over their first three contests, shutting out their opponents in the fourth quarter over all three of their first three games. The Patriots were sluggish on offense and defense in the final frame against the Falcons, as Brady fumbled a key fourth-down snap and the defense yielded 13 fourth-quarter points. Not the sort of way you want to finish.
• The Patriots suffered a serious injury when defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was carted off in the first quarter after he went down with a right ankle injury. New England went with Joe Vellano in his place for much of the rest of the evening. If the All-Pro is out for any extended stretch, it would be a big blow to a New England defense that is led by the veteran Wilfork. The Patriots also lost running back Brandon Bolden with a knee injury in the first half, but he returned for the second half. And New England lost Dobson late in the third quarter when he got cracked in the end zone when diving for a ball that would have been a touchdown — the rookie receiver appeared to get hit, and left the field for the locker room shortly after the play went down. (It was later announced that he was questionable to return.)
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