By Traci McCartney // @traciamc
New England 23 – Atlanta 7
Sunday’s game was the highly anticipated rematch of Super Bowl LI’s Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, to be held at Gillette Stadium.
Everyone has always assumed that the lighthouse and fog horn were just there for ambiance, but on Sunday night they might have actually proved helpful. The fog rolled into Foxborough and clouded visibility from the NBC cameras and coaches up in the booth as well as some fans, but it didn’t seem to bother the Patriots. They scored another win bringing their record to 5-2 and finally dominated their visiting opponent the way they’ve been expected to all season.
With a final score of 23-7, the Patriots sent the Falcons home without the win they had been vying for after losing the Super Bowl to New England in overtime last February.
Although quarterback Tom Brady was sacked twice for a loss of 8 yds, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 241 yds. Running back Rex Burkhead was back this week, returning from a rib injury sustained in Week 2’s game against the New Orleans Saints. This put four running backs on the field this week for the Patriots. And run the ball they did, racking up 162 yards on the ground. This allowed them to not only control the pace of the game, but eat up the clock as well.
In fact, the most glaring statistic from week 7 wasn’t the turnover ratio (there weren’t any), sacks (3 sacks for 18 yds for both quarterbacks), or even the total offensive yards, but time of possession. It explains why the Patriots won this game so decidedly: Atlanta had the ball for almost 10 minutes less than New England.
In addition to the time of possession there were some mistakes and missed opportunities by Atlanta, and some great offense and defense by the Patriots. Atlanta’s field goal kicker had a 37 yard field goal blocked by defensive end Cassius Marsh that would have put the Falcons on the scoreboard first. After a roughing the passer penalty with what looked like was some definite helmet to helmet contact, Brady dropped a pass into wide reciever Brandin Cooks’ hands and following behind tight end Rob Gronkowski, Cooks rushed into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game.
Then, down 10-0 with 2 minutes left in the first half, instead of punting the ball on 4th and 6, on the New England 47 and trying to pin the Patriots deep, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn decided to go for the first down. Quarterback Matt Ryan threw an incomplete pass to wide receiver Mohammed Sanu, who was covered well by cornerback Jonathan Jones, and the Falcons turned the ball over to the Patriots on downs.
This gave Brady an opportunity on a short field to march the offense 53 yards and score with a touchdown pass to running back James White, his first TD this season. The Patriots headed to the locker room with a 17-0 lead over the Falcons.
They never relinquished that lead. In fact, the defense didn’t look at all like the defense we’ve seen in previous games this season – they played well. It seems like they’ve worked out the communication issues that had been plaguing them at the beginning of the season and look much more like a cohesive unit. With Jonathan Jones and cornerback Johnson Bademosi in for injured defensive backs Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, the defense held the Falcons to 100 yds passing and only 30 yards rushing in the first half.
The defense continued to play well in the second half as Atlanta’s offense continued to sputter. The Falcons had another missed field goal from 36 yards and after the Patriots scored another field goal to put them up 20-0, the Falcons decided to go for it on 4th and goal. Matt Ryan handed the ball to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on a jet sweep and although defensive end Trey Flowers dove and missed Gabriel, linebacker Kyle Van Noy did not.
It was a huge goal line stop that turned the ball over to Brady and company on the New England 6 yard line. They moved the ball down to the Atlanta 20 yard line, adding 3 more points from kicker Stephen Gostowski with a 38 yard field goal. Gostkowski then kicked the ball down to the Atlanta 6 yard line and after a 6 yard return, the runner was pushed out of bounds. Atlanta would have to start at their own 12 yard line.
The Falcons were able to move the ball down the field with New England’s defense playing a soft zone, and Ryan was able to connect with wide receiver Julio Jones, who had to rip the ball out of cornerback Malcolm Butler’s hands in the end zone, to score the Falcons’ first and only points of the game. Matt Ryan threw for 233 yards against the Patriots’ defense, the first quarterback to throw for less than 300 yards against the Patriots this season.
Brady had a good game for himself and now leads the league in passing with 2208 yds. Wide receiver Chris Hogan was the leading receiver with 4 catches for 71 yards. But Brandin Cooks, who had 4 receptions for 65 yards is now #3 in the NFL for receiving yards with 537 averaging 19.17 yards per catch. He’s led only by wide receivers Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers with 765 for 52 catches and AJ Green of the Cincinnati Bengals with 545 yards on 35 catches. Rob Gronkowski made an amazing catch on 2nd and 17 for 40 yards, but it was negated by an offensive pass interference play, but still had a decent game catching 3 passes for 51 yards.
The Patriots look like they’re finally making adjustments and getting themselves back on track in all three phases of the game. Next week, they take on a hot LA Chargers team that started out 0-4, but has won their last 3 in a row, including shutting out the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
#We’reOnToSanDiego….. I mean #We’reOnToLosAngeles
Talk Patriots with Traci on Twitter // @traciamc