By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots, in a roller coaster of a game jumped out to a big lead and then held on for 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night in Atlanta.
Tom Brady had by far his most complete game of the season and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins had the first 100 yard receiving game of his career, including a highlight reel catch in the end zone. Julian Edelman also had totaled 100 yards receiving as the Patriots offense had its best output of the season.
In our “Razor’s Edge” matchups we highlighted the Edelman – Robert McClain matchup as being one the Patriots could take advantage of. After a quiet first half, Brady and Edelman did exactly that. Edelman caught 7 passes for 118 yards and they consistently targeted McClain in the pivotal second half.
It what was billed as their biggest game of the season, the Patriots responded with a very solid effort on both sides of the ball. Cornerback Aqib Talib turned in another outstanding performance and made the game saving pass breakup in the Patriots end zone with 36 seconds left to preserve the victory.
Wild, Wacky Finish: With the Patriots up by 17 with just over six minutes to play, things got crazy. The Falcons drove for a score, aided by a play that Bill Belichick tried to challenge but the replay machine became inoperable. An on-sides kick ensued that eluded Zach Sudfeld and the Falcons moved quickly for a field goal narrowing the lead to seven.
Another on-sides kick resulted in the Patriots recovering and after a terrible spot but the officials on 3rd and 1, the Patriots attempting to put the game away, fumbled the snap on 4th down and Ryan moved Atlanta to deep within the red zone before Talib swatted away a 4th down pass to Julio Jones in the end zone to preserve the win.
Pyrrhic Victory?:But it was a very costly victory, as Vince Wilfork left early in the 1st quarter in what was billed as a foot injury, Wilfork has a torn Achilles tendon which will probably end his season and leave a huge void in the middle of the Patriots defense.
Aaron Dobson took a nasty hit in the end zone and left the game with a neck injury. How severe his injury is at this time is unknown.
No Asterisk Needed Now: The Patriots won their first three games against teams that weren’t highly regarded. And the most common refrain was “they’re 3-0 but….” Atlanta was billed as the first real stepping stone in terms of seeing what this team is made of.
It’s safe to say, that they passed their first test, the team is now 4-0 and with each passing week, facing the adversities that they’ve met is making this team a mentally tough football team. These lessons will serve them well in December and January.
Contrast that with the talented team in Atlanta that has played just well enough to lose in 3 of its first 4 games. That part of the equation can’t be understated.
Vintage Brady, In Control: Tom Brady had a very solid performance on Sunday night, and mixed up the play calls expertly. In fact he attempted only nine passes in the first half as the Patriots leaned on the power running game.
But as the running game improved as the night progressed, it opened up passing lanes that Brady was able to take advantage of. He finished 20-31 for 316 yards, 2 TDs and 0 INTs for a QB rating of 119.8, easily his best output of the season.
And he had the offense clicking in the second half as the team scored 20 second half points on the road in a tough, noisy place to play against a team that won 13 games last year. Brady extended his personal streak of throwing a touchdown pass in 52 straight games.
Thompkins Improving Week By Week: Rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins who shined through workouts all spring and summer was being looked to as an important cog in the offense. But shaky performances in the first two weeks had some doubting whether he would be able to contribute consistently.
He put many of those fears to rest on Sunday night, while far from perfect; he turned in a big performance (6 receptions for 127 yards, 1 TD) and is becoming more and more in sync with Brady. Besides the outstanding grab in the end zone, he made a beauty of a 49 yard grab on a Brady deep ball in the first half.
Perhaps more importantly, facing a 3rd and 19 at the NE 12 yard line, Thompkins found a seam in the Atlanta second to catch a Brady pass for 26 yards out to the 38 yard line. William Moore was flagged for a 15 yard personal foul penalty setting up the next play a 47 yard TD burst from LaGarrette Blount that put the Patriots in the driver’s seat.
Talib Drawing Raves: Cornerback Aqib Talib had perhaps his best performance of the year on Sunday night and by game’s end was drawing comparisons to former Patriot great Ty Law.
Shadowing Falcons wideout Julio Jones with over-the-top help for most of the game, Talib was fantastic and his play at the end of the game put the game away, knocking the Matt Ryan pass for Jones away in the end zone.
The television networks put up a graphic that stated that Talib was thrown at 8 times with only 1 reception for a single yard. Talib also had 2 passes defensed and 1 interception. This was on a night that the Patriots pass rush was not what was expected and was inconsistent all game.
His play received rare kudos from Pats coach Bill Belichick, “Aqib’s played great for us all year,” Belichick said. “All the way back to the spring, training camp, he’s stepped up when we needed him and he played well. He played the ball well. Played against good receivers, tackled well and just played well. He’s done a good job for us.”
Running Game Comes Up Big….Again: The Falcons entered the game as one of the top rushing defenses in the league but the Patriots remained patient and the offensive line and running backs began to assert themselves as the game wore on.
Once again using the committee approach the Patriots running game, did the job rushing for 132 yards on 31 carries, for a 4.3 yard average, but more importantly they kept the high powered Atlanta offense on the bench, especially in the first half when the Falcons seem to play their best football.
Players of the game on offense was Thompkins who turned in a big time game and on defense, it was easily Talib.
Next up is a Sunday matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) on the road again. The Bengals are another team, picked to go far this season but thus far haven’t played consistent enough.