Sunday Night Football this week had the Patriots playing the Falcons in Atlanta. While the Patriots were 3-0 going into it, most people said they were the worst 3-0 team, mainly based on the fact that they had only played weak teams and had not put up many points. This game was said to be their first real test as the Falcons are one of the elite teams, and are very hard to beat in Atlanta. Well, the Patriots passed “the test” with mostly flying colors. They remain undefeated and improve to 4-0 on the season.
New England took the win, with a final score of 30-23. At one they were up 30-13, but some mistakes led to Atlanta catching up a bit near the end of the game. If not for that, I would’ve said the Patriots won with all flying colors, but this late-game slip was why I said “mostly” flying colors. Aside from that, though, they were great.
While many fans are worried about the current state of our offense, with all of our rookie receivers, they shouldn’t be. I know we’re all used to scoring 30-40 points per game and winning with an overwhelming passing game, that is not how our current team is built. Still, they are a solid team. Rather than winning with the passing game while having a terrible defense and barely ever running the ball, this team is more balanced. It actually looks more like the teams that won Super Bowls in the early 2000’s. With Tom Brady’s prolific passing history, most fans have forgotten how different it was back then. At that point, when they were winning, it was not because Brady was throwing for 300+ yards and four TD’s per game. He wasn’t at that level yet. Rather, we won because our rosters were well-rounded. We had a good offense, but more importantly, a solid defense and a decent running game.
At this point in the Brady-Belichick era of the Patriots, I think this type of team actually gives us the best chance to win. This is because, as much as I hate to say it, Brady at this point, late in his career, is only the Brady of old about 85% of the time. You may have noticed it in the last couple of years, too.. Sometimes, he just misses or overthrows the ball. But fear not! It’s alright. We don’t need a super passing game to win a championship. In fact, I think we’re better off not relying on it. In the last two Super Bowls we went to, Brady was still his top-notch, nasty self, but our defense was horrible. So what happened? We did plenty of scoring, but still lost both times.
It’s been said that defense wins championships, and I’m very inclined to agree. All five of the Super Bowls that the Patriots have gone to in the Brady-Belichick era, whether won or lost, were prime examples of this. We won when we had solid defense and lost when we did not. The same goes for regular season games, and this season is further evidence. Our offense so far has struggled, yet our solid defense has kept us undefeated.
The star of this game was our cornerback Aqib Talib. He has really stepped up and has been the shutdown corner that we’ve been missing since Ty Law. Nobody in the league is playing better corner than him right now. The Patriots had four passes defended and he accounted for all of them. There were eight throws against him in this game, yet even though he was covering superstar Julio Jones most of the night, only one was caught for a one yard gain. Further, the only interception of the game was made by him, and it was huge! With less than 10 minutes left in the game and the Patriots were up 27-13. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went for a deep pass down the right sideline to Jones and Talib kept him from gaining position and recorded his NFL-leading fourth interception. Still, his most important play came with 40 seconds left. The Falcons, only down by a touchdown had the ball at New England’s 10-yard line. On fourth-and-7, Matt Ryan made a great pass to Roddy White, but you-know-who was right there to knock it away and preserve New England’s 30-23 lead for the win.
Talib had one of most dominant performances by a Patriots cornerback in recent history. The defense as a whole played very well, too. The Falcons got to the red zone numerous times, yet we kept them to only two touchdowns. Most of the time, they either settled for a field goal or gave turned the ball over. A notable defensive statistic is that the Patriots have forced a turnover in 31 straight games dating back to 2011. Besides the Talib interception, there was another Falcons turnover when Devin McCourty forced a fumble. Our defense came up big and had every bit as much to do with this win as the offense did, and that’s a very good thing.
As for our offense, Brady and his young receivers seem to be getting on the same page bit by bit. In this game, Kenbrell Thompkins looked much better than in previous weeks. He made a some big catches, including one in the end zone. He finished with six catches for a team-leading 127 yards (and the TD). His longest gain was a whopping 49 yards and game on an amazing play.. It was play action and as soon as Brady turned around, a defender was right in his face. He quickly avoided the sack, then knowing it would come in a second, tossed very deep to Thompkins. Even though there was a defender right on him, he came down with it.
Our offense (passing-wise) was carried by Thompkins, as well as Julian Edelman. Edelman never ceases to amaze me. While he is now one of the best wide receivers, he was originally a quarterback. Here’s a little-known short history of Edelman.. During his high school career, he had 2,237 yards and 29 touchdowns passing, in addition to 964 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing. In his senior year, he led his team to a 13-0 record. He knows how to win. In college, at Kent State, he was a three-year starting quarterback. His senior year, he was their leading passer, completing 56% of his passes (153 of 275 passes for 1,820 yards), throwing 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was also their leading rusher, gaining 1,370 yards on 215 attempts (an average of 6.4 yards per carry) and scoring 13 touchdowns. His total offense broke Joshua Cribbs’ single-season school record, set in 2003. Still, by the time he was ready for the NFL, he was not going to make it into the league as a quarterback. So, he did whatever he could. He was originally picked for his potential to throw the ball in a Wildcat formation. However, seeing as how Tom Brady was amazing, they didn’t really need to use that strategy. So he worked as a punt returner, a wide receiver, and even a cornerback.
Edelman scored his first professional points on August 13, 2009 in a pre-season game with the Philadelphia Eagles, returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. He then made the team over former Eagles wide receiver Greg Lewis, for whom the Patriots had given up a fifth-round draft pick in 2009. Edelman sat out the Patriots’ Week 1 game against the Buffalo Bills with an ankle injury, but was activated for, and made his first career start in, the Patriots’ 16–9 loss in Week 2 against the New York Jets, which was also the first game Wes Welker had missed since becoming a Patriot in 2007. Edelman led all receivers with eight receptions for 98 yards, and added 38 yards on two kickoff returns and two yards on a punt return, for a total of 138 all-purpose yards. He would then become the Patriots’ jackknife, a guy who could do pretty much anything. He would later become the franchise record holder for the longest punt return with 94-yarder in 2010 that he ran for a touchdown.
Any time Wes Welker was unavailable, Edelman was put in.. and now that Welker is in Denver, he’s been getting a ton of play time, filling in the slot receiver role that Welker played so well. He has done a surprisingly good job and is the Patriots’ leading receiver this season with 34 receptions for 319 yards and two TD’s. In Sunday night’s game, he was second in receiving (after Thompkins) with seven catches for 118 yards. His longest gain was 44 yards. He is looking very good.
The last name I want to highlight in the passing game was the other receiver to get a passing touchdown. His name is… wait, who was it? Oh, um, Matthew Mulligan? I guess he’s a tight end that we have. Like most people, I had never heard of him, but kudos to him. Out of nowhere, with two defenders on him, he caught a dart of a pass from Brady for the first touchdown of the game. Maybe he can be a factor. Maybe when Rob Gronkowski returns we could even get that two-tight end receiver thing going that worked so well with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez a couple of years ago. I doubt it since they haven’t been practicing it, but still, it’s good to know we have another receiver that is reliable (as far as we’ve seen).
Tom Brady finished the game 20-of-31 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns. This game was a huge improvement over the past three. He has now thrown a TD pass in 52 consecutive games, the NFL’s second-longest career – and active – streak behind Drew Brees’ 54 straight for New Orleans. Boom! But wait. Don’t forget, we also now have a legitimate running game.. and it’s part of the reason our passing game was successful. In this game, our rushing was led by LeGarrette Blount. He had nine runs for 64 yards and a touchdown.. and that TD was so sweet. It was a little run play where we expected a gain of only a few yards. Well, he found a hole and took off for 47 yards (his longest run) to the end zone. Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden helped the running game too. Ridley even had a nice pass reception for a first down.
One last note: Our kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been solid. He has tied Adam Vinatieri for team lead with eight career 50-yard field goals. Sunday night, he came close to breaking the record, but his two long field goals were 48- and 49-yarders (of which he made both).. just short. So he still needs one more to become the all-time leader, but it’s definitely good to know that he’s reliable.
So all in all, I think Patriots fans should feel relieved and much less worried. This game was their first real test, and not only did the pass, but they gave their best performance of the season so far. They ran a well-balanced offense, and let their defense contain our opponent’s strong offense. We earned a win even though Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw for 421 yards! It all looks good.. Except for one thing: We lost our defensive leader, the defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Early in the first quarter, he snapped his achilles tendon. He had successful surgery earlier today, but is likely out for the season. He is a huge part of our defense. Not only does he make big plays himself, but he makes the jobs of many of our other defensive players much easier. Simply by being who he is, he is often double- or even triple-teamed, which leaves openings both for our pass rushing and run blocking. As many have said in the past couple of days, Wilfork is absolutely irreplaceable. There is know one player that can step in and bring what he did.
So, New England is left wondering if the team will try to bring someone in, and/or have two players do the job Wilfork did, and/or use the “next man up” mentality. Well, during the game, they did the latter and had other defensive linemen step in. This mainly included Joe Vellano and Tommy Kelly. The good news is that, at least from what we saw in this game, the next man up tactic seemed to work decently. Now this doesn’t mean it will hold up all season, and it certainly isn’t anywhere near as good as if Wilfork could still play, but it looks like they’re going to be alright.. not great, but alright. If they decide not to bring anyone in, we just have to hope these guys can keep it up and slowly improve at filling in for the beast, Vince Wilfork.
Now, Wilfork aside, I’m still very confident in this team, and every Patriots fans should be. After seeing how poorly the Dolphins played last night, I’m almost certain that we will with the AFC East. I also think our record should end up somewhere around 13-3, give or take a win. The testing of this team isn’t over yet, though. While Sunday night’s game showed that we can beat a team that has an elite offense, but on the lower end of the elite list, our next two gave will answer other questions. Next week, we’ll have to go into Cincinnati and try to beat the defensive juggernaut, the Bengals. The following week, we will be at home, but will face one of the truly elite teams/offenses, the Saints. Ironically, that week will be the one in which Tom Brady can tie Drew Brees’ record for consecutive games with a TD pass. I’m pretty sure we can beat the Bengals, and as for the Saints, well, hopefully being at home, as well as having one more week to get Brady and his receivers clicking, gives us the extra push needed. I can’t wait to see how this team progresses. GO PATRIOTS!!!!
Here are some other notes about Sunday night’s game:
– With this win, Bill Belichick tied Chuck Knoll for fifth place for most career wins at 209.
– This marks the 13th time the Patriots and the Falcons have played each other. The last time was in 2009, when the Patriots won 26-10 at Gillette Stadium.
– Tom Brady’s first start against an NFC team was against the Falcons on November 4, 2001. Brady went 21-for-31 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. The Pats won 24-10.
– Lastly, a mini rant: What the hell is going on NFL?? Besides the numerous, blatantly wrong calls (like first downs we earned that they said we didn’t), there was one particular incident that really pissed me off. With only six minutes left in the game, the Falcons were on a drive, trying to make a comeback. Julio Jones got his hands on a throw from Matt Ryan, but before he had full control, it was knocked out of his hands and out of bounds. Yet, the refs called it a catch. Ok, ok, well then we can challenge it, right? Nope! Bill Belichick tried to challenge it, but the reviewing system was somehow not working at the time, so he didn’t get to have them review it. Are you serious, NFL??!! First, there’s the conspiracy theory that they wanted to make it a more exciting game, so they just said the system was down. I still believe in that possibility, but since there will be naysayers, let’s move on. That aside, how about a contingency plan? I mean damn, all you have to do is get a cheap DVR and record the TV broadcast, which shows multiple angles in slow motion for everyone at home. We all got to review it and see that it wasn’t a catch, so why couldn’t the NFL? Oh yeah, and two minutes later, when the Falcons needed a review, the system was magically working again. Yup. Ok, NFL. I’m sure the system was down for only two minutes and you had no contingency plan at all.. Just like I’m sure that Thursday Night Football is a great product and not total garbage since teams don’t have enough time to prepare. NOT!
Here’s a video of highlights from the game:
Thanks for reading,