By Gregory Hunt
After building a seemingly comfortable 17-point, fourth-quarter lead, the New England Patriots held on to earn a 30-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday Night at the Georgia Dome. The win gives New England a 4-0 record, and better yet, the offense appears to be developing some chemistry. To be fair, the Falcons did come into this game a little banged up (particularly former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel, who was inactive), and Atlanta suffered several additional injuries during the course of the game, but New England still proved that it can beat an above-average team on the road.
Offense Grade: B+
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady kept his touchdown pass streak alive early in the game with a one-yard pass to tight end Matthew Mulligan. Brady has now completed at least one touchdown pass in 52 consecutive games, which is second in NFL history. Brady had a quiet game from the pocket, but only because offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed pretty committed to the running game. This commitment paid off in 132 yards rushing, including a 47-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount. That was New England’s first rushing touchdown of the season.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who came into this game leading the Patriots with 27 receptions, was largely silent in the first half, but he got things going with a couple of impressive catches on a 14-play, 89-yard drive that resulted in a field goal in the third quarter. Later, he made a 44-yard reception during a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Fellow receiver Kenbrell Thompkins made his longest catch of the year on a 49-yard reception in which he out-jumped Atlanta cornerback Robert McClain. Thompkins also made a 26-yard reception in the fourth quarter that converted a third-and-19, and he caught an 18-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 27-13 lead. Thompkins did drop one easy pass, but he is beginning to develop a penchant for making big catches.
Defense Grade: B
In a pattern the Patriots have followed throughout the 2013 season, the defense gave up quite a few yards (457), but they were largely successful in keeping their opponent out of the end zone. The exceptions, of course, were the two touchdown passes caught by future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. New England had no answer for Gonzalez, who caught 12 passes for 149 yards. The New England secondary shut down Atlanta receiver Julio Jones for most of the game, but he made some key catches during Atlanta’s late comeback attempt to finish with six catches for 108 yards.
New England made two sacks, and thanks to occasional interior pressure, the Patriots were able to keep Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan from making too many big plays. Cornerback Aqib Talib committed a 38-yard pass interference penalty that helped put Atlanta into field goal range, but he made his fourth interception of the season to help New England maintain its fourth-quarter lead, and later he defended a pass in the end zone with 35 seconds left in the game to clinch the win.
Special Teams Grade: C
New England kicker Stephen Gostkowski was his usual reliable self, although he did give up a rare kickoff return in the second quarter that was brought back to the Atlanta 26-yard line. He was successful on field goals from 48, 22 and 49 yards.
The punt return squad avoided disaster when Atlanta special teamer Drew Davis was blocked into returner Edelman on a fair catch attempt. The ball failed to touch any Patriots player and was eventually downed by Atlanta at the New England 25-yard line. However, a near-disaster did occur when tight end Zach Sudfeld muffed an onside kick late in the game, and that led to an Atlanta field goal that cut New England’s lead to seven points.
Coaching Grade: B
Given New England’s lack of depth of wide receiver, which got worse when Aaron Dobson left the game with an injury, McDaniels wisely chose to slow down the game. In recent years, Pats fans have become used to seeing Brady run plenty of no-huddle plays, but every play in Sunday night’s game started with a huddle. Head coach Bill Belichick made a bad challenge on a second-half reception by Jones, but the lost timeout did not factor in the game. A late double-team to jam Gonzalez at the line of scrimmage and keep him from making a potential game-tying catch might have been the defensive call of the game.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.