Despite some hills and valleys within their first three games, nobody currently stands taller than the 3-0 New England Patriots.
The combined record of the Patriots first three opponents is only 3-6, but that belies the quality of the teams that they have faced. The Bills and Jets both have both looked spry in their opening three games, while the Buccaneers are certainly the best 0-3 team in the league.
That trend continues this week when the Patriots face off against the 1-2 Falcons—a team that many still think of as a strong Super Bowl contender.
Here is a complete recap of the weekend in the world of the Patriots.
AFC East Results
Buffalo Bills vs. New York Jets Recap
The Jets certainly tried to give this game away. Racking up 20 penalties is never a sound strategy, but Geno Smith was able to connect on deep passes to Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes to secure the 27-20 victory.
To make matters worse for the Bills, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com announced that Bills defensive lineman Alex Carrington will be placed on injured reserve with a torn quad tendon.
Miami Dolphins vs. Atlanta Falcons Recap
Ryan Tannehill held up well against the Falcons blitz and led his Dolphins to a 27-23 victory. Tannehill was 9-for-12 on the decisive final drive and has shown a lot of improvement in his ball placement and decision-making through three weeks of the 2013 season.
Despite the 3-0 start, not everything was coming up roses for Miami. Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake left the game with an injury and his status remains unclear heading into the Dolphins' Monday Night Football showdown with the New Orleans Saints.
Analysis: The AFC East is now 9-3 overall and an astonishing 6-0 outside of the division. Once thought of as the worst division in football, the AFC East is anything but a pushover.
Analysis: With Shane Vereen still out and Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski question marks heading into the Falcons game, the Patriots offense is going to be lacking a couple of their top weapons.
As long as Danny Amendola is out, look for Julian Edelman to be the target that Tom Brady is most comfortable throwing the ball to—especially on third down. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have proved that they can get the job done, but consistency will be an issue with rookies.
Story To Watch
Brady's budding chemistry with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson is in stark contrast to the former Marshall wideout's poor performance last week against New York Jets. Bobby Dobson—Aaron's father—had this to say about Brady and Dobson to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.
Yeah, it was a bad night — had some ups, had some downs. I told him to just play, don’t worry about the rest of that stuff... And he talked to Tom. He said, ‘Look, I’m a quarterback, I’m going to throw some interceptions. You’re a receiver, you’re going to drop it. The running backs are going to fumble.’
Don’t let it affect you on the next play or the next game or whatever. And I think he just took that to heart.
The offense was efficient against the Buccaneers, but it was far from explosive. If Dobson can add that downfield threat to the Patriots offense, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be able to open up even more space underneath for his slot receivers to work their magic.
What Needs to Improve
1. Tom Brady's Accuracy and Vision
The open receiver has always been Brady's favorite receiver. That wasn't the case against Tampa Bay. At one point, Brady missed Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman streaking down the field without anyone within 12 yards of them—instead opting to try and hit Zach Sudfeld on a sideline touch route that ultimately fell to the ground.
Brady also missed Dobson on a sure touchdown—Dobson was all alone in the end zone—although there was some pressure in his face.
If the Patriots are going to beat the Falcons, Brady is going to have to tune it up.
2. Red-Zone Offense
The Patriots converted only two of their five trips in the red zone against the Buccaneers, although one of the failed trips was the result of Coach Belichick choosing not to run up the score.
Part of the issue was Brady's inconsistent play—missing Dobson twice and throwing a bad interception—but the lack of a playmaking tight end really shows up inside the 20-yard line.
3. Tight End Play
Rob Gronkowski will single-handedly solve this problem when he is finally able to suit up. Until then, the Patriots offense needs to find a consistent contributor.
Michael Hoomanawanui had a couple of nice receptions against the Buccaneers and Matthew Mulligan was decent blocking in the run game, but Zach Sudfeld hasn't been the dynamic presence that we saw in the preseason.
Two running backs that went undrafted—Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount—seem to be ahead of Ridley on the depth chart. Bolden looked especially good against the Buccaneers, which was the first game of his season.
Ridley, however, has the ability to gain more yards than his line blocks for on a consistent basis. If he can continue to hold onto the ball and run hard, look for Ridley to get out of Belichick's doghouse soon.
With Shane Vereen out, the Patriots need all their remaining running backs to be firing on all cylinders.