New England - 30
Atlanta - 23
Game Analysis for the New England Patriots
Pass Offense: Patriots fans saw something they haven’t seen in a long time: The Falcons stacked the box, essentially daring Tom Brady to beat them. Atlanta got its wish, as Brady carved up the defense with play-action passes. Kenbrell Thompkins’ fourth-quarter touchdown was emblematic of his progress, as he missed a similar game-changing opportunity against the New York Jets.
Run Offense: LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown was the turning point in a back-and-forth affair, the first explosive scoring play on either side. New England had trouble making headway on the ground after the intermission and could not ice the game, but Blount’s burst lifts the grade a bit.
Run Defense: Vince Wilfork’s injury will be a vital storyline to follow this week, but for one night, the Patriots survive without their rock in the middle. Joe Vellano played as well as one could reasonably expect, even notching a 13-yard sack on Matt Ryan.
Pass Defense: Games like Sunday night are why Aqib Talib is so valuable to the defense, even without superstar statistics. His competitive man-to-man ability allowed the defense to limit Julio Jones, and his critical pass deflection in the end zone saved the game. One of Talib’s best performances as a Patriot.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski’s 49-yard field goal was huge given the Falcons’ frenzied comeback. While the veteran kicker remains a fairly reliable option, one cannot say the same for Zach Sudfeld, whose muffed onside kick recovery allowed Atlanta back into the game.
Coaching: The Patriots benefited from some critical Falcons breakdowns and had a late-game lapse but overall put forth an impressive display of composure in a tough environment. The Pats came ready to play Sunday night, turning in their best all-around effort of the season.
First-Half Analysis for the New England Patriots
Pass Offense: On the plus side, Matthew Mulligan’s first catch as a Patriot was a touchdown, and Thompkins’ leaping 49-yard catch was a spectacular play. However, Tom Brady has looked erratic, with several throws just a tad off. Indeed, the Pats’ run-oriented strategy suggests some uneasiness with the rookie receivers in a hostile environment.
Run Offense: New England’s first touchdown drive was a bruising exhibition, with 74 yards on 11 rushes. The Falcons are slapping Stevan Ridley’s hands relentlessly, but the third-year back has held on so far en route to a robust 8.4 yards per touch.
Run Defense: Despite Wilfork going down, the Pats have held up well on the ground, limiting the Falcons to 3.7 yards per carry. Undrafted rookie Vellano is seeing big snaps, but while the numbers are passable, the Falcons are getting solid push up the middle. Something to watch in the second half.
Pass Defense: The Patriots have answered skeptics thus far, largely containing the Falcons' uptempo passing attack. Tony Gonzalez has torched the Patriots linebackers, but Jones has been virtually invisible. One demerit: The pass rush has hurried Ryan but hasn’t gotten home.
Special Teams: Gostkowski squeaked home a 48-yarder, and Ryan Allen boomed another punt into the end zone. Julian Edelman had a scary moment taking a hard hit on a punt return but seemed OK.
Coaching: The Patriots have largely stayed in a 4-2-5 nickel package on defense, which has both limited explosive passes and held up well against the run. But Bill Belichick faces a dilemma: Does he continue allowing Gonzalez to bleed the defense slowly, or risk letting Jones loose?