It wasn’t the Patriots circa 2007, but Belichick’s boys did more than enough to win yesterday afternoon, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 26-10 in front of a rain-soaked capacity crowd at Gillette Stadium. The Atlanta Falcons' visit was their first to the Razor, and minus a few nice plays from Boston College product Matt Ryan, the franchise’s inaugural journey was nothing to write home about.
Ryan’s first drive was a successful one for the most part, as he went 3-for-3 in completions. His accuracy didn’t translate into an end zone visit, however, as the Patriots defense forced Jason Elam to kick a 26-yard field goal.
What was a quick three points for Atlanta was a hard-earned three for New England, though, as the ensuing drive took 16 plays and 81 yards to complete.
The game had all the early indications of being another field goal duel, but that was broken up by the Pats’ improved ground game. After a three and out from Atlanta, Patriots RB Fred Taylor scored New England’s first touchdown since Week One after a series of successful gains on the ground (highlighted by a 19-yard run, the game’s longest single rush attempt).
But the Falcons knotted the score at 10 the very next drive, culminated by Michael Turner’s two-yard run into the end zone.
The Patriots’ next two drives were perhaps the most memorable ones for Pats fans, as Wilfork left the game with an injured ankle in the first drive (The Boston Herald reports the injury to be a sprain, no knowledge yet of his ability to play next week) and Brady looked uncharacteristically annoyed with his receivers on the second drive, which was capped with yet another field goal.
Brady went 10 for 18 with 87 yards in the first half. With a 55.5 percent completion rate, Brady was rightfully frustrated with his receivers for not completing routes (i.e. Sam Aiken) and dropping a series of catchable balls (i.e. Joey Galloway, Randy Moss, Aiken). This frustration was on full display, as camera crews caught several of his profanity-laced tirades.
Brady explained the source of his frustration during his weekly interview Monday morning with WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan.
Referring to his receivers, Brady said, “It’s not that I’m right and they’re wrong, we’re just on different pages at times. But that’s just part of the way it is early in the year when you’ve never played together. With Wes [Welker] out, we have a lot of moving parts and they’re working hard and they’re trying to do the right thing…but we’re not playing with a level of the ability that we have. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to get there. I believe we’re going to keep working at it and things are going to keep getting better and better for us.”
While the jury’s still out on whether the quarterback-receiver connection will get “better and better” for the Patriots, it at least moderately improved in the second half.
Despite leading 16-10 late in the third quarter, Brady and Co. decided to go for it on 4th and inches on their own 25-yard line. The truly gutsy call paid dividends, for not only did they convert, but Brady and Moss made several nice connections that were conspicuously missing in the first half. Moss finished the game with 10 receptions and 106 total yards.
About mid-way into the fourth quarter, Brady threw for his 200th career touchdown to former Jets TE Chris Baker. The milestone marker (Brady is the first to throw for 200 touchdowns and be sub-100 in interceptions thrown) put the score at 26-10, which would wind up being the final score.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” said Belichick during his post-game press conference. “We made a lot of plays that we needed to make, especially in the running game.”
The Patriots improved run game was courtesy of Taylor, who ran for 105 yards on 21 carries.
“[Taylor’s] really shifty,” said Brady during the post-game press conference. “Even when there’s not a lot of room in there he makes yards when we give him the ball. He’s a really good player for us and we’ve got to give him the ball.”
While virtually all aspects of the Patriots’ performance improved in Week Three, their red-zone conversion rate suffered. Within 20 yards of the end zone, the Patriots were 1-for-5, a modicum of improvement over last week’s 0’fer.
“We left some points out there in the red area,” said Belichick. “We gotta do a better job in that area. But it’s good to win.”
Next week, New England will play host to the Baltimore Ravens. The 3-0 Ravens and their vaunted defense will really test the mettle of the Patriots’ offensive line, which was brilliant against the Falcons, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the Jets in Week Two. Week One was the last time the Pats’ offensive line allowed a sack, and they currently have the longest streak of sack-free football in the NFL with respect to pass attempts (no sacks allowed in 134 pass attempts).
The defense was no slouch either. Despite being short-handed, the defense kept Matt Ryan to sub-200 yards in passing (i.e. 199) and kept the team’s lead receiver—Michael Jenkins—to just 78 yards. But what really impressed was their ability to render TE Tony Gonzales a non-entity. His only contribution came in garbage time, catching a 16-yard pass from Ryan.
That could be a different story next week, as Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ receiving core logged 342 passing yards on Cleveland Sunday in a rout, 34-3. Baltimore’s Derrick Mason finished with five catches and 118 yards.