In case you hadn’t heard, the New England Patriots pulled off one of the most memorable comebacks in NFL history; erasing a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl LI in overtime against the Falcons. Patriots fans never knew such pleasure. Falcons fans never knew such pain.
Memories like that can last a lifetime. That’s great…if the memories are pleasant. When they aren’t so spectacular, they can hover and linger like a dense fog. Unfortunately, for the Atlanta Falcons, they could conquer neither the eerie fog of a New England autumn night, nor the remaining specter of Super Bowl LI.
On Sunday night, the two teams met in a highly-anticipated rematch. This time, the Patriots had no need for a comeback. Instead, the defending champs dominated from the opening kick. The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and headed into halftime with a 17-point lead. New England added two field goals in the second half and cruised to a 23-7 victory at a foggy Gillette Stadium.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns, while Dion Lewis rushed for 76 yards on the ground. Matt Ryan totaled 233 passing yards and a score in the losing effort.
The Action on Offense
Much like Super Bowl LI, this one began with both teams struggling to find the end zone. The first quarter ended in a 0-0 tie. While it might be going out on a limb, it doesn’t seem that many would have predicted a defensive slugfest between these two teams.
However, the Pats offense was about to awaken in an unusual, but effective way. The Patriots drove deep into Atlanta territory after a 20-yard completion by Brady and a 25-yard run by Dion Lewis. Two plays later, Brady drops back and throws a pass into the end zone that was easily intercepted by Falcons cornerback Robert Alford. It appeared that the promising drive had been killed by an unlikely mistake by Brady. However, Atlanta defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, was called for a crucial roughing the passer. This gave the Pats a second wind. Brandin Cooks followed by taking a pitch from Brady (and using tight-end Rob Gronkowski as a blocking train) 11 yards for a touchdown. This gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
Never one to ease his foot off the accelerator, Brady would lead the Patriots back into the end zone, within just 1:34 of game action. He completed four passes on the drive, including a 2-yard strike to James White, which put New England ahead 17-0, just prior to halftime.
Stephen Gostkowski continued his run as ‘Mr. Reliable’ this season, and added to the Patriots point total with three pinpoint field goals in the murky Foxboro night air. Gostkowski connected from 29, 21 and 38 yards, respectfully.
The Falcons finally got on the board with 4:09 remaining. From the Patriots one yard line, quarterback Matt Ryan threw a fade route to Julio Jones. Jones used his athleticism to jump up and rip the ball away from Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler for the touchdown. The deficit was cut to 23-7, but the effort came a bit too late.
And ‘The Game Ball’ goes to….the Pats Defense.
Before you ask…Yes, you read that correctly.
Matt Patricia’s defense came into Sunday night’s game ranked at the bottom of the league, according to ‘Football Outsiders’ metrics. What had been the NFL’s top scoring defense in 2016, had become exactly the opposite in 2017. They have since been much maligned, and for good reason. Each quarterback they have faced this year has been able to pass for 300 yards plus. That changed on Sunday night.
Matt Ryan, the reigning MVP who threw for at least 300 yards on six occasions in 2016, came to town and passed for only 233 yards, with 110 of those yards coming in the first half.
The Patriots defense finally achieved that for which they had been searching all year…key stops at key moments.
After surrendering a fourth-down conversion (Ryan had run it himself for the first down) the defense forced two straight incompletions. It what would have been a win for the Pats D, anyway, Atlanta brought on Matt Bryant to attempt a 37-yard field goal. Bryant’s kick was blocked by Patriots defensive end, and special teamer, Cassius Marsh. As a result, the Pats had held the Falcons to no points.
Halting another scoring threat, the New England defense held the Falcons to a field goal attempt, on what should have been a touchdown drive. The Falcons had advanced to the New England 20 on a 21-yard run by running back Devonta Freeman. However, two incomplete passes from Ryan forced them to settle for a field goal attempt. Fortunately, for the Patriots, Matt Bryant’s 36-yard kick hit off the upright and the score remained 17-0.
The Patriots defense once again showed it mettle by forcing the end to an Atlanta red zone-drive with no points. On second-and-goal, Ryan completed a pass to Mohamed Sanu, who was brought down 1 yard shy of the end zone. Atlanta failed to find the end zone on the ensuing two plays. Finally, on fourth down, Falcons receiver Taylor Gabriel took a handoff on a jet sweep and was tackled well short of the goal line. New England took over on downs and sealed the fate of the Falcons.
The defensive ends kept pressure on Matt Ryan, however the depleted secondary was the star of the night. Riding a stellar performance of cornerback Malcom Butler, reserve corners Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi played tight coverage, and at time, looked to be playing shut down defense.
With a strong showing in both sides of the ball, the Patriots turned in their first complete game effort of the season. For Patriots fans, it was great to see the defense ‘doing its job’ once again. With solid contributions from the front seven, the Patriots defense deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this win.
The Patriots (5-2) will host the resurgent and suddenly relevant Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, October 29. The Bolts will enter Foxboro, winners of three straight after starting the season 0-4. Their explosive defense and potent offense will be a strong test for the Patriots on both sides of the ball. Stay tuned for, what should be, a great matchup on Sunday at 1:00pm.
-Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. He is also a National Content Writer and covers the NFL for cover32.com.
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