What we learned during the Patriots’ 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night:
No Vince, no problem?
There has been plenty of discussion as to whether the Patriots are an elite defense or not. Losing Vince Wilfork for any significant period of time would significantly alter that debate, and there was the big defensive tackle leaving the field on a cart after suffering an ankle injury on the 10th play from scrimmage, a potentially damaging blow if it lingers.
Give New England credit for making it a non-factor. So far. Exploding from a stance and smashing into monstrous offensive lineman dozens of times a game requires a solid base, especially if you’re 325 pounds. Obviously, this one bears watching as the week progresses.
Run, Patriots, Run
New England’s first touchdown drive was a thing of beauty if you like physical football. It also had wonderful symmetry; one pass, 10 runs and one pass, the score coming on a 1-yard strike from Tom Brady to Matthew Mulligan. The 10 rushes yielded 51 yards and helped the Pats keep the ball for over six minutes of action. That’s a recipe for winning on the road.
There was some nice play-action success on a drive that resulted in a tiebreaking field goal in the third quarter. The early success running the football certainly helped in that regard. And when LeGarrette Blount rumbled 47 yards for a score and a 20-10 lead late in the third, it was evident that the ground game was New England’s ticket to a 4-0 start.
New England did a nice job of dominating teams on the ground in 2012. It has put forth back-to-back solid showings, outrushing its last two opponents 288-155.
The fickle beast that is the Patriots fanbase waited less than one game into Kenbrell Thompkins’ career to question his ability to handle the offense. Those questions have been quashed with back-to-back solid efforts for the rookie, who had two touchdowns against Tampa Bay in Week 3 and collected six catches for 127 yards in this one.
Included in that haul was a 49-yard highlight reel-worthy grab in the first half, a 26-yard catch on third-and-19 just prior to the Blount TD run and an over-the-shoulder beauty for an 18-yard score to give New England a 26-13 advantage with 9:50 left. Brady targeted Thompkins on 11 of his 31 passes.
Thompkins did have a couple more notable drops. Chances are the critics are too few to make much noise about that.
Aqib Talib continued his solid play by blanketing Falcons star receiver Julio Jones for much of the game. Talib deflected four passes, including the decisive one on Atlanta’s last-ditch lob to the end zone with 35 seconds left, and helped New England’s cause with an interception – his fourth in a span of nine quarters – with just over eight minutes remaining.
Talib did his fair share of talking to Jones, especially early. He certainly backed it up with a dominating performance as Jones becomes the latest No. 1 guy (look at the results against the Patriots for Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes and Stevie Johnson) to struggle against New England.
Alfonzo Dennard was on Jones late in the game, when the Atlanta standout began to make some noise. And it was Jones outmuscling Devin McCourty for a huge 49-yard catch on the Falcons’ final possession. Jones showed on that catch just how good he is, but he was limited until Atlanta’s late flurry.
It would take plenty to change the overall opinion on Brady, if that’s even possible, and he had some nice moments Sunday night. But even factoring in the limited personnel around him this year, Brady has been shaky at times.
Even before he fumbled a snap on a fourth-down attempt with less than two minutes remaining – the second time this year he has done so – Brady had a small collection of overthrows and underthrows and never saw some open guys at times, most notably Brandon Bolden on a third-and-goal in the third quarter.
Brady is Brady, but sometimes he’s a little less than that. Perhaps that’s a compliment when someone throws for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.