It was the rematch everyone had been waiting for between last year’s two Super Bowl teams, the Patriots and the Falcons.
While the outcome was still the same – a Patriots win – the way in which the Pats and Falcons got to that point was much different than it was in Super Bowl LI.
There was no historic, improbable comeback needed by the Patriots Sunday night in Foxboro. Not even close.
The Falcons never led, and as the game went on, never threatened to make things interesting.
New England scored the game’s first 23 points before the Falcons finally got on the board with a touchdown to Julio Jones in the fourth quarter, the game essentially out of reach by then based on how things were going leading up to that point.
Atlanta, now 3-3, has been struggling on offense mightily this season. The touchdown to Julio Jones in the fourth quarter Sunday night was their first score since the second quarter of the week prior against the Dolphins. It was also their first score against the Patriots since the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, what amounted to 54-0 scoring run by the Patriots… *cough* 28-3 *cough*.
If the Falcons wanted fans to forget about that fateful Super Bowl, they’ve certainly done so by giving plenty of reasons to be concerned about the present, and not the past.
But credit must also be given to the Patriots defense, one that was historically bad to begin the season. In fact, they were the first team to allow six straight opposing quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards against them. And that list includes names like Alex Smith, Deshaun Watson, and Josh McCown.
So of course with reigning MVP Matt Ryan in town, and shorthanded on defense without cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, the Patriots would only allow 233 passing yards and one touchdown.
It was a group effort on Falcons’ No. 1 wideout Jones, as six different defenders were seen covering him on his 13 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson Bademosi, who had an increased role in this game due to the previously noted injuries, and Malcolm Butler combined to allow four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown on six targets against Jones, who finished with nine receptions for 99 yards, the longest of which was just 16 yards.
And just like in years past, when the defense needed to step up, it did. The Falcons went 1-for-3 on fourth down, with New England stopping them on a crucial 3rd-and-goal and 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. The former was a pass breakup by Butler, and the latter a perfectly read tackle by Kyle Van Noy on an end-around to Taylor Gabriel, that if converted would have made it a 20-7 game with an entire quarter to play.
The Patriots improved to 5-2 on the season, sit atop the AFC East, and are on a three-game winning streak. Not coincidentally, they went from allowing 30-plus points in three of their first four games, to allowing 14, 17, and 7, respectively over their last three games.
They no longer seem to be breaking on defense, and with an offense as good as they have, bending on defense should once again get them plenty far this season.
But at this rate, they may not see the Falcons again.