Great win for the Good Guys tonight, as they defeat the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta, 30-23. But, perhaps even greater was the relief that the Patriots to a man shared in getting off that rubberized grass/cement playing surface, in that dome in Atlanta. Players on both sides were dropping like flies with various foot, ankle, and knee injuries, as they tried to negotiate cuts and turns on that "field". Mr. Player Safety Goodell really should investigate.
But, I digress. This game should have never been as close as it was, as the Patriots zoomed to a 30-13 lead, before doing everything in their power to give the game away in the final six minutes or so of play...which I will hereinafter refer to as the "fourth quarter follies". The Follies began when Atlanta scored with 4:22 left, to cut the Pats' lead to 30-20. Then came the inability of Pats' TE Zach Sudfel to recover a bouncing football on an on-side kick. This led to an Atlanta FG, cutting the lead to 30-23. Finally, there came a horrid spot by the linesman which cost the Pats a game clinching first down, and an ensuing fumbling of the center exchange by Tom Brady, which gave the Falcons one last chance. Fortunately, the Pats' "D" stiffened in the redzone, as it had all night, to seal the game.
Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After a tepid first half, and a horrible initial series in the 3rd quarter, the Pats' offense rolled like days of old, The Follies threatened to negate some fabulous offensive production.
1.) QB: The aforementioned fumbled snap aside, this was, without question, Tom Brady's finest performance of the season. It was great to finally see Tom playing like Tom, as he finished with 20 completions in 31 attempts, for 316 yards, and two TDs. Though there were several errant throws along the way, Tom looked more relaxed, and more accurate than he has all season. His highlights included threading the needle between two Falcon defenders to hit reserve TE Matt "Black Jack" Mulligan from a yard out for a TD, early in the second quarter. Early in the 4th quarter, with the Pats nursing a 13-10 lead, he converted a 3rd and 19 with a perfect strike to WR Kembrell Thompkins. The Pats would score a TD on a LeGarrette Blount 47 yard run on the very next play. On the Pats' next possession, Brady floated a beautiful back shoulder throw to Thompkins from 18 yards out for his second TD pass. In the 4th quarter alone, Tom completed 5 or 7 passes, for 119 yards, and a TD. Great to see him in command again: GRADE: A;
2.) RBs: Another good overall performance by the RB corp. Stevan Ridley was solid, with 54 yards on 11 carries, and two pass receptions for 26 yards more. LaGarrette Blount rushed 9 times for 64 yards, including a 47 yard breakaway TD jaunt, which put the Patriots firmly in command of the game, with a 20-10 lead early in the 4th quarter. Brandon Bolden also chipped in with 17 yards on six carries, as these RBs combined for 131 yards, on 26 attempts: GRADE: A-;
3.) OL: After a mediocre first half, and a terrible start on their initial series in the second half, the "Big Uglies" finally got down to business, and dominated the line of scrimmage. Too many penalties hurt the team in the first half and in that awful initial third quarter drive. But thereafter, the big guys up front did all the hurting...as the opened up some huge running lanes (especially on the aforementioned 47 yard TD run by Blount), and gave Tom Brady all the time he needed to work his magic: GRADE: B+;
4.) TEs and WRs: The sole pass receiving contribution was the one yard TD reception by "Black Jack" Mulligan. But, there were some good blocks by the Hooman, who aided the Big Uglies in making way for the RBs. Though Rookie Kembrell Thompkins had a pair of horrible drops, he more than made up for those errors, hauling in six (6) passes for 127 yards, and the above mentioned TD. On that play, he made an outstanding over the shoulder catch, while somehow staying in bounds...in the left corner of the endzone. Julian Edelman chipped in with seven (7) catches for 118 yards, operating primarily out of the slot. Though Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson only made minor contributions, they flashed potential. Should Gronk and Danny Amendiola ever return to 100%, the Pats' passing game could become nearly as lethal as the one that's currently operating in the Mile High city: GRADE: B;
II. DEFENSE: Though the fourth quarter follies allowed the Falcons to put up some huge chunks of yardage in the closing five minutes or so of play, make no mistake about it...the Pats' "D" stood tall again, against of the of league's better passing attacks. Some great redzone "D" throughout the game secured the win.
1.) DL: Though Vince Wilfolk went down early with an ankle injury, this unit was still able to pretty much shut down Atlanta's modest rushing attack...which made the Falcons one dimensional. Huge sack by back-up DT Joe Vellano killed an Falcon drive early in the second half, when the Pats were nursing a 13-10 lead. DEs Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were able to apply some pressure to QB Matt Ryan, combining for three (3) QB hits. DT Tommy Kelly stood tall in the absence of Big Vince, in pretty much controlling the line of scrimmage, until he too, left the game with seemingly a minor injury. Speaking of Vince, he was supposedly seen wearing the dreaded boot on his right foot after the game. Looks like he may miss at least the next two games, against Cincinnati and the Saints. That said, the DL seemed to do their best work in the redzone. Big coverage sack by rookie DE Michael Buchanan to hold the Falcons to a 4th quarter FG: GRADE: B;
2.) LBs: Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo combined for 17 tackles, including seven (7) solos. Though both will surely draw some criticism for their inability to contain Falcons' TE, Tony Gonzalez, it really wasn't bad coverage...as much as it was an outstanding performance by the future first ballot Hall of Famer. For example, on Atlanta's opening drive, Gonzalez made a great catch for a 25 yard gain, with Mayo and Devin McCourty draped all over him, converting on a 3rd and two. Gonzalez finished with 12 catches for 149 yards, and two TDs. Under the current passing rules protecting receivers, defending the long, lanky Gonzalez is nearly impossible, when he gets a free release to run his patterns. Late in the game, the Pats were successful at finally shutting him down by jamming him with two players, at the line of scrimmage. In the case of Hightower, I thought that it was one of his best games as a Patriot. He was active, and physical. That said, the supporting cast of OLBs play needs improvement. Jamie Collins was beaten badly in coverage, and Brandon Spikes' playing time was reduced, since Atlanta doesn't have a running game: GRADE: B;
3.) SECONDARY: I shutter to think where this unit would be without CB Aqib Talib. Before this season ends, people will be comparing the trade that brough Talib to New England with the Welker and Randy Moss trades, as one of BB's best. Talib pretty much took Falcon's star WR Julio Jones out of the game, until some late Jones' heroics produced respectable numbers, of six (6) catches for 108 yards. It appeared that Jones got away with a push off on his late 4th quarter 49 yard grab, which nearly allowed the Falcons to force OT. Take away that catch, and Jones' contributions were minor. There was also a bogus PI call on Talib, while defensing WR Roddy White in the 4th quarter...as it appeared that White, and not Talib, had pushed off. Talib's 4th pick of the season appeared to ice the game, until the fourth quarter follies began. Devin McCourty tied with Hightower for the lead in tackles with nine (9), including six solos. But, many of them came after being victimized, along with the LBs, by Tony Gonzalez. Alfonzo Dennard played pretty well. But, unfortunately, he suffered a leg injury on the Falcon's final drive...apparently falling victim to that awful field surface. Kyle Arrington was fair to weak throughout the game, as was Steve Gregory. Yes, Matt Ryan passed for 421 yards. But 180 of those came during the final frantic 6:18 to play. Grade: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: I don't know what's happened to rookie TE Zach Sudfel. After an impressive preseason, he has appeared to have lost his confidence. His inability to come up with a bouncing ball on an desperation onside kick won't do his ego any good, and nearly cost the Pats this game. On a subsequent second onside kick, "The Hooman" came up big, as he fielded the bouncing ball cleanly. The Sudfel flub on the onside kick ruined an otherwise prestine special teams performance, which included a 3 for 3 FG night from "The Ghost", including FGs from 48 and 49 yards out. Gostkowski also took the possibility of a lengthy kickoff return pretty much out of the equasion, with his booming kickoffs. On a punt return attempt, Julian Edelman was obviously interfered with, and received a pretty good lick in the process. A non-call on the play by the refs was baffling: GRADE: B-;
IV. COACHING: The Pats had to pick their poison in covering the Falcon receivers...and chose not to let Julio Jones beat them. Until the commencement of the fourth quarter follies, Aqib Talib and company did just that. In return, the Pats' paid less attention to 37 year old TE, Tony Gonzalez. After Gonzalez had burned them repeatedly, credit Matt Patricia and/or BB for shutting down Gonzalez on that final Atlanta thrust in the redzone...by putting two men on him, to jam him on the line of scrimmage. This adjustment might have saved the game. BB and Josh McDaniels must be pleased by what they saw from their offense in the second half. Some excellent run blocking schemes eventually sprung Blount on his 47 yard TD run. But, midway in the 3rd quarter, when the Pats had a second and goal on the Atlanta four, I thought the brainthrust made a mistake by going away from the run. Two ugly looking pass plays later, the Pats were forced to settle for a chip shot FG. Obviously, the offense remains a work in progress, as there appeared to be confusion from time to time as to exactly what play was called. That 4th and inches fumbled snap was particularly ugly. Good to see Josh incorporating the WR screen game again, setting up plays where Edelman and others could catch the ball in the open field, with room to run. While it's still nowhere near perfect, progress appears to have been made: GRADE: B+;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: Though there were many, the play of the game for me was, with the Pats nursing a 13-10 lead early in the 4th quarter, they faced a 3rd and 19 from the New England 12 yard line. Brady threw a strike to Thompkins for a 26 yard gain, and a first down at the Patriots' 38 yard line. After a 15 yard penalty was tacked on for unnecessary roughness, the ball was placed on the Falcons' 47. LaGarrette Blount would burst 47 yards for a TD, on the very next play.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Tom Brady, Aqib Talib, and Kembrell Thompkins were all outstanding. But without Talib holding that secondary together, it might have been a long night.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330929001.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Enjoy this win! Goodnight, my friends!