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Bob Ryan

They’ll take it, and continue moving forward

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / September 28, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Is it coming?

Perhaps. Maybe. Probably.

Do you really want to hear that the New England Patriots are a - sorry - “work in progress?’’

Can’t say I actually heard that overworked cop-out phrase tumble out of any Patriot’s mouth after yesterday’s grinding 26-10 conquest of the Atlanta Falcons, but that certainly was the gist of the message. And you’d better buy it, because they are, well, not there yet.

And he’s not there yet, either.

Not to lay it all on Tom Brady, but you know if he were his old self that penetrations to the Atlanta 7, 8, 15, 6, and 16 would have resulted in more than four Stephen Gostkowski field goals and an 8-yard touchdown run by Fred Taylor. Brady overthrew at least two potential TD passes (and maybe even missed a third) and was very lucky not to be picked off on another errant end zone throw. Ah, but he did throw a superb 36-yard scoring pass to ex-Jet Chris Baker for the fourth-quarter clincher, so perhaps that will set him off to being Tom Brady.

Just remember that it took Peyton Manning a long time to become Peyton Manning after missing all the 2008 exhibition season in the aftermath of knee surgery. In his third game of 2008, Manning was a measly 15 for 29 for 216 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. It can be argued that he didn’t really find his true rhythm until a 320-yard, 2-TD performance against Houston in Week 11. So file all that away as you watch Tom Brady play this season.

But they’re 2-1, aren’t they? You should never pooh-pooh a win in this league, and when you play the kind of sound, classic two-way football the Patriots did yesterday, the players have every right to feel they’ve earned their money.

The idea was to keep Atlanta off the field as long as possible, and that’s exactly what they did, especially in the second half when the Falcons were limited to four possessions, 15 plays from scrimmage, two first downs, 78 yards total, and zero points.

That’s dominance, and it’s also flat-out humiliating.

Matty Ryan was de-iced, pure and simple.

Defense has been a Patriots worry since the start of the season, but we’re now three games into the 2009 campaign and no one has gained 300 yards in total offense against the Dean Pees unit. The problem in the Jets game was offense, remember. A good team should be able to win while giving up 16 points. The Patriots yesterday even lost Vince Wilfork to an ankle injury when the score was 10-10 in the second quarter, but they soldiered on and the Falcons never did score again.

For those who are getting just a wee bit tired of watching teams throw the ball 50 or 60 times every week, this game was a blessed reminder that offensive football is at its most enjoyable when there is some semblance of balance. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Brady did throw it 42 times. He introduced us to the concept of Randy Moss, Possession Receiver (10 catches, 116 yards). But he also handed it off 39 times (yup, an astonishing 81-45 edge in offensive plays). Taylor, the savvy expatriate Jaguar, lugged it 21 times for 105 yards, time after time extracting the most exquisite chicken salad from, well, you know.

This man regards the initial hit as an affront to his dignity. It takes a determined tackler or two, or three, to bring him down.

“He runs hard and he runs smart,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “He knows where the holes are. He sets up blockers.’’

The New England offensive linemen entered this game with a spring in their steps, knowing something we didn’t know.

“When we came in here and looked at the game plan, there were smiles on a lot of guys’ faces,’’ said center Dan Koppen. One thing that never changes in football, see, is that those monster trucks up front with the huge thighs and the thick necks get bored pass blocking all the time. Their idea of Sunday afternoon recreation is to fire out and hit somebody, rather than stand there and be attacked for three hours.

And if ball control means you’re out there twice as long as the rival offensive linemen, it’s a satisfactory tradeoff.

“Yeah, I’m sore,’’ said guard Logan Mankins, “but I’d much rather have that than be out there for 40 plays getting my butt kicked.’’

Koppen, Mankins, Stephen Neal, Matt Light, and Nick Kaczur were accorded the ultimate tribute by Coach Bill during a third-quarter drive that culminated in a 33-yard Gostkowski field goal. While we’ve become accustomed to Belichick’s go-for-it posture with regard to fourth-down situations, few football followers ever have seen someone go for it on fourth and 1 at their own 24. But that’s what they saw yesterday.

The score at that point was a far-from-conclusive 16-10. But Sammy Morris got the 2 yards, and that was that.

Coach Bill’s explanation for this aberrant NFL coaching behavior?

“I felt we could get a yard.’’

Any further questions?

“That could have turned the game either way,’’ pointed out Mankins. “If we’d have screwed that up, it might have electrified the other team.’’

So there was good in this one, and there was bad. The red zone experience, for example, was a sad tale of missed opportunities. Then again, there was again no Wes Welker, and Brady’s still not all the way back.

“We just didn’t do a good enough job collectively,’’ Belichick declared. “We’ve got to get better, and we will do better.’’

OK, so what’s the deal? How good are they, really? The answer is we will have a much clearer picture around 4:15 or so next Sunday. A lovely afternoon with the ingot-eating Baltimore Ravens should answer a lot of questions.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe’s 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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