The Patriots got a much-needed 26-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The win was uplifting for the team coming off a dispiriting loss to the Jets the previous week.
There were lots of strong performances, but a few areas where the Patriots fell down on the job, like the red zone -- or is that dead zone? -- where the Patriots scored one touchdown in five trips.
Let's take a look at Patriots players and areas of execution that are on the upswing and those that took a downturn against the Falcons, with the caveat that such initial impressions can prove false after reviewing the film.
1. Fred Taylor -- Taylor showed the doubters that even at age 33 he's still got it. He rushed 21 times for 105 yards, a 5 yard per carry average, and scored a touchdown. You can tell that the offensive line enjoys blocking for Taylor. Logan Mankins sang Taylor's praises after the game and called him a "[darn] good back." Taylor's four straight carries for 41 yards, ending with his 8-yard TD in the second quarter may have been the most impressive stretch of the game by any player.
2. Randy Moss -- With Wes Welker out, Moss stepped up huge with 10 catches for 116 yards, despite battling a bad back. It was clear he was the receiver Tom Brady trusted the most. Of Brady's 15 completions in the second half, seven of them went to Moss for a total of 79 yards. Moss also came up with a pair of fourth down catches, including a 21-yard snag on 4th and 3 from the Falcons' 37 late in the third quarter.
3. Brandon McGowan -- McGowan, who started for the second straight game, was a big part of the Patriots' ability to contain Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was held to one catch for 16 yards. He also forced a second-quarter Michael Turner fumble that killed a Falcons drive that had reached the New England 31. The game was tied, 10-10, at the time and that was a huge momentum-turning play. And with the Patriots short at inside linebacker, McGowan was able to play that position in the team's nickel and dime sets.
4. Offensive line -- These guys put the o in o-line, as Brady wasn't sacked. The offensive line hasn't allowed a sack in 134 pass attempts. Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur also paved the way for the Patriots to rush for 168 yards on 39 carries.
1. Red zone offense -- Brady was just 3 for 10 for 10 yards passing in the red zone and the Patriots had to settle for Stephen Gostkowski field goals four times in five red zone trips. The Patriots are now 4 for 13 on the season in red zone TD conversions and 1 for their last 8. "It's everybody being on the same page and making reads and throws," said Brady "That is something we'll evaluate and look at. We can't keep kicking field goals, I know that. We've got to do better than that."
2. Joey Galloway -- Three games and three downs for Galloway, who had two catches for 14 yards. On the Patriots' first drive he appeared to have caught a 7-yard touchdown, but didn't get his feet in bounds. Late in the half, he dropped a slant route in the red zone and was belted by an Atlanta DB and then booed by the home crowd. The crowd derisively applauded Galloway when he caught an 8-yard pass on 3rd and 4 from the Atlanta 37 in the third quarter. There might be an injury situation here that has affected his concentration and/or progression.
3. Derrick Burgess -- Burgess didn't do anything wrong, but he is the poster boy for the Patriots' passive pass rush, which never reached Matt Ryan for a sack. The best pressure of the day came on a McGowan blitz. Burgess also failed to register a tackle. The Patriots need more from Burgess, especially after sending third and fifth-round picks to Oakland for him.
4. Mike Wright -- Wright's play was not anything we picked out, but after the game he did a lot of self-flogging for his difficulty handling double-team blocks. He also took the blame for fellow defensive lineman Vince Wilfork's ankle injury, saying he rolled up on Wilfork after being pushed around on a double-team block. Wright might be overly self-critical, but the Patriots can't afford to lose Wilfork.