23 thoughts on the Patriots’ 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
1. Someday we’ll learn. Actually, scratch that. We have learned. We’ve known for years that the Patriots, in this Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, are often at their best at the very moment when we begin to doubt them. Yet knowing that still doesn’t stop so many among us – media more so than fans, but there is guilt both ways – from failing to recognize the pending moment when the Patriots are about to meet an enormous challenge.
2. I don’t think you’d have to retroactively scour too many previews of Sunday night’s Patriots-Falcons matchup to find a few prognosticators who thought Matt Ryan was going to come to Foxborough and lead his team to victory. It was not a silly thought. The Falcons, at 3-2, were desperate for the win. They had a potent passing game. The Patriots had a porous pass defense. And of course there was the revenge factor, though the cruel truth in Atlanta is that revenge for Super Bowl LI is not attainable.
3. The Falcons were supposed to have a shot. They did not. What happened? The Patriots happened. They did what they do. They vanquished doubts with a dominating performance that makes you feel foolish for sharing your skepticism. Tom Brady was a viciously efficient 21 of 29 for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns, that maligned defense held the Falcons scoreless until late in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots prevailed, 23-7.
4. The dense fog that rolled in during the second half might have been a hackneyed symbol of the Falcons’ playcalling. They went for it on fourth down and at least 6 yards twice from midfield in the first half. The first time worked, but the second didn’t, and that decision set the stage for a Patriots touchdown drive just before halftime. They also got cute on a fourth-down handoff to Taylor Gabriel, which did not go as planned. The Falcons were trying awfully hard Sunday night to win last season’s Super Bowl.
5. By the way, if you didn’t see the fog and immediately flash back to Drew Bledsoe to Terry Glenn (… and Bledsoe to Keith Byars … and Curtis Martin going 78 yards for a score) in the 1996 AFC Divisional Round against the Steelers, I’ve got to assume Brady was the Patriots quarterback when your fandom was born. That was one of the most satisfying wins of the pre-Brady/Belichick era.
6. Johnson Bademosi competently defended the great Julio Jones on several plays. Pretty impressive for a guy who was picked up from Detroit before the start of the season for a seventh-round pick. If he keeps this up, he’s going to rank up there with Sterling Moore, Hank Poteat, and Earthwind Moreland as obscure defensive backs who have contributed in meaningful situations to the Patriots.
7. The Falcons finally found the end zone with 4 minutes and 9 seconds left to play when Julio Jones clamped down on a Ryan throw just as Malcolm Butler was about to pluck an interception. You could tell the Patriots desperately wanted the shutout – they were tackling in agitated swarms more and more as the game went on.
8. But giving up the touchdown shouldn’t diminish a superb performance from Butler, who seemed to be all over the field. He might be the Patriots’ best-tackling cornerback since Ty Law.
9. As Al Michaels noted on NBC’s broadcast, the score after the first quarter was the same as it was during the Super Bowl, 0-0. But the Patriots found their mojo in the second quarter, going touchdown/field goal/touchdown to take a 17-0 lead into the break.
10. There was a discussion on NBC Boston’s pregame show in which the panelists were asked whether Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman is more irreplaceable in the Patriots’ offense. The majority of the panelists – including recent retiree Rob Ninkovich – picked Edelman.
11. But I’ve still got to go with Gronk. There’s no other weapon quite like him in the NFL, whether it’s catching a pass with a defensive back clinging to every limb, or being a one-man convoy to the end zone, as he was on the Patriots’ first touchdown, a Brandin Cooks 11-yard catch-and-run.
12. The last two quarterbacks to fail to throw for at least 300 yards against the Patriots are Matt Ryan (233 yards on 23 of 33 passing) last night, and Matt Ryan (284 yards on 17 of 23 passing) in Super Bowl LI.
13. This is the best I can do for a negative thought, for those of who demand negative thoughts. Seven games into the season, and has Dwayne Allen done anything to aid the Patriots’ offense? Anything? A single play? Perhaps a helpful block on a running play? Maybe he got away with a hold at some point on a positive gainer? Anything?
14. Allen still doesn’t have a catch this season, and his whiff of a trap block on Courtney Upshaw in the first quarter led to a hit on Brady that never should have happened.
15. The Falcons boldly went for it on fourth and 7 in the first quarter from midfield and converted when Ryan ran for 9 yards. (That boldly would be a foolishly had he not converted, of course.) Cassius Marsh appeared to lose containment on the play.
16. But he made up for it a few minutes later when he swatted Matt Bryant’s 37-yard field goal attempt. That brought a fist-pump from Belichick. I do not believe that means he will ignore the bad play that came before the good when the Patriots watch the film of this one.
17. The Falcons went for it again on fourth down from near midfield with 2 minutes left in the first half, but this one didn’t pan out – Ryan overthrew Mohammed Sanu by about four inches – and therefore this one must be called foolish.
18. That left the Patriots with a fantastic opportunity, one of those field position gifts that Brady seems to convert roughly 100 percent of the time. He needed 8 plays and 1 minute 55 seconds to take the offense 52 yards and into the end zone, taking a 17-0 lead.
19. That it was Super Bowl superstar James White catching a 2-yard dart from Brady for the score was more than just salt in the wound. It was an entire 26-ounce carton of iodized Morton’s.
20. How come Vic Beasley Jr., a linebacker, gets to wear No. 44? He had 15.5 sacks last year, buried Brady in the first half, and yet every time I see him I think it’s a safety arriving on a blitz. Then again, David Harris wears No. 45 for the Patriots, and I’ve never noticed that, though I have an excuse: he’d played just 7 snaps all season before Sunday night.
21. Sunday’s game was easily the best of the respected 11-year veteran’s first season with the Patriots. He had a massive hit on Falcons back Tevin Coleman in the second quarter that was reminiscent of the days when he wore No. 52 for the Jets. I’ll always think of him as No. 52 on the Jets.
22. Knuckleheaded play of the game? Easy choice. With the Patriots facing third and 16 in the second quarter, Brady rolled right under pressure and unleashed a deep pass that was picked off by Robert Alford in the end zone. But Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn was called for roughing the passer after drilling Brady with a blatant helmet-to-helmet hit.
23. It was more evidence to me that the Falcons are not an especially bright or disciplined football team, probably due to Dan Quinn being a branch from the Pete Carroll coaching tree. Can you imagine how much he must despise the Patriots, having been the Seattle defensive coordinator in Super Bowl XLIV and the Falcons head coach last year?