Mac Jones

4 takeaways from the Patriots’ Thursday night thrashing of the Falcons

The Patriots' defense makes its case to be the best unit in the league with yet another dominant performance--this one a shutout of Matt Ryan and the Falcons to make it five straight wins.

Adrian Phillips Patriots
New England Patriots Adrian Phillips (21) celebrates with his teammates after stopping Atlanta Falcons on fourth down. (Matthew J Lee/Globe staff)
Recent Links

Winning football games in the NFL is hard work, especially on short weeks. So why are the Patriots making it look so easy of late, pushing their win streak to five games and earning a sterling 5-0 road record to start the season?

Well, having the best defense in football probably helps.

New England pitched a shutout in a suffocating performance against Matt Ryan and the Falcons, while Nick Folk did most of the heavy lifting scoring-wise in the team’s 25-0 shutout win over Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones (22-of-26, 207 yards, TD, INT) has now completed nearly 84 percent of his passes over the last two weeks, only adding to his legend as the top dog in this year’s rookie quarterback class.

Advertisement:

But he wasn’t the story in this one. This game was about a defensive unit that has run five straight teams through a buzz saw at the height of its powers against an overmatched opponent.

The Patriots’ defense is on another level.

Let’s keep it simple: Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense simply had no chance against New England’s defense. The numbers from this game almost make you feel bad for the Falcons.

Their offensive line couldn’t protect Ryan from a rapacious Patriots pass rush, which hit the veteran quarterback 12 times and sacked him four times. Even Davon Godchaux–he of the four career sacks coming into the game–brought Ryan down, for goodness’ sake.

Aside from a couple decent from runs Qadree Ollison, the Falcons’ running backs did nothing on the ground to help the passing offense either, adding just 40 rushing yards.

The Patriots held Atlanta to just 2-of-11 on third downs and turned its offense away empty-handed in the red zone twice.

Christian Barmore simply couldn’t be blocked by one person and continues his rookie-season ascent.

Matthew Judon bagged yet another sack to put him at a career-high 10.5 just 10 games into the season.

To add further insult to injury, New England’s defense tied its season-high with four interceptions, including Kyle Van Noy’s pick-six and Adrian Phillips’s swipe on the Falcons’ final pass attempts of the game.

Advertisement:

There might not be a team in the NFL playing more dominant defense than the Patriots are right now.

Kyle Van Noy seizing opportunity with both hands.

The veteran Patriots’ edge defender has come a long way from dropping interceptions in spring practice and having to do pushups as a punishment.

When he got his chance in a game, he didn’t miss, taking back an errant throw from backup Falcons quarterback Josh Rosen for his first career touchdown.

But even he hadn’t done that, he probably still could’ve been the best defensive player on the Patriots Thursday night.

Van Noy led the team with eight tackles, including two sacks of Ryan. One of them was a beauty on a 3rd-and-1 in the red zone on which the linebacker jumped to take away a quick throw and recovered to bring the plodding quarterback down for a 14-yard loss. That play, along with a penalty by Atlanta’s field-goal team, kept points off the board for the Falcons.

While Judon’s sack binge earns him more headlines defensively, Van Noy has given New England everything it hoped for when the team brought him back on a two-year deal this offseason.

He now has sacks in consecutive weeks after not registering one since Week 1 and has provided valuable play against the run in addition to his pass-rushing skills.

Advertisement:

Opposing teams can’t devote so much attention on Judon and Barmore that they allow Van Noy to clean up. But if they do, the veteran linebacker has proven he’ll happily oblige.

Kyle Dugger turns it on.

“King Dugg” is growing up before our eyes.

The dynamic second-year safety first made himself known by locking up star tight end Kyle Pitts on an early third down, earning a pass-breakup in man coverage on the bigtime receiving threat.

Then, the young Patriots enforcer unleashed pain on a couple of short passes, walloping receivers before they could turn up the field.

Later, he helped force Matt Ryan’s first interception of the game by jamming Pitts hard at the line of scrimmage and knocking the Falcons’ tight end off his route.

The monster hits are nothing new for Dugger, who has developed a reputation for putting a charge into opposing players of all sizes.

But his ability to go toe-to-toe with one of the rarest combinations of size, athletic ability, and ball skills at the tight end position has to excite the Patriots.

The NFL is a matchup-driven league, and Pitts will certainly give teams a ton of headaches in his career because of his skill set.

Still, while New England certainly did throw multiple defenders at the budding star pass-catcher, the defense is starting to show confidence in Dugger’s ability to handle himself, which is something he couldn’t do last season.

Just wait until he fully unlocks his coverage skills.

Mac Jones shows the highs and lows of his game.

Going into the second half, you couldn’t ask for a much better performance than what you got from Jones.

Advertisement:

His 14-of-15 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown was a textbook example of taking what the defense gives you. He didn’t push the ball down the field because he didn’t have to: all he had to do was get the ball to his playmakers and let them do the rest.

He even busted out another beautiful throw to Hunter Henry on a drag route for his biggest completion of the day.

On the very next play, though, he got greedy looking for Jonnu Smith down the seam, and the Falcons’ A.J. Terrell made him pay for it.

The throw was a poor read from Jones, who jumped too quickly on his first read and missed N’Keal Harry running open on a sideline wheel route.

But he might have been able to get away with that decision if he had a bit more juice in his arm, which brings up some of the pre-draft questions about him.

Though Jones’s arm strength is certainly good enough for NFL success, it’s not good enough to afford him enough margin for error to make that throw. We saw Bears quarterback Justin Fields hit a throw like that two Mondays ago into tighter coverage than on the Jones play because, well, Fields can do that.

The Patriots’ rookie has been excellent this season for a first-year player. But he still has to learn his limits.

Quick hits

  • Rhamondre Stevenson seemingly has one run a week that gets you out of your seat. This week’s came in the fourth quarter as he dodged two tackle attempts in the backfield and then weaved his way for 28 yards on a play that should’ve been dead in the water. A holding penalty from center David Andrews negated the play. But honestly, who cares? That run was awesome. It’s time to make the “Baby Beast Mode” nickname stick, because that, perhaps even more so than former Patriot LaGarrette Blount, is who Stevenson reminds of: a discount Marshawn Lynch.
  • The Patriots have continued relying on Ted Karras at left guard with Trent Brown back at right tackle instead of re-inserting Michael Onwenu—a curious move that should continue to draw attention. The Patriots’ most talented offensive line group would have Onwenu at left guard with Brown back at tackle. But New England seems to think Karras’s solid play currently makes the offense the best version of itself. And why not? The veteran super-sub has played up to that standard.
  • For whatever reason, Mac Jones seemed to struggle with identifying free rushes on blitzes coming from the secondary. He did have one nice first-down completion to Jakobi Meyers on one such play, but all of Atlanta’s three sacks came on some type of blitz. On one hand, the offensive line needs to pick those maneuvers up, with Brown appearing to miss his assignment on a sack by Foyesade Oluokun. But Jones also has to feel that pressure better and speed up his internal clock. That’s all part of the rookie experience, though.
  • Boy, is J.C. Jackson going to get paid this offseason or what?

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com