Patriots hold off Falcons, move to 4-0
Tom Brady found some receivers to his liking.
Brady threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns as the New England Patriots held off a furious Atlanta comeback Sunday night, beating the Falcons 30-23 to improve to 4-0 for the first time since their near-perfect season in 2007.
New England built a 30-13 lead before the Falcons rallied.
They had a chance to tie it up in the final minute, but Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass went off the hands of Roddy White in the end zone with 36 seconds remaining as Aqib Talib defended tightly on the play.
The Patriots again played without star tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola, both left at home with injuries.
But the Brady-led offense finally looked like itself after struggling the first three games.
New England seemed in control when LeGarrette Blount scored on a 47-yard run, and Brady threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.
Thompkins finished with six catches for 127 yards -- nearly as much as the first three games of his career. Julian Edelman chipped in with 118 yards on seven receptions.
Atlanta (1-3) dropped two games below .500 for the first time since 2007 despite a career night from Tony Gonzalez. He had 12 catches for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
New England led just 13-10 before a wild final period. Blount stunned the Georgia Dome crowd with his burst through a gaping hole, cutting outside and dragging defenders into the end zone.
After Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal brought the Falcons to 20-13, Brady guided the Patriots on an 80-yard drive that took only five plays and barely 2 minutes.
Edelman hauled in a 16-yard pass, followed by 44-yard reception that set up the touchdown throw to Thompkins in the left corner of the end zone, sending many of the Atlanta fans heading to the exits with nearly 10 minutes left.
They nearly missed an epic comeback after Stephen Gostkowski's third field goal pushed the Patriots to a 17-point lead.
Gonzalez hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass, the Falcons recovered an onside kick, then drove for another field goal by Bryant.
New England recovered a second onside kick, but fumbled a snap trying to convert on fourth down, turning it back over to the Falcons.
Ryan completed a 49-yard pass to Julio Jones to put Atlanta in position to force overtime before a mostly empty stadium.
The drive fell short, the Falcons bitten again by their season-long struggles in the red zone.
It showed up again right at the start. Ryan completed his first six passes on the opening possession, giving Atlanta first-and-goal at the 6.
That's where the Falcons stalled, force to settle for Bryant's 23-yard field goal as the crowd groaned.
New England went ahead for the first time on a 12-play, 75-yard drive in which Brady let his running backs do nearly all the work.
After Stevan Ridley hauled in a short pass and turned it into a 24-yard gain, Brady handed off on the next 10 plays, only one of them going for double-figure yardage but good enough to plod down the field.
Brandon Bolden appeared to score on a 3-yard run, but the replay showed his knee was actually down just short of the goal line. Ridley was stuffed on the next play before Brady finally went to the air again, hooking up with third-string tight end Matthew Mulligan on a 1-yard touchdown.
The Falcons responded with another long drive deep into New England territory before flaming out again. This time, on fourth-and-2 at the 7, coach Mike Smith passed on a chip-shot field goal, apparently intent on sending a message to the faltering offense.
Ryan rolled out to his left and had White open, but the pass was well behind the receiver. The incompletion turned it over to the Patriots.
Brady's 49-yard completion to Thompkins set up Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal to make it 10-3.
Atlanta finally got to the end zone just before halftime. Gonzalez hauled in a couple of passes, Jacquizz Rodgers went 17 yards with a short throw, and Gonzalez finished it off with a 21-yard touchdown reception. He hauled in the pass about the 5, faked out safety Steve Gregory and slipped inside the pylon to make it 10-10 at the break.