Patriots keep Falcons guessing, win again
Tom Brady never doubted the Patriots would find their offensive rhythm.
Coach Bill Belichick never doubted that New England could switch its coverages enough to confuse Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Either way, the Patriots showed the moxie they needed to build a 17-point lead midway through the fourth quarter before closing out Atlanta with a 30-23 victory Sunday night.
New England returned home as one of three 4-0 teams in the AFC, though Miami could become the fourth with a victory Monday at New Orleans.
Unlike the Falcons, who have sunk to 1-3 while struggling to overcome the losses of running back Steven Jackson, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, cornerback Asante Samuel and defensive end Kroy Biermann, the Patriots keep winning.
Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to make his season debut because of back and forearm injuries. Receiver Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen have been out since Week 1
At the Georgia Dome, the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork, their five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, to an ankle injury on Atlanta's opening drive.
Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson left the game midway through the third quarter after colliding with Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud in the end zone.
But none of these setbacks slowed down New England.
Five reasons why the Patriots defeated the Falcons:
SILENCING THE CROWD: Over 70,000 fans filled the dome, where Ryan began the game 34-5 as a starter and where late comeback victories were a staple of the success he enjoyed in his first five years.
The place was still packed when Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal cut New England's lead to 20-13 with less than 12 minutes remaining, but the Patriots quickly killed the crowd's spirit.
Brady connected with Justin Edelman for a 44-yard completion on third down and hit Kenbrell Thompkins with an 18-yard TD pass. Ryan tried to answer with a deep pass to Julio Jones, but Aqib Talib picked him off and Stephen Gostkowski followed with a 49-yard field goal.
That was all Atlanta fans needed to exit the building and leave Ryan to try mounting a comeback with the dome not even one-third full.
KEEP IT BALANCED: In the first half, Brady kept the Atlanta defense guessing by handing off 15 times for a 4.3-yard average on the ground and passed just nine times for 96 total yards.
In the second half, Brady was airing it out, hitting Edelman for three passes that covered 95 yards, Thompkins for three that covered 62 and Josh Boyce for one for 24.
And running back LeGarrette Blount took a handoff early in the fourth and gouged the Atlanta defense for a 47-yard touchdown.
PLAYMAKING CORNER: Talib might be the hottest defensive back in the NFL.
He had three interceptions before the game, and his fourth pick came against one of the league's elite receivers in Jones.
Talib simply outjumped Jones for the ball. Jones has battled ankle and knee soreness this season, but it's rare that any defender beats him like that.
And on the Falcons' last chance to tie with 41 seconds remaining, Talib dove to bat a potential 10-yard TD pass out of the hands of Roddy White.
RYAN COULD ONLY GUESS: With White far from full strength because of a high ankle sprain this season and Jackson's hamstring injury holding back Atlanta's running game, Ryan struggled to identify double-teams that New England used occasionally on Jones and 13-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez set a career-high with 149 yards receiving and made two acrobatic touchdown catches. Jones was targeted 13 times and finished with six catches for 108 yards.
But those numbers were empty, just like Ryan's career-high 421 yards passing.
''We wanted to switch it up on them,'' Talib said. ''Sometimes we double covered them. Sometimes we single covered them. We wanted to switch it up and keep them off balance a little bit.''
LET PLAYMAKERS EMERGE: Brady has been delighted with the emergence of Thompkins, whose hard work in practice and in the film room is paying dividends on the field.
''It's really rare to see that with a young player to step in with confidence like that he has. He played great tonight,'' Brady said. ''We're missing quite a few guys, so hopefully when we get them back, we'll be more efficient.''
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