It was supposed to be an epic rematch of an epic Super Bowl. Instead, it was a one-sided shellacking in which the Patriots led the Falcons 23-0 midway through the fourth period and won, 23-7, to hand Atlanta (3-3) its third straight loss.
Matt Ryan finished 23-of-33 for 233 yards and a touchdown, but much of that damage came in garbage time. Indeed, the New England secondary, which had allowed a 300-yard passer in every game this season, stiffened in prime time Sunday night.
“You have to tip your cap to those guys,” NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Phil Perry said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They all chipped in, whether it was on Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu or Taylor Gabriel. They were all targeted at different points, they were all targeted at important points in this game – and I thought they sort of rose to the challenge. The Falcons certainly helped them at times, but for this secondary that really has been embattled for much of the season for giving up the number of yards they’ve given up thus far, I thought it was a step in the right direction for them.”
Tom Brady, meanwhile, finished 21-of-29 for 249 yards and two touchdowns, finding Brandin Cooks and James White for first-half scores. The running game took it from there, as New England rushed 36 times for 162 yards.
Perry credited the offensive line for its stellar play.
“This is another group that had caught all kinds of grief from fans here in New England, from media here in New England,” he said, “because not only were they not able to run the ball with any kind of consistency, but they really weren’t able to protect Tom Brady early in the year. He was on pace to absorb the most hits he’s ever taken in a year, the most sacks he’s ever taken in a season, and oh, by the way, he’s 40 years old. So that didn’t bode well for Tom Brady at the time when they were really struggling.
“Now this has been two weeks in a row where I think the Patriots’ offensive line has played well,” Perry continued. “They’ve been able to do multiple things in term of protecting Brady on 3rd-and-longs, being able to run the ball on 3rd-and-short situations, and then at the end of the game tonight, I thought that was maybe the best sign of all.”
The Falcons pulled within 23-7 with 4:09 to play. They didn’t touch the ball again.
“Yes, (the Patriots) had a sizable lead,” Perry said, “but that’s what you live for as an offensive linemen: to run that four-minute drill and say, ‘We know we’re going to run it, they know we’re going to run it, everybody in the building knows we’re going to run it and try to bleed this clock out,’ and they were still able to execute and they were still able to pick up the yardage that they needed to finally kill the clock. So I think it’s a confident unit right now.”
The Patriots (5-2) host the Chargers (3-4) this Sunday before a Week 9 bye. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. ET.