New England Patriots 30, Atlanta Falcons 23
Vince Wilfork tears Achilles in win over Atlanta
The New England Patriots became the third team this season to deny Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons a fourth quarter comeback. Matty Ice was cold when it ounted as Tom Brady threw the Patriots to a 30-23 win in Atlanta on Sunday night. The Patirots suffered a loss as well however, with stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tearing his right achilled tendon during the first quarter. Even without their Pro Bowl defensive tackle, the Patriots entered held the Falcons run game to 58 yards. Rookie Joe Vellano entered the DT rotation and recorded his first career sack. Vellano’s sack pushed the Falcons back across midfield and that series resulted in a punt. On the next drive, LaGarrette Blount gashed the Falcons’ defense for a 47 yard touchdown run, putting the Patriots up by ten points.
What went right for the Patriots
Cornerback Aqib Talib got his league leading fourth interception as the Pats’ secondary held Julio Jones to under a 50% reception rate for the first time this season. Matt Ryan did abuse the Patriots over the middle, with Tony Gonzalez racking up a game high twelve catches for 149 yards and two scores, but the Patriots got the timely turnover and Talib knocked down Ryan’s final pass on fourth and goal from the New England seven, sealing the tough road win.
New England’s offense finally came alive in the fourth game of the season. After a heavy dose of the run game through the first quarter, many Pats’ fans wee wondering what happened to the passing game. Tom Brady didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until there were only six minutes left in the first half. A 49 yard completion to Kenbrell Thompkins got New England within field goal range, but two more incompletions forced the Patriots to settle for three.
The second half started with another three and out for the Patriots. On the next drive, Tom Brady came out firing. After an incompletion to Julian Edelman, Brady completed five of his next six passes for 82 yards and five first downs. The Patriots red zone woes continued and they settled for a field goal after gaining a first down at the Atlanta eight yard line. The Vellano sack forced a short series for Atlanta and then New England came out of their shell, with two touchdowns and a field goal on their next three drives, allowing the Falcons only a field goal. Talib made a perfect read on a Matt Ryan pass for the only turnover of the game during this stretch which saw the Patriots score 17 points in just over seven minutes of gameplay.
The Patriots were aided by numerous big plays against the Falcons. Tom Brady completed as many passes over 20 yards in this game (six) as he had all season. Add in Blount’s long TD run and New England had three of their four plays over 40 yards against Atlanta. The Patriots will need those explosive plays on offense to offset the loss of Wilfork on defense.
What needs work for the Patriots
The Patriots put together another complete game this week. The loss of Vince Wilfork will loom huge as the season goes on, you can’t just replace a Pro Bowl, run stuffing, veteran team captain and expect to roll on without issues. The defense played the run very effectively after Wilfork left the game, but the Falcons passed the ball a total of 54 times and were finding receivers over the middle or running backs in the flat often as the Patriots brought pressure. New England’s receivers are still dropping the ball too often when Tom Brady throws to them. Especially with Aaron Dobson injured, Thompkins and Josh Boyce must hold on to every ball that Brady gets to them to keep the offense moving. We saw how quickly the offense can get the ball moving downfield when Brady and the receivers have their timing down, now they need it to be consistent for a full sixty minutes, as 23-30 points isn’t going to get it done against the likes of the Bengals and Saints these next two weeks.
What to look for next week
Next week New England takes its unblemished 4-0 record to Cincinnati to face the Bengals. How the defense will pull together will be the focal point of this week’s practices as the Patriots prepare for Cincinnati. The Bengals rushing attack can be dangerous, with Gio Bernard and former Patriots’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis looking to bounce back from a dismal performance against the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals’ offense needs to get back on track after their humbling defeat at the hands of the Browns, with star receiver AJ Green not meshing with quarterback Andy Dalton over the past few games. If Aqib Talib can take Green out of the game, then the Patriots can hold back the Bengals offense.
The Patriots red zone offense still needs to work itself out, and getting a serviceable pass catching tight end to provide a large target is of utmost importance in their success. The Patriots will be one week closer to the return of Rob Gronkowski, the name-brand of huge pass catching tight ends in the NFL, who would help tremendously, especially if Aaron Dobson’s neck injury takes longer than a week to heal. Gronk’s return, along with that of Danny Amendola, should only help take some pressure off a defense which has surely shown its mettle during the first quarter of the season.
Check back on Wednesday for my full Week 4 review and Week 5 preview and picks. Friday I will be previewing the Patriots – Bengals game, for which tickets are readily available through Our City Tickets.
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