By: Bob George/
October 09, 2005

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ATLANTA -- How many more starting defensive players do you want to keep taking away from the Patriots to make them show you what they're really made of?

When the two-time champs lined up Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, they were without Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Ted Johnson (he still counts because of how recently he has left), Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay. During the game, Guss Scott and Jarvis Green suffered notable injuries which did not ultimately cause them to miss significant loss of playing time. And here they are, having to travel to the Georgia Dome to take on the NFC runner-up last year.

Falcon fans will whine about "If we had had Michael Vick, we would have won!” all they want. But the Patriots will hear none of any complaining by an opponent over injuries. Not that backup quarterback Matt Schaub did that badly in his own right. But the Falcons still had enough offensive firepower to cause Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini sleep deprivation this week.

Yet the Patriots, despite the depleted defensive corps and a hail of second half penalties, had just enough in the end to stave off Atlanta, 31-28 to improve to 3-2 during this six game stretch from Hell. It took a near perfect game from Tom Brady, Corey Dillon's first 100-plus yards rushing game of the season, some highlight reel performances by Patriot tight ends, a Super Bowl-ish effort by Deion Branch, and just enough defense to keep the Patriots in a position to win the game in the end.

The game worked symmetrically, with the Patriots winning the first and third quarters and the Falcons winning the second and fourth quarters. What the game ultimately came down to was the final offensive series by the Patriots, keyed by a critical pass interference call and some typical clutch passing by Brady which put Adam Vinatieri in range to kick a chip shot field goal for the win.

First quarter: Patriots 14, Falcons 0.

Brady threw two long gainers which set up two touchdowns. On the first drive, Brady made a play fake and threw a deep right sideline toss to Branch for 51 yards, where he simply outmaneuvered D'Angelo Hall for the ball. Three runs by Dillon (who exceeded 10,000 career yards in the third quarter)for 18 yards begat a six-yard scoring run by Patrick Pass, plowing into the end zone right behind rookie Nick Kaczur. On the second drive, Brady set up a beautiful right screen toss to Daniel Graham, then parlayed a terrific Stephen Neal lead block into a scamper down the right sideline for 45 yards and a touchdown to make it 14-0 Patriots.

Second quarter: Falcons 13, Patriots 0.

On the first play of the second quarter, Brian Finneran beat Asante Samuel on a deep slant route for 53 yards, setting up a two-yard scoring toss to Justin Griffith on a play where the defense was completely fooled and did not account for him out of the backfield. But the undaunted Patriots drove right back from their 20 to the Atlanta 32 thanks to two Dillon runs for 22 yards and a 12-yard pass to Branch.

It was first and ten at the Atlanta 32. Brady Smith blew by Kaczur in a one-on-one mismatch and sacked Brady for an eight-yard loss, and the drive was killed. Atlanta got the ball at their 4, then drove 91 yards before a Rosevelt Colvin sack of Schaub on third and goal at the 5 forced the Falcons to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Todd Petersen. The Patriots did nothing offensively the rest of the quarter after that sack by Smith.

And at the end of the half, Atlanta got the ball at their 25 and marched to the Patriot 40 thanks to two passes to Finneran for 35 yards. Punter Michael Koenen lined up for a 58-yard field goal attempt and pushed it wide right. But just before the kick, the Patriots had called time out, then looked stupid as they tried to take it back. Given a second chance, Koenen nailed the kick from the same distance. It ended the half on a sour note for the Patriots, and the called timeout came off as one of the more stupid plays in the Belichick Era.

Third quarter: Patriots 14, Falcons 0.

The Patriots got the ball to start the second half and came out firing. Thinking they may run Dillon so as to take advantage of the poor Falcon run defense, Brady instead covered 78 yards in two plays for a touchdown, both identical plays. Brady found Graham in the right flat for 44 yards, then found Benjamin Watson in the right flat for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Two drives later, on second and 13 from their own following a false start on Tom Ashworth, Brady lofted a rainbow job deep right and found Bethel Johnson wide open. The mercurial receiver hauled it in for the score to put the Patriots up 28-13. Johnson simply outran Bryan Scott and Jason Webster in coverage, and he displayed his talent very well, something he so rarely does.

Fourth quarter: Falcons 15, Patriots 3.

The Falcons opened the final stanza by driving 53 yards for a touchdown. All 53 yards were thanks to two passes to Alge Crumpler. The score came on a play similar to what the Patriots ran in the third quarter, the difference here being better coverage by Guss Scott but not tall enough to tip away a perfectly thrown ball to a leaping Crumpler.

This score was set up by the only turnover of the game, which happened in the third quarter. The Patriots were driving for a possible "put the game away” touchdown, but on second and 5 at the Atlanta 42, Brady fired a pass into the left flat, but Ike Reese stuck up his paw and batted the ball straight up in the air. Demorrio Williams came down with the pick at the Atlanta 47. Brady never saw Reese coming, who simply made a great play.

Two drives later, the Falcons pulled even. The tired Patriots gave up a, 18-yard pass to Michael Jenkins and three Warrick Dunn runs for 20 yards. On second and six at the Patriot 14, Dez White curled in left, then broke off right right in front of Asante Samuel, and caught a 14-yard scoring toss. Schaub then threw a perfect fade pass to Finneran, who towered over Samuel and hauled in the tying two-pointer.

With 3:47 left, Brady had the ball at his own 36 and needed just a field goal. The drive began with four straight plays where penalties were called. The first two went against the Patriots, a false start on Watson and a questionable holding call on Neal. After an offside call on Patrick Kerney, the most damaging play of the game for Atlanta saw kickoff return specialist Allen Rossum grab hold of Branch on a deep right side pattern, turning a first and 20 at the Patriot 26 into a first and ten at the Atlanta 44.

From there it was routine. Two plays later, Graham for eight yards and Branch for eight yards. Pass breaks off a 16-yard run. With the ball at the Atlanta 14, New England centered the ball for Vinatieri, forced Atlanta to burn their timeouts, and ran the clock down to twenty seconds left. Vinatieri pushed the 29-yard attempt a little left but still good. A daffy lateral-filled play was all Atlanta could respond with, and the Patriots held on for the win.

So the champs bounce back with a tough win in a tough place. They will have to do it again next week in Denver before a bye week. But the Patriots used their disgust from last week to bring them home on Sunday. They played like champions, and continued to show their trademark grit and mettle which gets them by so many tough opponents in tough situations.

Now, it's Jim Mora's turn. Say something about Seymour being out. Please.