Report Card: Patriots Hold On Against Falcons

Derek Havens
October 01, 2013 at 08:00am ET

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The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 30-23 Sunday Night.

The Patriots move to 4-0, but it wasn't easy. While the team did get the victory, they still have a lot of work to do moving forward. Here is my report card for week four. --

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was all smiles after New England won 30-23 Sunday Night.
(USA TODAY Images)

Offense Grade: A - 

I thought about giving the Patriots a grade of "B +" here, but it's hard to do when the team puts up 30 points on the road in a primetime event. The offense is still experiencing some growing pains from their young pass catchers, but they continued to make progress this week. Kenbrell Thompkins had a terrific game, finishing with six catches, 127 yards and a touchdown. Sure, there were mistakes, but you have to take the good and bad with these rookies. Patience is the key.

Going into the contest, I questioned Atlanta's toughness. The Pats had a lot of success running the ball, totaling 132 yards on the ground and 4.3 yards per carry by the team. The team let Stevan Ridley open the game and establish the run early, while the offensive line pushed an undersized Falcons front seven around. LeGarratte Blount worked into the mix, and wasn't as effective early, but broke a huge 47-yard touchdown run that gave the Pats strong lead late in the game. The balance of run and pass kept the Falcons guessing throughout the contest.

Tom Brady seemed content letting the tailbacks chip away at the Falcons defense and he worked the play-action to perfection as the game progressed. Despite not being sacked once, a testament to the offensive line, Brady still did not seem very comfortable in the pocket and missed a few throws. As his chemistry with his new wide receivers grows, I expect his comfort level to increase as well.

All in all, the Patriots first 30 point performance was welcomed.

The Patriots defense answered critics on Sunday, keeping the Falcons in check for the majority of the contest.
(USA TODAY Images)

Defense Grade: A - 

While many fans praised the defense throughout the first three weeks of the season, there were plenty of individuals who still questioned whether they were improved. While last night was the first real test by a good quarterback, fans should be confident the defense seems to have taken a step forward. The pass defense, led by Aqib Talib, was stellar considering Atlanta's weapons. Kyle Arrington blanked Harry Douglas nearly the entire game, Alfonso Dennard did a favorable job against both Julio Jones and Roddy White. Obviously, both Jones and White had success at times, but that's to be expected given their talent.

Talib was my Player of The Game after an incredible performance. He finished the game with four pass deflections, two tackles and an interception. More importantly, he shut down Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones for the majority of the game. In addition, he made a game saving play, in the end zone, against Roddy White.

Safety Steve Gregory had a rough outing, undoubtably his worst of the season. To his credit, however, he's been solid in the other three contests.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez dominated the Patriots. No matter what the team tried, it did not seem to work. Towards the end if the game, the Pats defense had him bracketed and the first-ballot Hall of Fame Gonzalez still made plays. Twelve receptions for 149 yards and two touchdowns is unacceptable. Well, I guess all is forgiven when the team gets the victory.

My biggest gripe with the defense was the inconsistent pass rush. I expected Chandler Jones to have a bigger impact, especially after Atlanta's left tackle Sam Baker left the game with an injury. I thought the team would do a better job rattling Matt Ryan, but he had more time than he probably should have, which makes the pass defense all the more impressive.

Overall, the defense answered their biggest test to this point of the season and the unit has been very solid through the first quarter of the season.

Special Teams Grade: B + 

This grade took a hit after Zach Sudfeld could not secure a wild hop on the onside kick. Besides that mistake and New England's production returning during the game, the special teams unit was very good Sunday night. The Patriots continue to get almost zero spark from their kickoff returns.

Rookie Ryan Allen had some good punts and the coverage was all over the Falcons return man Douglas, despite pro bowler Matthew Slater's absence.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski also had a great performance, making all three field goals from 48, 22 and 49 yards. Falcons kick returner Jacquizz Rodgers only had one return for 29 yards, but was unable to attempt any others because of strong kickoffs.

Overall Grade: A - 

It's hard not to give the Patriots a grade of at least "A -" after a game like Sunday night. It's a shame the game's last seven minutes diluted such a strong game by the Pats. New England walked into the Georgia Dome and punched the Falcons in the mouth, something I'm not sure the Falcons were ready to handle.

The Patriots are a very young team, battling through some big time injuries and they were able to go on the road to win a prime time game. Furthermore, the Falcons offensive arsenal is one of the league's strongest and the defense played another very solid game.

Are the Patriots perfect? No, but they do a have a perfect record to this point. These young players will continue to grow and their chemistry will build. It's hard not to be encouraged by the fight and heart this team has shown through four weeks.

The team still has a lot of work to do, but they are improving while developing and more importantly, winning. That's tough to do in the NFL. We'll see how they handle their second toughest test of the season, next week in Cincinnati.

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