We’ve reached the end of the week as we get closer to the Patriots match-up against the Falcons Sunday night, and here are some quck thoughts heading into the weekend:


Gronkowski’s status remains uncertain heading into Sunday night’s game.
(USA TODAY Images)

1) Rob Gronkowski’s situation remains uncertain – We’ve seen Gronkowski make progress in recent weeks, but it appears things aren’t quite as encouraging as we might have hoped.  According to ProFootballTalk.com the veteran tight end’s status for Sunday night’s match-up isn’t looking optimistic, which could mean the Patriots will be forced to battle the Falcons with the same group they’ve been playing with since week two.  Obviously they’re 3-0, and the flip side to the argument that Atlanta’s the best team the Patriots defense has faced is the fact that New England’s offense has bested teams with the 3rd (Jets) and 15th (Buccaneers) ranked defense in the NFL. The Falcons pass defense is ranked 25th in the league, which in theory should mean Brady should be able to hopefully be able to put up points against them.  They’ve made it this far without Gronkowski, but there’s no question having him back in the line-up would certainly make a significant difference, especially down in the red zone.  He’ll likely head into this weekend with a status of “Questionable”, and we’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out whether or not he makes the trip, which will obviously be a telling sign about his status for Sunday night.

2) The status of Sebastian Vollmer will present a challenge – As versatile as Marcus Cannon has been so far this season, should Vollmer not be able to play this weekend, his absence could be something to watch.  His status for this weekend remains in doubt and as it stands right now the Patriots may have to go up against the Falcons hoping Cannon can help keep Tom Brady upright. Atlanta is currently tied with New England with seven sacks and, like the Patriots, have shown flashes at times of being able to create pressure.  That could potentially be a problem Sunday night, and hopefully Cannon is able to put a strong performance together.  One thing to note regarding Vollmer, Field Yates pointed out on Thursday that the right tackle has additional reasons to work hard to get back in the line-up, as he reportedly has a $750,000 reason to battle through his foot injury, with that incentive tied to him playing in at least 90% of his snaps this season.  He’ll also get $1 million in the form of  a roster bonus in 2014 if he plays at least 80% of them.

3) Big challenge ahead for the Patriots ground game – Atlanta’s defense has been stingy against the run so far this season, ranking 5th overall in rushing yards per game allowed at 79.0, just ahead of the Jets who have allowed 79.7.  Against New York Stevan Ridley struggled, carrying 16 times for just 40 yards at a 2.5 yards per carry average.  Give New England credit, they stuck with it throughout the game, which opened up opportunities in the passing game that the Patriots were able to capitalize on.  Fortunately with Brandon Bolden back in the line-up, he and Ridley should be able to keep the Falcons defense off balance for Tom Brady and his receivers to potentially put up some points.

4) Brady needs to be better on first down – The offense has had a tough time getting started this season, most notably on first down, which has been a weakness of Brady’s so far through three games.  He’s just 22-of-45 (49%) this season, including three sacks.  That’s been part of the reason why New England has found themselves in 2nd and 3rd and long situations so frequently recently.  Playing down in Atlanta in a dome could cause things to get loud should the Patriots struggle early, so hopefully they’ll do a better job of keeping them out of those situations.

WILFORK REMAINS CONFIDENT:

Vince Wilfork has received some criticism from not looking dominant so far this season against what some feel are lesser opponents down in the trenches.  Overall the Patriots have done a decent job against the run, having not allowed a rush by an actual running back longer than 13 yards, which was given up back in week one against the Bills.  Otherwise the two longest carries of the year were both by quarterbacks, with EJ Manuel (19yds), and Geno Smith (16yds) as the only two players to manage a rush longer.  Wilfork told the Boston Globe that he’s still “plugging away” and remains confident that he’ll improve.

“You always want to get better. I’m always trying to get better,” he told the newspaper. “That’s the name of the game. I don’t try to say, ‘I’ve been playing good. I’ve been playing bad.’ It’s just one of those things, you have to keep plugging away.

“There’s some good plays that I’ve had and some bad plays I’ve had. That’s football. Everybody goes through that. There’s a lot of football left to play, so I’m not worried. I’m positive I will play better. I’m positive I’m going to have some more screwed-up plays. Trust me.”

FALCONS HAVE A RECORD AT STAKE SUNDAY NIGHT:

Interesting note from the Worcester Telegram, which highlights the fact that Matt Ryan has a record at stake when the Patriots come to Atlanta Sunday night.  They point out that Ryan has a 34-5 record at home, and with a win over the Patriots, he can tie the record (held by Brett Favre) for most wins at home by a quarterback in his first 40 games.  The Patriots have had success under Belichick against them, and are 3-0 at this point including two victories (2001 and 2005) at the Georgia Dome.  Hopefully it becomes 4-0 after this one as well.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Chatham: Contain Gonzo to ground Falcons – Matt Chatham – Former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham files his report for this week and writes that handling Tony Gonzalez, among several other things, will be a high priority this weekend.

Notebook: Falcons can carry on even without Steven Jackson – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook for this morning, which leads off with the fact that the absence of Falcons running back Steven Jackson might be hurting the Falcons’ marketing department more than their football team.

Just for old Tom’s sake - Jim Lazar – Lazar has a weird column this morning that makes light of some of the recent fan criticism of Brady, although it’s done using fake beer names.

Pats DBs under pressure – Jeff Howe – Howe has a good column this morning on the challenge facing New England’s secondary Sunday night.

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots and Falcons matchup is important – Christopher Gasper - Gasper has a column this morning on this weekend’s game, calling it “a prime time proving ground for the local team.”

Ready to step in, Marcus Cannon? – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article on Cannon, who he writes has been versatile and has been able to help fill in at multiple positions so far this season.

Thursday injury report - Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has Thursday’s injury report, noting that Sebastian Vollmer and Matthew Slater being the only two not out there practicing.

Vince Wilfork feeling ‘fine’, excited about direction of Patriots’ defense – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning which leads off with comments from Wilfork, who said he’s looking forward to this weekend’s match-up.

On offense, Patriots are running with it – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article this morning on New England’s ground game, and mentions some of the comments about the comparisons between each running back.

ESPN BOSTON:

Highlighting Pats-Falcons connections – Field Yates – Yates looks at the connections between the two teams, leading off with Samuel as well as their front office connections.

Vollmer and playing-time incentives – Field Yates – Yates looks at Vollmer’s contract and notes the tackle has a significant roster bonus at stake for the number of snaps he plays.

WEEI:

Ex-Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel ready to renew rivalry with Tom Brady – Christopher Price – Price has an article on Samuel, with comments from the former Pats CB who Brady admitted also had success picking him off in practice.

ENTERPRISE NEWS:

League-leading receivers to be on display when Patriots play Falcons – Glen Farley – Farley looks at the battle between Julian Edelman and Julio Jones, who are the two receivers of note in this game.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Matt Ryan, Falcons to test Patriots’ defense – Jennifer Toland – Toland looks at Ryan, who should give the Patriots quite a challenge in their home stadium Sunday night.

Patriots’ Aqib Talib must contain Falcons’ Julio Jones - Jennifer Toland – Toland takes a look at the match-up between Talib and Jones, which should be one of the signature battles this weekend.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE: 

Can Patriot defense keep up with Jones? - Mark Farinella – In this article Farinella wonders whether or not New England can keep up with Atlanta’s high octane passing attack Sunday night.

NOTEBOOK: Cannon getting the job done – Mark Farinella - Farinella files his notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact that so far Marcus Cannon has done a good job filling in as needed in New England’s offensive line.