For everyone who watched Sunday night’s game it was tough not to be a little encouraged with their performance after seeing the Patriots battle to the end against a Falcons team that didn’t make it easy on them.

New England showed quite a bit of poise on both sides of the football and managed to survive a late miscue thanks to a botched onside kick recovery, which helped launch a comeback bid by Atlanta. Fortunately Aqib Talib came up big in the closing minutes, including a huge 4th down stop in the endzone with under a minute to go that could have sent the game to overtime.

Here are some thoughts on last night’s game:

1) It was a huge win, but it was costly – As if the Patriots injury situation wasn’t bad enough, last night’s game down in Atlanta has dealt New England another big blow.  It came early in the game after defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was carted back to the locker room after an apparent foot injury.  Shalise Manza Young later reported that Wilfork suffered a torn Achilles, which will likely mean he’s gone for the season. Wilfork is on defense what Brady is on offense. He’s the key to their group up front and helps the rest of the unit function properly.  New England now has quite a challenge ahead of them figuring out how to replace him, which leaves guys like Tommy Kelly, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano with an opportunity to establish themselves as potential unsung heroes now that he’s gone.


Matthew Mulligan came up with a big play for the Patriots offense Sunday night.
(USA TODAY Images)

2) Patriots were dealt other injuries as well - Also banged up were receiver Aaron Dobson and running back Brandon Bolden, who are two key parts of the Patriots already depleted offense.  Dobson took a shot in the end zone late in the contest that left him writhing around on the ground after the hit.   He left the game with an apparent neck injury and didn’t return, and was seen heading back to the locker room after the play.  Meanwhile Bolden also went down with an apparent knee injury, however, he managed to return and had a late game carry.  He’s a player that has been a key component during Shane Vereen’s absence, and if they lose him it definitely takes away a dynamic that they’ll have a tough time replacing.

3) Offensive depth was a massive factor in last night’s win – After pointing out who they’ve lost, it’s hard not to appreciate the fact New England has one of the deepest rosters we’ve seen during the Bill Belichick era.  Their stable of running backs is solid enough where each player has been able to step in and contribute, and despite the inexperience at the receiver position, every guy they have has the speed and quickness to at least get open and move the chains.  Up until last night, Josh Boyce hadn’t had much success catching the football, having seen limited snaps with Brady while failing to connect on three previous targets.  However, last night he had his first catch of the year, which was a big 24 yard reception to put them in Falcons territory (he had a previous 4 yard grab, but that was nullified by a Falcons penalty).  That led to a field goal that put New England up 30-13 with 6:23 to go in the game.  Should Dobson miss time, Boyce may get more of an opportunity to work his way into the line-up.   For a group who seemed to be in trouble a couple of weeks ago, it’s turning out to be a strong bunch.

Meanwhile, the running back position is incredibly deep, with LeGarrette Blount rounding out a group that behind Stevan Ridley has been remarkably productive.  Despite losing Shane Vereen they haven’t skipped a beat, with Blount and Bolden both picking up the slack carrying the ball as a change of pace.  The biggest loss is the fact that Bolden has been the guy who has been able to catch the ball out of the backfield, which if he misses any further time leaves them with a void that they’ll have to figure out how to deal with.

4) The Patriots offense was huge on third down last night – Bill Belichick talks all the time about being able to make plays in important situations, and New England came up big, especially on third down.  Overall they finished 7-of-13, but more importantly they converted quite a few last night in long yardage situations.  They converted 2-of-3 on 3rd-and-8, and 1-of-2 on 3rd and more than 10 yards.  Being able to overcome those on the road is incredible, and it’s hard not to appreciate a lot of the plays they made last night, which helped them get the win.

SOME NUMBERS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN:

1) The Patriots extended their turnover streak to 31 straight games having forced a turnover defensively thanks to a fourth quarter interception by Aqib Talib. It gave Talib his 4th pick of the season, tying him for the league lead with Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner, and Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso.

2) Brady’s touchdown streak is now at 52 straight games thanks to his one yard touchdown pass to Matthew Mulligan.  That was Mulligan’s second career touchdown, and he became the second player this season whose first catch of the year was a touchdown (Dobson was the other back in week two against the Jets).

3) Tom Brady had just 9 first half attempts last night, which were the lowest he’s had all season.  Here’s a breakdown by week prior to last night: Week 1: 25 attempts, Week 2: 24 attempts, Week 3: 19 attempts.

4) Julian Edelman had his longest catch of the year last night with a 44-yard reception, which came on third down.  He also was a perfect 3-of-3 catching the ball on 3rd down with two first downs, extending his perfect target/reception streak to 11-of-11 on the year with 7 first downs.

5) Last night’s victory improved the Patriots to 4-0 against Atlanta under Belichick, and 3-0 in the Georgia Dome during that span.

6) Kenbrell Thompkins finished the night with seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, giving him his first career NFL game with over 100 yards receiving.

FORMER PATRIOTS QB’S COME UP BIG SUNDAY:

Sunday saw both former Patriot quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Cassel come up with big wins for their football team, with Cassel delivering a victory for the Vikings in London over Pittsburgh, while Hoyer helped win the battle of Ohio by beating the Bengals.

Both players threw two touchdown passes, and both also didn’t throw an interception.  Hoyer finished the afternoon 25-of-38 for 269 yards along with his two scoring strikes, and after an even better performance Sunday he’s suddenly given Cleveland some momentum after winning his second consecutive start.  He currently has the Browns even at 2-2, with a hope of salvaging a season that had been seemingly lost after an 0-2 start.  The confidence in the offense has also appeared to have jump-started their defense, which held the Bengals without a touchdown for the first time in two years.  Hoyer said after the game that he’s just trying to play within himself, and compliment the play of his defense.

“Last week, with the interceptions, I kind of had that in my mind (Sunday),” Hoyer said. “When you have a defense as good as ours, you just don’t want to screw it up. And getting the call to lead this offense is kind of like getting the keys to a Ferrari. You want to drive it fast, but you don’t want to crash it, either.”

Meanwhile Cassel is creating a bit of a quarterback controversy after stepping up in a big game against the Steelers and playing mistake-free football, leaving the Vikings with a tough decision after Cassel finished 16-of-25 for 248 yards and his two touchdown passes.  Cassel’s victory kept Minnesota from going 0-4, and should make for some interesting discussion as the team heads into their bye week.  The Vikings clearly believe Christian Ponder, who missed this week’s game with a rib injury, is the future of their franchise and Ponder got an endorsement from Vikings coach Leslie Frazier after the victory.

“If you’re asking, our quarterback is Christian Ponder,” Frazier said after the game via ESPN. “Now we’ll discuss a lot of things when we come out of the bye, but … we’re going to enjoy this victory for a little while at least.”

Frazier should probably think twice because even at 1-3, they’re not out of it.  The question will be whether or not he believes Cassel can dig them out of the hole that they’re in, or if they’ll sit him back down in favor of Ponder in two weeks against Carolina.  After putting on a strong performance in London, hopefully Cassel gets another opportunity.

WOODHEAD COMES UP BIG IN SAN DIEGO:

Despite giving up 21 second quarter points, the Chargers came up with a big win against the Cowboys on Sunday and former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead was a big reason why San Diego improved to 2-2.  He caught 5 passes for 54 yards as well as two touchdowns, including a critical third quarter 13-yard score from Philip Rivers that got the Chargers back in the game, pulling them to within just one point at 21-20.  From there they shut Dallas out and added a fourth quarter field goal and touchdown to win 30-21  After this game Woodhead is now the second leading receiver in receptions for them, with 22 catches for 162 yards, three receptions behind Antonio Gates who has 25 grabs for 364 yards.  Both players have two touchdowns.  It’s definitely good to see Woodhead enjoying success out there after most fans were obviously disappoited to see him leave New England.

ON TO TODAY’S LINKS MEDIA LINKS:

BOSTON HERALD:

Borges: Steps in both directions for Patriots – Ron Borges – Borges writes that the Patriots progressed quite a ways last night at the Georgia Dome – in both directions.

Patriots pleased for Brian Hoyer’s new start – Mark Daniels – Daniels has reactions from several of Hoyer’s former teammates after they learned he won again in Cleveland on Sunday.

Aqib Talib keeps dangerous Falcons WRs in check – Len Pasquarelli  - Pasquarelli looks at Talib’s performance Sunday night, who he writes did a good job against Julio Jones.

The best and worst of Patriots vs. Falcons - Herald Staff – The Herald offers up their best and worst in different categories from last night’s victory.

Early march sets tone for Patriots - Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook, which leads off with the fact the Patriots ran ten straight times which lead to a touchdown Sunday night.

BOSTON GLOBE:

Potential rift between Patriots, Rob Gronkowski concerning – Adam Kaufman – Kaufman looks at the current situation surrounding Gronkowski and writes the fact there’s a potential dispute between the tight end and the team in terms of his his return timeline is concerning.

Vince Wilfork has torn Achilles’ tendon, source says - Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young reports that veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork suffered a torn Achilles’ during Sunday’s game, and his season is likely over.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Falcons game - Zuri Berry – Berry gives his reaction to last night’s win with his five takeaways, including both the Patriots fantastic defense in the red zone.

Talib leads the way on defense again – Zuri Berry – Berry has an article on Talib, who he writes once again had a big game.

ON FOOTBALL: Patriots switched offensive strategy at half – Ben Volin – Volin has a good piece this morning breaking down Sunday night’s performance, including how their offensive strategy changed in the second half against Atlanta.

Patriots’ defense is the real thing – Christopher Gasper – Gasper has a column this morning on New England’s defense, which he feels proved Sunday night that it’s the real deal.

Patriots get contributions from unlikely sources – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article on the fact the Patriots got contributions from guys like Matthew Mulligan, among others on the defensive side of the ball during the win in Atlanta last night.

ESPN BOSTON:

Considering Wilfork replacements - Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at the loss of Wilfork and what it means for other players who will now need to step up in his absence.

WEEI:

Five thoughts on how Patriots might try to replace Vince Wilfork – Christopher Price – Price has his own five thoughts on how New England will go about replacing the veteran tackle.

Patriots show they’re more than ready for prime time – Mike Petraglia – Petraglia has a good column this morning about the fact the Patriots put together an impressive performance Sunday night.

NESN:

Aqib Talib’s Coverage, Rob Ninkovich’s Pass Rush Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Falcons –  Doug Kyed – Kyed looks at last night’s game and has five his thoughts following the win.

PROVIDENCE JOURNAL:

Gronkowski return clearly being handled with care – Jim Donaldson – Donaldson has a column this morning on Gronkowski, and gives his take on the current situation with the veteran tight end.

USA TODAY:

Cris Collinsworth forgets Aaron Hernandez ever existed – Chris Strauss – Strauss writes that a comment by Collinsworth where he said last night during the broadcast that character issues “disappear” when players join the Patriots, which he disagrees with due to the Aaron Hernandez situation

BLEACHER REPORT:

Full Roster Grades for Pats Against the Falcons – James Christensen – Our friend from NEPatriotsDraft.com has a column on Bleacher Report and gives his roster grades on the team.