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September 27, 2009
Run The Ball, Stop The Run, Win
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

FOXBOROUGH -- General George Patton probably would hate today's NFL.

"Ol' Blood N' Guts" loved ground troops. Tanks and foot soldiers. Roll over the enemy on the way to the capital city. Now that's some manhood insulting.

The Patriots found a time-honoured winning formula on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady still looks like Daisuke Matsuzaka out there in terms of missed targets. Michael Turner was badly needed to help open up passing lanes for Matt Ryan. The Patriots got a 105-yard effort from Fred Taylor, held Turner to only 56 yards on 15 carries, and got themselves a 26-10 win against the Atlanta Falcons. Despite more key losses to injuries and a still inconsistent passing offense and defense, it was the ground game which decided this one, on both sides of the ball.

In short, the Patriots ran the ball and stopped the run. Whaddayaknow. They won.

Ryan, coming home to play in front of his old BC crowd, still managed a good day by the numbers. He hit on 17 of 28 passes for 199 yards and an 82.3 passer rating. He was able to find receivers pretty easily for the most part, with Michael Jenkins his favorite target (5 catches, 78 yards). He was never sacked, and looked comfortable for most of the game.

But since the Falcons could not get Turner completely untracked, the Patriot defense never had to overplay the run, and therefore could settle into their defensive packages pretty well. All-world tight end Tony Gonzalez, who played all those years with Kansas City, had only one catch for 16 yards. Gonzalez figured to be Ryan's prime target, but the coverage on him was good all game long.

One reason Ryan wasn't able to muster any more than two scoring drives was the Patriots' ability to drive him from the pocket and force him to throw the ball away. Key penalties and a lost fumble by Turner hurt also, but the Patriot defense played a good sound game all the way and never gave up any big plays.

It really all began with the quashing of the Falcon run attack. On a day where the ball was slippery due to constant rain all game long, Turner was needed to pick up some of the offensive slack. But Turner averaged only 3.7 yards per carry and had a long gain of only seven yards. This stat was perhaps the key to the Patriots' winning the game, especially given the bad rap the secondary has taken over the first two games.

This is especially extraordinary given the fact that Vince Wilfork was lost in the second quarter with an ankle injury, and would not return to the game. Mike Wright, who himself would be hurt later on, and Myron Pryor helped solidify the middle. Brandon McGowan was the player credited with causing the Turner fumble two plays after Wilfork left the game.

Another injury proved fortuitous for the Patriots. Laurence Maroney came out of the game in the second quarter, and Taylor was able to get lots of reps and get into a rhythm. Taylor responded with 21 carries for 105 yards and a five-yard average per carry. Taylor showed the power run style which Maroney refuses to adopt, bulling through the Falcon defensive line consistently. Granted, the Falcons were 30th in the league in run defense, but this still should be considered a positive for the Patriots.

The team rushing totals were 168 yards and a 4.3 average per carry. Again, the Falcons don't defend the run much, but this is another great stat for the Patriots.

Which brings us back to Brady. In the end, Brady did manage to beat Ryan in rating points, but he should have clobbered him. Brady was 25 of 42 passing for 277 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 87.1. His passer rating at halftime was only 68.5. Brady overthrew a myriad of receivers, and at times he was victimized by some mistakes by his receivers, mostly Joey Galloway.

On two occasions, Galloway mistakes cost the Patriots a touchdown. On the first drive of the game, Galloway caught a seven-yard scoring pass from Brady but forgot to keep his feet inside the end line. Then near the end of halftime, Galloway ran a slant route and Brady hit him in the numbers from ten yards out right at the goal line, but the ball caromed off the 1 and the 3 and fell for an incomplete pass as Brady was visibly seething.

Brady had two overthrows in the second quarter, one of which was a sure touchdown to Sam Aiken one play after the Galloway drop. Brady had three overthrows in the third quarter, two of them intended for Benjamin Watson, who is now getting open but Brady still cannot find him other than the fourth quarter of the Buffalo game. Brady overthrew Chris Baker early in the fourth quarter, but would later find him for a 36-yard touchdown pass on the right sideline to complete the scoring.

Brady did not suffer any interceptions, and was never sacked in the game. He did get hit on two occasions, but was never in any real physical danger. The fourth quarter seemed to bring out a little more comfortable Brady, and if Taylor shows this sort of consistent good running down the road, it will make Brady even more comfortable as he continues his recovery from last year's knee injury.

This was a good bounce-back win for the Patriots, following last week's demoralizing loss at the Jets. They needed to slow down a high-powered defense, and they did just that. The Patriot defense showed a poise which hasn't been seen in some time, and despite the continued personnel losses due to injury, gets a lot of credit for a gutty and inspired performance.

Next week the Patriots get their first look at Joe Flacco, who like Ryan made the playoffs in his rookie season last year. Flacco gives the Baltimore Ravens a pass attack to compliment their run attack led by Willis McGahee. Taylor may not get much hay against the Raven defense, but the Patriots will at least go into that game with a lot more confidence and good feelings after this win against the previously unbeaten Falcons.

Ryan perhaps didn't feel any sentimental feelings in coming back to New England. He told everyone that his quarterback idol is Brett Favre and not Brady. He isn't from the area. It was more like "just another guy" coming back home, but Ryan is in for a good long career in this league. Boston College is the closest thing New England has to big time college football in a region where pro sports rule the roost, but Ryan coming home is still no small deal and a real feather in the cap of the good people in Chestnut Hill.

But the Patriots were able to come out winners, and it was won on the ground and not in the air.


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