ATLANTA — The final score was 25-0, but the game felt like it was 45-0.
Whatever problems the defense had against the Saints and Cowboys early on in the season are literally all gone by now. In one of the most dominating performances in recent years, the Patriot defense suffocated the overmatched Atlanta Falcons on the road, blanking their Super Bowl LI opponents on Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. On a short week, coming off a runaway win at home against Cleveland, the defense looked scary at times and incredibly efficient the rest of the game.
The only thing that went “wrong” for the Patriots was the inability for the offense to finish drives, but on this night, the offense didn’t need to look like Air Coryell of four decades ago. Mac Jones managed a nice game, had pretty good numbers, but didn’t put up astounding numbers against a team he probably could have done better against. This is why the game had a 45-0 feel, as the Patriot defense gave the Falcons next to nothing at all, except for one drive deep in Patriot territory which ended on a fourth down stuff.
Jones finished 22 of 26 passing for 207 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a rating of 96.6, a nice figure given how unspectacular his night was. Jones’ only touchdown pass was a 19-yard pass to Nelson Agholor early in the second quarter. Agholor ran a crossing route and found a huge opening in a zone seam and easily took it to the house. The Falcon defense managed to keep the Patriots out of the end zone the rest of the way.
Jones’ pick was midway through the third quarter. He was trying to hit Jonnu Smith on a deep right seam pattern, but A.J. Terrell managed to jump the route and made the pick at the Falcon 13. Terrell returned it 35 yards to the Atlanta 48, and the Falcons embarked on a drive that should have put them right back in the game.
The Falcons made it to the Patriot 25. Qadree Ollison gained five yards on first down, then Tajae Sharpe caught a four-yard pass to make it third down and one from the 16. On third down, fullback Keith Smith was stuffed by Dont’a Hightower and Adrian Phillips. On fourth down, Carl Davis made probably his best play as a Patriot by stuffing Ollison for no gain. Davis blew right up the middle and blasted OIllison just before he got to the line to gain. The Falcons would never threaten again.
To make sure the defense ruled the roost tonight, the last four drives for the Falcons ended in interceptions. On first and ten at the Patriot 44 with 12 minutes left in the game, Matt Ryan tried to hit Kyle Pitts on a deep right post pattern, and Devin McCourty was there to make the interception at the 22. Ryan threw off his back foot, which doomed the pass from the start.
After the Patriots answered with a Nick Folk field goal (he made four of four field goals, including a 53-yarder), Ryan got the ball back and on the third play gave the ball back. A left sideline pass for Olamide Zaccheaus tipped off his fingertips and J.C. Jackson caught the deflected ball. Folk made his 53-yard field goal, then Josh Rosen came in in mopup duty. Rosen lasted only three plays, as on third down he tried to hit Russell Gage in the left flat but instead threw the ball directly to Kyle Van Noy. He took the pick back 35 yards for a pick-six and a 25-0 lead (Folk missed the conversion).
A third quarterback, Feleipe Franks, lasted one play. He tried to hit Gage in the left flat and Phillips made a diving pick to end the game.
Once again, Patriot running backs had a great evening. Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris, just back from concussion protocol, combined for 125 yards on 22 carries. Both backs averaged over five yards per carry. Both backs had nice runs with good bursts and nice open holes, even though none of them scored a touchdown and neither of them really controlled the game. But their contributions helped the offense to not lose the game, and allowed the defense to complete its magnificent evening.
Agholor had the most catches with five, but Kendrick Bourne had the most receiving yards with 42. Nine different receivers had at least one catch. It was not a dynamic offensive performance, but it was good enough to enable the shutout win by not allowing the Falcons to get good field position.
The defense held Atlanta to only 165 total yards. Ryan finished 19 of 28 passing for 153 yards, two interceptions and a rating of 51.7. Ollison led the Falcons with 34 yards rushing, while Gage had 49 receiving yards on five catches. Falcon running backs averaged only 2.5 yards per carry.
In his postgame press conference, Bill Belichick complained about penalties killing drives and how it hurt special teams. However, the Patriots finished with five penalties for 59 yards, but Atlanta had nine penalties for 72 yards and had a Younghue Koo field goal nullified by an illegal formation penalty, with Koo missing the subsequent 50-yard field goal attempt.
The Patriots now get ten days rest before a huge home date with the Tennessee Titans. The last time these guys came to Foxborough, Logan Ryan ended the Tom Brady era with a game-sealing interception in an AFC Wild Card game. Former Patriot linebacker Mike Vrabel has emerged as a top head coach in the league and may be the best leaf on the Belichick coaching tree at present. Tennessee will be without Derrick Henry, but they still present a stiff challenge and are the current top AFC playoff seed.
The Patriots can enjoy this break. Thanksgiving will happen along the way, and the Patriots should be feeling great when they get to play the Titans. Giving Belichick extra time to prepare is always a good thing. But Vrabel is a coach that can neutralize all these supposed advantages, so this next game is huge and will really determine who the Patriots are, or who they have become at this time.
A dominating win on national TV is always good. Joe Buck seems to always be at the mike for big wins by Boston sports teams. Time for all of Patriot Nation to relax, enjoy the holidays and get ready for the big playoff push.
Posted Under: 2021 Patriots Season