The Patriots continued their undefeated march through the beginning of the 2013 season last night with a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons. This game saw the Pats take control late in the fourth quarter, before Matt Ryan and company mounted a furious comeback. I thought that this was a solid overall performance from New England, and high marks are in order across the board.
Passing Offense: A
This unit finally had the breakout performance that we have all been expecting for the past couple of weeks. Brady played at perhaps the highest level he has played at all season, but more importantly he was on the same page with his new receivers, and we were able to see the things that the talented rookies are able to do, when they actually know where to go on the field. Kenbrell Thompkins was easily the star for the offense, as he came down with six catches totaling 127 yards and one touchdown. Thompkins separated himself from his defender throughout the night, and as a nice surprise, he limited his drops from previous outings. The offensive line was terrific as usual, as Tom Brady wasn’t sacked once. Julian Edelman had a rough start to this game, but he finished with a flourish, coming up with seven catches in the second half.
Rushing Offense: B+
Coming into this game, the Falcons defense ranked fifth in the NFL in stopping the run. But this didn’t faze New England, as they pounded at the Falcons and finished the game with 132 yards on 31 carries. LeGarrette Blount led the team with 64 yards, a majority of those coming on a 47 yard touchdown scamper in the second half. Stevan Ridley continued his slow rebound from an awful start to the season running up 53 yards on 11 carries. The offensive line opened up holes all game long for the running backs to hit, and both Blount and Ridley took advantage of the giant holes that they were presented with. I think the presence of the running game really opened things up for Brady’s passing attack and hopefully this is something that we will see more of in the coming weeks.
Passing Defense: B
Despite letting Matt Ryan throw for 421 yards, I was encouraged by what I saw from the Patriots secondary. The start of the game was cornerback Aqib Talib, who was thrown at eight times and of those eight throws, he only allowed one completion which went for a grand total of one yard. But the entire secondary had a solid night, making the Falcons offense work for every yard they got. If it weren’t for a Gronk-like performance from tight end Tony Gonzalez, the statistics would have reflected the Patriots performance in a much better light. The pass rush seemed stagnant at times, but they got to Ryan when they needed to, and it was obvious that because of their well-timed pressure, Ryan was a bit uncomfortable throughout the night.
Rushing Defense: B+
Grading this unit is much tougher than I expected it to be, because of the injury of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. While they played well without him, allowing only 58 total rushing yards, the thought of being without Wilfork for the rest of the season is quite depressing. But credit has to be given where credit is due, and the Pats stepped up without their man in the middle, and shut down the Falcons running game. Undrafted free agent Joe Vellano stepped up nicely when Wilfork went down, and his partner Tommy Kelly did his best Wilfork imitation throughout the game. With the Falcons playing with three wide receivers for a good portion of the game, it was up to Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower to stuff the run without the help of Brandon Spikes, but they stepped up and came through for New England.
Special Teams: B
Another night of just showing up and “doing their job” for the Patriots special teams. Rookie Ryan Allen has been solid all season, and while he was only called upon to punt twice, he did a nice job as usual. Julian Edelman was shaken up on what I thought was a semi-dirty hit in the first half, but he stayed in the game and produced another fine performance. Much maligned kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed three field goals for the Pats, and as Musket Fire’s own Tim Dillon so eloquently stated last week, “give Gostkowski some some slack and realize that he is one of the best kickers in the league”.