Sep 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) celebrates an interception in the second half against the New Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Patriots won 30-23. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Last night the Patriots beat Atlanta in a dramatic fashion, as they held the pesky Falcons off over the final couple of minutes. It seemed like the Patriots had taken control of this game when Stephen Gostkowski put them up 17 with a 49 yard field goal with only 6:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Falcons made a late charge in the closing moments of the game, before they finally ran out of gas with under a minute left in the contest. There were a lot of positive things to take away from this contest, so without further ado, here are three takeaways from last night’s victory.
1. Offense Finally Clicking
The Patriots biggest struggle over the first three weeks of this season has easily been the play of their offense. Under normal circumstances the offense is a strong point of a Patriots squad, and they usually rely on them to win football games. But this season has been a season of transition for this group, and last night was the first real sign of this team having a productive offensive unit. Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins had a huge night, as he caught six balls for 127 yards and a touchdown. Thompkins has a unique ability as a rookie to separate from man coverage, and he did this wonderfully last night. He also flashed some deep threat skills when he pulled in a 47 yard bomb from Tom Brady early in the second quarter. The most important part of his performance was the rapport between him and his quarterback. Up until this point, their chemistry had been shaky at best, but last night they were on the same page throughout the game, and from here on out they should only improve this connection. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson left the game with a shoulder injury in the second half, hopefully he is okay as he was making strides with Brady as well. Once again Julian Edelman had a productive day, pulling in seven catches and totaling 118 receiving yards.
2. Aqib Talib Is A Top Corner In The NFL
One of the keys heading into this game for New England, was limiting the damage that wide-out Julio Jones inflicted upon them. It was evident from the start of the game that the Pats game plan for Jones was to stick cornerback Aqib Talib on him, and shade a safety towards their side. Well this plan worked, but Talib did such an amazing job on him that for the most part the safety was not needed. Quarterback, Matt Ryan threw at Talib eight times. He completed only one pass for one yard, and he was picked off once as well. Jones did finish with 108 yards on six catches, but most of that came at the end of the game when Talib was not covering him. Talib has a rare combination of speed, size and ball skills, and all of these special talents were on full display last night, as he isolated Julio Jones on ‘Talib Island’ throughout the game. Cornerbacks like Richard Sherman of Seattle and Darrelle Revis of Tampa Bay get all the attention throughout the league, and deservedly so, but Talib’s performance against the Falcons proves that he is one of the best corners in the NFL, and he deserves some praise for his talent.
3. Defensive Unit Stands Up To First Real Test Of The Season
Coming into this game, the Patriots defensive group had allowed a mere 34 points through three games, but the opponents that New England faced in these first three games didn’t exactly boast top notch offenses. This game against the Falcons was their first real test of the season, and in my opinion, they passed with flying colors. When you look at the final statistics it may not seem that impressive (457 total yards, 399 passing yards, 13 points in the fourth quarter), but just watching the game, you could tell that this is a different Patriots defense from previous years. The Falcons ran the ball only 15 times, so while giving up only 58 rushing yards is impressive, it is not my main focus. What I did find impressive, was that Atlanta had to work for every single yard that they gained through the air. Ryan piled up 421 yards on the Patriots secondary, but very few of them were easy completions. As I mentioned before, Aqib Talib was absolutely phenomenal throughout the game, but he was not the only Patriots defender that had a solid outing in this win. Alfonzo Dennard continued his strong 2013 campaign, with strong man coverage on Julio Jones despite giving up a solid five inches to him. Devin McCourty was great as well, and even Kyle Arrington had a good game in the slot. Safety Steve Gregory was one of the few negatives for the secondary, as he frequently was caught out of position, and he took a number of bad angles to the runner resulting in a lot of extra yardage.
The Pats were notorious for giving up big plays in 2012, but the longest completion of the night was a 49 yarder to Julio Jones at the end of the game, and McCourty had perfect coverage on this particular catch. It was just a better throw by Matt Ryan. Tony Gonzalez went bananas in this game, but the Patriots made him work for every single reception he made. They had great coverage on him, but he was in a zone and it became apparent that there was not much that was going to slow him down. This was one of those rare occasions where we got to witness one of the greatest of all time turn back the clocks and do it again. The performance that he put forth was really unbelievable.
The last point I want to make concerning the play of the Patriots defense, was their production in the red zone. The Falcons had six red zone appearances, and they only came away with one touchdown. Come playoff time, this ability to hold teams out of the end zone will benefit New England in a huge way, and possibly vault them back to the championship game.