After two straight games on the road, the Patriots were ready to return home to Gillette Stadium. The challenges for Week 7 presented themselves before Atlanta even boarded the plane here; injuries to Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe meant the Patriots were extremely thin at cornerback against a pass-happy Atlanta Falcons offense. Just three cornerbacks were dressed for the game: Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, Johnson Bademosi. In other words, the Patriots were using three undrafted cornerbacks against the defending NFC Champions with their lethal receiving core.
The week prior saw the Patriots barely escaping the lowly Jets. They let a mediocre offense throw all over them for nearly 360 yards, and they looked lost without their taller corners in Rowe and Gilmore.
The Falcons were also struggling to prove themselves after consecutive embarrassing losses to Buffalo and Miami, and they hoped to reintroduce themselves as one of the best teams in the league.
Comparatively, the Super Bowl rematch against the Falcons at home proved to be a much-needed boost of morale for the team. With all the hype surrounding the Sunday night game, it was highly unlikely the Patriots would sleepwalk through it as they did against New York. This was not meant to be just another reunion, this had to be a coming-out party. And so it was for the defending champion Patriots.
The first quarter saw both teams struggle to put it all together. The Patriots punted on both drives while Atlanta’s Matt Bryant had his 37-yard field goal blocked by Cassius Marsh.
A key roughing the passer call on Atlanta negated a Tom Brady interception in the second quarter, and Brady connected with Brandin Cooks in the end zone a few plays later.
The Patriots drove down the field on their following drive for a field goal to take a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter as desperation set in for Dan Quinn’s Falcons. They rolled the dice on a 4th & 6 at midfield and Ryan missed his big target Mohamed Sanu. This was a gift to Tom Brady and the offense, and they made the most of it. Patriots RB James White stretched out the Falcons defense with his elusiveness, while Brady took the top off with multiple deep passes to Brandin Cooks. White caught a pass from Brady at the goal line to put the Patriots ahead 17-0 at the half.
The lopsided score and the blinding fog gave New England all of the momentum heading into the third quarter, but the game was over by no means at that point. Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman had large rush plays that brought Atlanta deep into New England territory until Matt Bryant shanked a 36-yard field goal.
The woes continued as New England’s offense marched up the field and came back with a field goal of their own. The Falcons offense reached midfield on their next drive before failing on a 4th down conversion, and that was the kill shot for the Falcons. 23-7, the final score.
Just as in the Super Bowl, the Patriots unleashed their shifty pass-catching running backs to set up one-on-one matchups with Atlanta’s slower linebackers to open up the field. Their running game of James White, Dion Lewis and the newly returning Rex Burkhead set the table for Brady and the passing game and they did not disappoint. The offensive line was shaky in the first half, but it got better as the game progressed. Nate Solder played his best game of the season just days after his son received treatment for a rare form of pediatric cancer, and Atlanta’s pass rush became a non-factor in the second half.
Michelle Tafoya says Nate Solder's son began chemotherapy treatments a few weeks ago. Solder's had a few non-injury absences from practice
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 23, 2017
The Patriots defense had a tall order coming into this game and they excelled. The duo of Dietrich Wise Jr. and Trey Flowers terrorized Matt Ryan and the Falcons all night, forcing him to scramble to his weak side and make difficult throws. Looking back to the Super Bowl, Ryan was at his best with a clean pocket and plenty of time to find his receivers, and in this game, Ryan did not have anywhere near the same level of comfort in the pocket. The crowd was New England’s twelfth man on defense, and the fog was arguably its thirteenth.
This was a standout game from New England’s cornerbacks no matter how poorly Ryan and the Falcons handled the fog. Star receiver Julio Jones, who tore the Patriots up in the Super Bowl, was negated for the first three quarters by constant double coverage. The New England defense also benefitted from Ryan’s second target Mohamed Sanu’s decision to play on a bad hamstring.
The Patriots are due for five of their next six games away from home after claiming first place in AFC East. The Los Angeles Chargers will come into Foxboro on October 29th.