The Patriots have improved to 2-0 in the preseason following the 28-10 blowout win over the Atlanta Falcons.
It was a solid overall performance for the Patriots, a victory that was marked by the return of Wes Welker, who officially returned to the football field just a little over seven months after tearing both his ACL and MCL.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons offense got going early, hitting underneath routes against the Patriots defense, with an emphasis on tight end Tony Gonzalez, who showed he still is one of the best at his job in the league. Eventually, the Patriots defense stiffened, and forced Matt Ryan to make a couple of bad throws, with the team settling for a field goal.
When the Patriots took the field for their first play, Wes Welker wasn't on the field. However, on the team's second play, Wes was back. And the Patriots didn't take any time to ease him into the offense. On the first play, Wes caught a six yard hook. When he was tackled, I held my breath, as Wes was hit at virtually every possible angle. Play two, Wes again, this time on a 14 yard grab on a throw that was behind him. On his third play, Wes was targeted on a screen and was rocked by Falcons defensive back Chris Owens. Still, Wes popped right back up and was fine. Welker played a total of six snaps, all on the team's first drive.
The first string offense moved the ball quite well. Their opening drive, they marched down the field with a nice mix of run and pass, with the drive being capped off with a Fred Taylor touchdown run. Taylor had a very good game, looking quick, powerful, and elusive as the team's starter. He seems to have locked down a roster spot at this point.
While the offense had a three and out their second drive, on their third and final drive in the second quarter, Brady led the bunch down the field, and was helped by a roughing the kicker on Stephen Gostkowski. The drive was capped off with a four yard touchdown grab by Aaron Hernandez, who showed great poise turning and catching the ball, while getting both feet in and holding onto the ball. When all was said and done, the Patriots outscored the Falcons' first stringers 14-3.
The thing I really liked about the Patriots' offense was how they constantly were shifting personnel. One play, the team would have three tight ends and the next, three receivers. They switched backs, receivers, etc. The Patriots will have a lot of versatility with their personnel with season.
I was really impressed with the play of the rookie tight ends. Hernandez made four grabs, and looked really shifty after the catch. I can't wait to see him in the regular season. Rob Gronkowski made four grabs, and had a beautiful touchdown grab from Bryan Hoyer in the 4th quarter. Hoyer threw a beautiful ball towards the endzone, and Gronkowski used his size to extend and bring the ball down.
Other players that played well on offense included Dan Connolly, Kevin Faulk, Brandon Tate, and Sammy Morris. Once again, the Patriots 2nd string offensive line seemed to struggle in both pass protection and run blocking. It seemed that Brian Hoyer was constantly throwing with pressure in his face, a big reason why he was only 8/15. While the line did open some holes for the ground game, there were too many plays where backs were caught in the backfield with nowhere to go due to breakdowns up front.
Defensively, the first string defensive line didn't play all too well, not getting much push, and playing relatively quietly. The Patriots' second string defensive line played a lot better. Brandon Deaderick had a very solid game, along with Myron Pryor. But defensively, the story of the day may have been the play of Ron Brace. Brace lined up at left end, and was really solid. He got some quarterback pressures, picked up three tackles, and forced a fumble that was recovered by Tyrone McKenzie (who also had a solid day).
In the defensive backfield, Pat Chung had another good game. He really flies all over the field, and made a couple of big hits. I really like what I've seen from Chung so far, although he still needs to work on his coverage. Jonathan Wilhite also had a solid game, coming up with an interception, but looked solid in coverage as well. Patriots 1st round pick Devin McCourty looked like a first round pick. He absolutely shut down Roddy White on one play, and made a couple of plays in run support.
As for the linebackers, there wasn't much spectacular play today. Brandon Spikes was quiet, as was the recently reinstated Derrick Burgess. Jerod Mayo had a few tackles and looked pretty quick out there. Eric Alexander made some plays, as did Tyrone McKenzie. Rob Ninkovich got in on the pass rush, including a nice sack of John Parker Wilson.
On special teams, Zoltan Mesko was booming punts today, and had a very good overall game.
Overall, a great game for the Patriots. While it's just a preseason game, I think the team has a lot to be excited about, particularly with the addition of Wes Welker to the offseason tonight. The Patriots will return home to play the Rams in their third preseason game next Thursday night.