Well, there's your statement win.
Three weeks into the NFL season, the critics of the Patriots have said that the team was incapable of beating a good team. That their 3-0 record to start the season was a product of an easy schedule. All along, they pointed to the team's week four match-up against the Atlanta Falcons as the game that would be a real test.
And the results are in: the New England Patriots traveled to one of the most hostile environments in football, the Georgia Dome, and beat the Atlanta Falcons 30-23.
For three quarters, it was a back-and-forth affair, with the Patriots taking a slim 13-10 lead into the fourth quarter. The Patriots would then put up 17 quick unanswered points, and were seemingly in full control 30-13. But in the final minutes, the Falcons raged a furious comeback, aided by a recovered onside kick, and came just ten yards shy of tying the game in the closing seconds.
Despite the close win, this was a convincing win by the Patriots. Defensively, they came in with a mission to stop Julio Jones. And they did exactly that, sans a 49 yard catch by Jones on Atlanta's final drive. Aqib Talib shut down Jones for the majority of the game, coming up with a key fourth interception on a deep ball intended for Jones in the final period and also breaking up the Falcons' final pass attempt intended for Roddy White. Talib came into this season with a lot to prove, and has been arguably the team's most valuable defender through four games this season.
The Patriots allowed the Falcons to move the ball up and down the field, but played phenomenal red zone defense. Tight end Tony Gonzalez put on a show, with 12 catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. However, on the Falcons' final drive, the Patriots jammed him with two defenders on the line on every play, forcing Matt Ryan to look elsewhere.
On offense, things just keep getting better. Quarterback Tom Brady had his finest game of the season, and is clearly beginning to trust his receivers a bit more. Protection was phenomenal tonight, allowing Brady to connect on a bunch of down-the-field throws to Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman. Thompkins did drop a couple of passes, but also had a beautiful touchdown grab, and a few other first down grabs. His ability to beat press coverage has provided the Patriots offense a spark at times this year.
The Patriots were also aided by a strong rushing attack. LeGarrette Blount ripped off a 47 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter due in large part to a great seal block from Dan Connolly. Stevan Ridley also moved the chains early, finishing with 53 yards on 11 carries.
New England now moves to 4-0 on the season while the Falcons drop to 1-3. Don't be fooled by Atlanta's record -- they're a very good football team. The critics will still say what they want about the Patriots, and much of what they say will probably be true, at least to an extent. But what no one can doubt is that these Patriots are improving. Heading into week five, the Patriots are a much better team than they were week one. It's scary to think how good they could be once they get their top three skill position players back on offense.