The New England Patriots held on for a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 29, 2013. But the final score wasn’t what most will remember from that Sunday night matchup on NBC, or the fact that, as CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley noted, the series finale of “Breaking Bad” was airing over on AMC at the same time.
By now, many have likely forgotten Matthew Mulligan’s one-yard touchdown grab, Kenbrell Thompkins’ third-and-19 conversion when it was 13-10 in the fourth quarter, as well as the 47-yard TD run by LeGarrette Blount that followed it only one snap later.
The fact that Aqib Talib held Atlanta’s receivers to zero catches on nine targets that evening, notching four pass breakups to go with an interception on a Julio Jones fade, also stands distant.
The same is true of Joe Vellano and Michael Buchanan, who, then as Patriots rookies, managed to bring down Matt Ryan for two sacks.
Tom Brady went 20-of-31 passing for 316 yards and two touchdowns in the back-and-forth versus Atlanta. Ryan, on the other end, went 34-of-54 for 421 yards, two touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez and that aforementioned pick intended for Jones.
But none of those plays or numbers were at the forefront when the clock hit all zeroes. The final Patriots win at the Georgia Dome would be remembered more so for its loss.
It took place in the opening quarter down on the goal line when Vince Wilfork split the A-gap before hitting the turf belly-first.
The fall came without contact. However, the manner in which Wilfork handled the right-leg injury made its severity hard to detect. The perennial captain and five-time Pro Bowler attempted to shake it off when he got back to his feet and was surrounded by training staff. Yet it wasn’t until Wilfork took a postgame cart ride through the stadium tunnel, strapped with a walking boot over his right leg and just below his jean shorts, that the game had its phyrric image.
The Monday MRI revealed a torn Achilles tendon.
“It's a big loss, but we're just going to have to find a way to do it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Wilfork’s placement on injured reserve in the days that followed. “That means everybody doing their job. Obviously somebody is going to have to replace him and whoever those people are, they're going to have to answer the bell, but collectively as a team, we're all going to have to pull together. There's no one person that can replace Vince Wilfork.”
Though Wilfork would not be replaced that season, despite the interior pulling together Vellano and Chris Jones and later Sealver Siliga as fellow starter Tommy Kelly exited, No. 75 has been since then. The likes of Thompkins, Talib, Vellano, Jones, Siliga, Kelly and Buchanan are long removed from Foxborough as well.
Vellano finds himself in Atlanta under second-year head coach Dan Quinn. Gonzalez finds himself three years into retirement. Several others are no longer on NFL rosters. The list goes on.
The Patriots and Falcons have moved on, in terms of personnel and scheme.
Only a pair of Atlanta’s offensive and defensive starters from the previous encounter remain, and only seven of New England’s do, if accounting for fullback James Develin. They will revisit each other on Feb. 5 for Super Bowl LI in Houston as two unfamiliar teams, and in a sense, that’ll make this meeting feel as if the last one never happened.
Even though the lasting takeaway from Sept. 29, 2013 certainly did.