The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons kicked off their rematch of Super Bowl LI with a quiet first quarter between the two teams. The Falcons won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half and the Patriots received the opening kickoff.
Tom Brady and the offense picked up a mere 22 yards on 8 plays before punting, but the New England defense forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. Unfortunately, the officials called offensive pass interference on Rob Gronkowski to wipe out a 40-yard gain and the Patriots had a three-and-out of their own.
The Falcons offense responded with their best drive of the half, a 12-play, 52-yard march before settling for a field goal attempt. Patriots edge defender Cassius Marsh blocked the kick to take points off the board and to set up the New England offense on the 26-yard line.
Brady found Chris Hogan to convert a 3rd-and-16, and then running back Dion Lewis picked up 25 yards on the ground, just the second 20+ yard run of the year for the Patriots, to flip the field. Once the offense reached the 11-yard line, Brady found Brandin Cooks for an easy 11-yard touchdown “pass” that was more of a handoff and extended run play.
The Patriots defense forced another three-and-out (Johnson Bademosi was fortunate not to be flagged in coverage of Julio Jones), and the Patriots offense went back to work. Rex Burkhead returned to the field after missing weeks of play with a rib injury and led a 14-play, 64-yard drive to the Falcons 10-yard line. The Patriots offense stalled and they settled for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The Falcons led a 6-play, 28-yard drive to the two-minute warning and decided to go for it on 4th-and-6 from the Patriots 47-yard line. A pass from Matt Ryan to Mohamed Sanu was inaccurate and the Patriots defense continued their strong night. The Falcons have converted zero of their 5 third down attempts.
Brady and the offense took over with time and three timeouts and marched into field goal range, but made a curious decision to run the ball with James White on first down instead of try and get into the end zone- and they called a time out, so it wasn’t a decision to get the clock rolling.
But then Brady found White for a 2-yard score and a 17-0 lead with 21 seconds left in the half, so it didn’t really matter. The Falcons tried to respond with a drive, but they only added 36 garbage yards and the 17-0 lead held at the half.
Four Patriots running backs have at least three carries: Rex Burkhead has 6 for 31, Dion Lewis has 5 for 34, James White has 4 for 19, and Mike Gillislee has 3 for 8.
Six Patriots targets have made a catch, too: Rob Gronkowski has 2 for 38, Brandin Cooks has 2 for 29 and a touchdown, James White has 4 for 25 and a touchdown, Chris Hogan has 1 for 20, Danny Amendola has 3 for 17, and Dion Lewis has 1 for 6.
Phillip Dorsett, James Develin, Dwayne Allen, and Jacob Hollister are the only other offensive skill players not to touch the ball. Matthew Slater would be a fifth player, if you feel like counting him on offense. That’s what the second half is for, I guess.
The Falcons get the ball after the half.