The New England Patriots have improved their record to 5-2 thanks to their most complete game of the season: The team dominated almost from the get-go against the visiting Atlanta Falcons. The defending world champions consistently were in control in of the Super Bowl LI rematch all three phases of the game en route to a 23-7 victory.
And just like the Super Bowl, the game started slowly. 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.
Coming out of the locker room, the Falcons received the kickoff and were able to initially move the football well and into Patriots territory. However, after yet another third down stop by the defense, Atlanta had to settle for a 36-yard field goal. While it went off kicker Matt Bryant's foot untouched this time, the football failed to make it through the uprights – instead it hit the left one to keep the game at 17-0.
The Patriots responded with a 13-play drive that took more than six minutes off the clock and saw the team come within one yard of a touchdown. New England failed to reach the end zone but saw Stephen Gostkowski's second field goal of the day move the score to 20-0 in the home team's favor.
Down three scores, Atlanta was again able to drive into scoring position but again, the team failed to put points on the scoreboard. Facing a 1st and goal from the Patriots' 10-yard line, New England's much-maligned defense rose to the occasion: Following a run stop and a pass to the 1-yard line, Malcolm Butler defended a pass intended for Julio Jones before Kyle Van Noy stopped Taylor Gabriel for a loss of five yards on fourth down.
Taking over on downs, the Patriots offense had another long drive. This time, the unit marched 74 yards in 10 plays and again capped the drive with a field goal. Equally important, was the clock drainage: Behind some strong running by Mike Gillislee, New England was able to let more than five minutes pass before putting three points on the board.
And while Atlanta was able to answer with its first touchdown of the day, it was too little too late. When Julio Jones caught his first score of the season, only 4:13 was left on the game clock. And when the ensuing onside kick was caught by Danny Amendola, all that was left to do for New England was run out the clock. The team did just that and therefore heads into week eight with a 5-2 record.