The New England Patriots' 2017 up until yesterday could be described with one word: inconsistency. Consequently, yesterday's 23-7 victory over the visiting Atlanta Falcons is one to feel good about in Foxboro. The Patriots played their most complete game of the season on both sides of the football and were in control of the game for most of the time.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some quick-hit winners and losers from yesterday's contest.
Winner: Matt Patricia
Through the first six games of the season, the Patriots defense – one that led the league in scoring one year ago – struggled mightily, especially against the pass. For a large part, this falls back on coordinator Matt Patricia. Yesterday, however, the unit was able to bounce back in impressive fashion against arguably the most talented offense it will face all year long. Holding the Falcons to only seven points certainly exceeded pre-game expectations and Patricia's game plan and play calling played a big role in that.
Winner: The Patriots' running game
At times, New England's offense has a tendency to get too one-dimensional while putting considerable pressure to perform on quarterback Tom Brady. Yesterday, the opposite was the case as the unit played one of its most consistent games of the year behind a balanced attack. With Dion Lewis leading the way and some dominant run blocking up front and by fullback James Develin, the Patriots ran the football 36 times for 162 yards. With a ground game as successful as that, stopping New England's offense becomes near impossible.
Winners: Johnson Bademosi, Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones
The Patriots were playing one of the NFL's most talented offenses without two of their top three cornerbacks. With both Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe out due to injury, New England turned to its depth pieces to play considerable snaps opposite Malcolm Butler. Butler himself had a mostly strong performance and so did Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones. Together with the safeties, the trio helped keep Atlanta's talented wideouts in check and broke the 300-yard passer streak that began on opening day.
Loser: Eric Rowe
While both Gilmore and Rowe missed yesterday's contest, as noted above, the Patriots' secondary did not skip a beat – quite the opposite actually. The unit played its best game of the season as communication breakdowns were at an all-season low. And while it would be a surprise to see Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones cut into Gilmore's playing time, Rowe might find himself on the sidelines more often if a) his groin continues to bother him and b) Bademosi and Jones continue to make the most of their opportunities.
Winner: Cassius Marsh
Cassius Marsh did not play a mistake-free game against Atlanta as he continues to struggle with pass rushing too deep up the field at times. However, the 25-year old did take a step in the right direction and finished the game with a quarterback hit while also making one of the biggest plays of the night: Marsh, who played three fourths of defensive snaps and one fourth of special teams snaps, ended the Falcons's first scoring opportunity when he blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt. Seven plays later, New England took a 7-0 lead.
Winner: Tom Brady
Besides an interception that was called back due to a roughing the passer penalty, Tom Brady played a near-flawless game. The NFL's best quarterback finished with 21 pass completions on 29 attempts, while throwing for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Brady was therefore able to bounce back in style from two inconsistent performances in week five and six.
Loser: The Patriots' discipline
Yesterday's game saw a total of 16 penalty flags thrown; 10 of which against the Patriots. Of the 10 penalties, eight were accepted and cost New England a combined total of 65 yards. Against the Falcons, who lost 40 yards on six accepted infractions, the high number of penalties ultimately did not matter. However, once the games become closer, New England needs to find a way to cut down on easily avoidable penalties like false starts.
Winner: Kyle Van Noy
Kyle Van Noy had another active and productive game in the middle of New England's defense. The 26-year old finished with a team-leading seven tackles, took over the leadership after Dont'a Hightower left the game due to an injury and made one of the contest's biggest plays. Van Noy perfectly read the Falcons' jet sweep on 4th and goal and tackled Taylor Gabriel for a loss of five yards. In short: He had another very good game.
Winner: The third down defense
Last week, the Patriots had a hard time getting off the field early in their game versus the New York Jets. Against Atlanta, however, the unit looked much improved in this area as well. Overall, New England's defense gave up only two of nine third down attempts and also stopped the Falcons on two of three fourth downs. An encouraging performance from Matt Patricia's unit.