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Patriots-Falcons: New England secondary finally has their best day of the year

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The Patriots need at least 12 more of these games from the defense.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots defense still needs a few more strong weeks to prove they’re back on track, but they’ve certainly put together three straight promising performances. After allowing an average of 32.0 points per game over the first four weeks, the Patriots have allowed just 12.7 points per game over the past three weeks.

And it’s not due to a drop in quality of opposing offense- the Falcons and the Buccaneers both rank in the top 10 of DVOA. The Patriots defense is simply playing at a much higher level.

“We played good team defense and we all did our jobs,” cornerback Johnson Bademosi said after the victory over the Falcons. “We tackled well, we defended the pass well and we played penalty-free for the most part.”

The Patriots still rank last in the league in yards allowed, but they now rank a more reasonable 23rd in points allowed. The first four weeks of the season ruined any chance the team might have of defending their Points Allowed crown, but they can at least climb their way back towards respectability and a possible top 10 ranking.

“We’re excited because we finally see our hard work come into show,” safety Duron Harmon said. “It’s not perfect; we still left some plays out there. We still did some things that we know we need to learn from. I just feel like the energy that we played with, the excitement, how fast and physical we played kind of covered up a lot of the mistakes that we made. We just got to build on that.”

Harmon also noted that the loss to the Carolina Panthers served as a turning point for the defense to start performing at a higher level. Head coach Bill Belichick agreed.

“I think [the defense] has gotten better,” Belichick said. “I think it’s gotten better over the course of the year from Week 1 to wherever we are now. Hopefully, that’ll continue to improve as we go forward. Playing together, playing the techniques better, better communication and better timing with each other and then how we're playing blockers, who we've been pretty relatively healthy with that group, so we've had a lot of carryover with the guys who are in there.”

“We've just got to keep working harder,” Belichick added, “and continue to, again, play well fundamentally, play well in terms of our responsibilities, be able to count on each other in our respective gaps so that we can play aggressively.”

The Patriots defense progressed a lot over the past few weeks. Opposing passer rating has dropped from 116.5 in the first four weeks to 89.4 over the past three games. Opposing completion rate declined from 69.7% to 63.5%. Opposing rushing yards per carry fell from 5.06 to 4.30.

There’s a lot to like about where this defense is trending.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler credited the defense’s job at defending big plays and making strong tackles through improved communication. Edge defender Trey Flowers pointed towards the “great coverage by the guys in the back end.” Even Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan praised the Patriots zone defense for doing “a good job of keeping things in front of them.”

And let’s leave it to Belichick to say what was on the mind of every fan, as relayed by safety Devin McCourty.

“I thought Bill said it best this week,” McCourty said after the game. “He said it was about time we played complementary football for four quarters. He said at times, we played really well on offense. At times, we played really well on defense. At times, we played really well on special teams, but we hadn’t gotten it all together.

“I thought tonight we did a good job of that.”