The New England Patriots returned to the site of Super Bowl LIII in search of a fifth consecutive win.
It would be found against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, 25-0.
Here’s a glance through what transpired at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as New England improves to 7-4 in shutout fashion.
Jones posts 96.6 rating, finds nine different targets
Through four straight wins under center for New England, Mac Jones compiled a 102.6 passer rating. And on Thursday, the Alabama product had a chance to become the fourth rookie starter to win five straight while compiling a 100-or-higher rating, joining Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Griffin III with the Washington Football Team and Ben Roethlisberger with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jones finished with 96.6 rating versus the Falcons. In the process of going 22-of-26 through the air for 207 yards — and 14-of-15 in the first half — he completed passes to nine different targets.
Those included a touchdown to uncovered wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a shallow crosser in the second quarter. But an interception surfaced on an in-traffic throw off his back foot in the third quarter. What was intended for tight end Jonnu Smith instead went 35 yards the other direction in the hands of cornerback A.J. Terrell.
Judon sets new career high as Patriots sack Ryan four times
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan went 19-of-28 passing for 153 yards and was intercepted in the fourth quarter by Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty and J.C. Jackson. Two more interceptions followed his departure.
By then, the pressure up front had made Thursday evening a long one. The former NFL MVP was sacked once by defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, twice by Kyle Van Noy and also by fellow outside linebacker Matt Judon, who now sits with a career-high 10.5 sacks after arriving on a four-year, $54.5 million pact in March.
Also among those visiting the pocket for hurries and hits was Christian Barmore. The rookie defensive lineman bull-rushed his interior matchups, drew a holding penalty on third down and later added a tackle for loss.
Questionable with ankle sprain, Patterson inactive for Atlanta
A sprained ankle kept Cordarrelle Patterson listed as limited and questionable on the injury report. It would also keep the six-time All-Pro from facing the organization he earned a ring with in February 2019.
Patterson stood with 77 carries, 39 catches, 776 yards and seven touchdowns this season before becoming a game-time decision. In his absence, Atlanta turned to Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman and Qadree Ollison at running back against New England’s defense.
A tally of 40 yards were allowed on the ground from there over the course of 16 attempts. Those attempts included a fourth-and-1 halting in the third quarter by defensive tackle Carl Davis and safety Adrian Phillips.
All eyes on a ‘really, really talented player’ in Pitts
No tight end had ever been drafted higher than Kyle Pitts, who landed in Atlanta at No. 4 overall in April. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound rookie out of Florida entered Thursday with 40 receptions for 606 yards and one touchdown on the fall. And with eyes on how New England would manage him.
“Pitts is a really, really talented player,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during his Wednesday video conference. “He’s very long, has excellent hands, has good quickness to get off the line, good quickness at the top of his route. He has a huge catch radius, has made some spectacular one-handed catches where the defender is kind of grabbing at his other arm and he can get only one hand on the ball. He still hauls it in. Again, he’s a big target.”
There would be five targets sent Pitts’ direction, beginning on a third-and-9 slant from the slot that heat-seeking New England safety Kyle Dugger deflected in man coverage. Three others would be caught and turned into 29 yards for Pitts. His first grab came in zone with seven minutes remaining before intermission.
Harris steps back into New England’s backfield with 56 rushing yards
After missing last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns while in the NFL’s concussion protocol, Damien Harris returned to the New England backfield. The starter would be spelled by veteran Brandon Bolden as well as rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, fresh off a second outing in a row with 100-plus scrimmage yards that included two touchdowns.
The depth chart proved efficient despite an opening drive that spanned three yards on three carries.
Harris rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries versus an Atlanta defense ranking 31st in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, breaking free for pickups of 14 and 17 late in the initial quarter. Alongside him, Stevenson led the way with 69 yards on 12 carries. Both collected a pass.
Starting five remains
Four days later, the same starting five remained for the Patriots.
It would be Isaiah Wynn at left tackle, Ted Karras at left guard, David Andrews at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Trent Brown at right tackle. Sophomore Mike Onwenu again served as the sixth man, as early as the second snap.
The unit conceded three sacks to defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ Falcons, beginning with blitzing inside linebacker Foyesade Oluokun and cornerback Darren Hall and continuing with a split between outside linebacker Dante Fowler and safety Erik Harris.
November debut for August trade acquisition
As perennial Patriots captain Matthew Slater made his 200th NFL appearance, a rookie made his first.
August trade acquisition Shaun Wade waited until the midway mark in November. The fifth-round cornerback by way of Ohio State and the Baltimore Ravens worked in on special teams Thursday night.
Quarterback Jarrett Stidham, running back J.J. Taylor, tight end Devin Asiasi, offensive tackle Yasir Durant and outside linebacker Ronnie Perkins were healthy scratches for New England.
Folk continues Pro Bowl case
Aside from a missed extra point in the closing minutes following a pick-six, Nick Folk picked up where he left off.
New England’s kicker converted on four field goals as four drives stalled against Atlanta. And he did so from 32, 33, 44 as well as 53 yards for his longest since 2015 with the New York Jets.
It extended Folk’s case to be named to his first Pro Bowl since his rookie campaign of 2007. The 37-year-old began September as a standard elevation from the practice squad, and now nears December 26-of-28 on field goals.