By the end of the New England Patriots’ clinical 23-7 romp over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, it was clear they fixed some of the issues that plagued them earlier this season.
The Patriots, at fog-ridden Gillette Stadium, held what’s supposed to be one of the NFL’s top offense to a mere seven points and 35 yards.
In a period of three weeks, the Patriots went from getting embarrassed by the Carolina Panthers to embarrassing the Atlanta Falcons. In a group effort on Falcons No. 1 wideout Julio Jones, as six different defenders were seen covering him on his 13 targets. Johnson Bademosi had an increased role in this game due to injuries to cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. Bademosi and Malcolm Butler combined to allow four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown on six targets against Jones, who finished with nine receptions for 99 yards, the longest of which was 16 yards.
Just like last year, when the defense needed to step up, it did. The Falcons went 1 for 3 on fourth down, with New England stopping them on a crucial 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. A perfect read by Kyle Van Noy on an end-around to Taylor Gabriel negated a chance for the Falcons to be down only by 14 with a full quarter to go.
Run game in high gear
Offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead was back after missing the four previous games with an injury to his ribs. The team ran by comity with four back getting touches. It paid off with the Patriots rushing for a season-high 162 yards, their highest output since their season-opening loss to Kansas City. Dion Lewis led all rushers with 76 yards on 13 carries.
New England had only four regular-season games in 2016 when it ran the ball fewer than 25 times. Entering Sunday night, it had already had four such games. The Patriots ran a season-high 36 times against Atlanta, as compared to 29 passing plays.
Hightower gone for year
As per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be out for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle injury.