ReFo: Patriots @ Falcons, Week 4
Two teams struggling to deal with a few key injuries (with more accrued in the game) met in the Georgia Dome as the Patriots showed Atlanta how to struggle on by and still keep winning. New England escaped on the final play of the game with Aqib Talib deflecting away a potentially game-winning pass by Matt Ryan.
The Patriots in truth should have had the game locked up well before that, but failure to recover an onside kick after an iffy bounce and fumbling the ball on a 4th-and-1 play later gave the Falcons a pair of drives that they probably didn’t deserve, and they almost made them count.
For the Patriots, they just kept finding ways to win ugly, and for the Falcons, it was déjà-vu all over again as they came up heart-breakingly short once more.
But let’s take a look at who stood out on an individual level.
New England: Three Performances of Note
Talib Earning Money
This was a ridiculous week for CB performances, but you may not see a finer one than that from Aqib Talib in quite some time. Talib was given the task most of the time of shutting down Julio Jones but he also saw a fair bit of Roddy White, an easier call until White gets fully healthy. Regardless of who he was covering, Talib was in close attendance and making a nuisance of himself, forcing passes out, picking them off, or forcing drops with his close coverage. In total he was thrown at seven times, and though he had safety help on occasions he didn’t allow a single catch in those targets. As if that wasn’t enough he saved one of his biggest plays for the game’s most important. On fourth down in his own end zone he batted away a pass intended for Roddy White that would have tied the game for the Falcons despite White having good leverage on the route.
As everybody knows by now, Vince Wilfork went down in this game with a torn Achilles, and he did so after only 10 snaps of action. The Falcons fans actually booed him, thinking he was feigning injury to slow down their no-huddle attack, but it was unfortunately far more serious than that. With 66 plays run after Wilfork left the field, though, we got to see an extended period of them playing without him. Joe Vellano saw the bulk of the replacement snaps (33 in all) and made a favorable impact at times, earning himself a nice sack and generating a pair of additional hurries, but his run defense was significantly down on what you expect from Wilfork, even if he did make a couple of plays. Chris Jones also saw some time (19 snaps) in the game but made less of an impact for a -1.7 grade.
Thompkins’ Big Day
It was mentioned in the game that Kenbrell Thompkins reminded Tom Brady of Chad Johnson, and though this was assumed to be a good thing, I would venture a guess that if he was honest Brady would mean both the good and bad of Johnson as a football player, certainly from his time in New England. Thompkins racked up 127 receiving yards and a touchdown on six receptions including a great grab deep down field, but he also dropped a pair of relatively easy passes as bobbled a couple more before bringing them in. He certainly has something about him that Brady seems to like, but he also seems far less reliable a receiver than Brady usually attaches himself to. For all the good he does you can’t help but get the feeling that an important clanging drop is never far around the corner.
Atlanta: Three Performances of Note
Ryan’s Recurring Nightmare
Matt Ryan seems to specialize in games in which he leads heroic comeback drives, only to fall at the final hurdle when the game is at its most important. He has also succeeded a huge number of times on those games, so that is perhaps a little unfair, but it seems that in the most important of games, he is always one play short. He got a little lucky to have the opportunity to bring the Falcons back in this game, but he took the opportunities well, hitting a deep bomb to Julio Jones on the final drive to set up the grandstand finish. As good as he was, though, Ryan did come up one play short and couldn’t find his way into the New England end zone at the death.
Overmatched Up the Middle
One of the most underrated aspects of the Patriots this year is the O-line, and they are, in truth, probably the biggest single reason that the team keeps winning, not necessarily Tom Brady, and they showed it again today by getting the better of the Falcons’ defensive front in the run game. Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters combined for 95 run snaps and a grade of -6.2 against the run as they just couldn’t hold their ground against the power of the Patriots’ line. Babineaux was able to redeem himself a little with some pass rush, recording a pair of hits and a hurry, but otherwise the Falcons were simply overmatched in the trenches on that side of the ball.
Who needs to be open?
During the game Cris Collinsworth did an excellent job waxing lyrical about Tony Gonzalez’ ability to catch the ball. He doesn’t have the legs he once had, and is rarely open anymore, but he is so good at the art of simply catching the football that he doesn’t need to be. With defenders draped all over him all game he caught 12 of 14 balls thrown his way for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His ability to extend his hands and catch the ball away from his body and further than the coverage defenders can reach is unparalleled in the NFL and keeps him not just viable, but devastatingly effective despite fading athleticism that wouldn’t scare even the most leaden-footed of NFL linebackers.
– Talib was thrown at seven times. He didn’t allow a catch and those targets yielded a passer rating of 0.0
– Tony Gonzalez caught almost everything thrown near him, leading the Patriots to line up three people over him on the game’s final play
– Matt Ryan’s QB rating when blitzed was 91.7. When not blitzed? 91.7
PFF Game Ball
This was as close to the perfect game as a CB can play. He may have had help at times, but Aqib Talib earned his PFF Game Ball.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam