Hannable: There were tons of positives in Patriots’ blowout win over Falcons, but let’s not overreact to one game

Ryan Hannable
October 23, 2017 - 4:08 am

USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — There is no question Sunday’s 23-7 win over the Falcons was the Patriots’ most complete and best game of the season. 

The offense got its run game going for really the first time all year, finishing with a season-high 162 yards on the ground. The defense didn’t allow a 300-yard passer for the first time all season and held an explosive Falcons offense to just seven points. Finally, special teams even got involved with a blocked field goal by Cassius Marsh.

“I’m really proud of our football team tonight,” Bill Belichick said. “That includes everybody; guys on the practice squad, some of the guys that were inactive and of course all of the players that played and our coaching staff. I just thought they really worked hard this week. We had a very, very productive week. I thought the players were well prepared, ready to go and played hard for 60 minutes in all three phases of the game. We had a lot of contributions from everybody.”

While the win capped what was apparently a tremendous week of practice and was the third straight victory, it certainly doesn’t mean the Patriots are all the way back to being what many assumed the team would be heading into the year.

First off, many assumed the Falcons would be a good measuring stick, but were they really? 

Atlanta has now lost three straight games — all coming against AFC East teams — and it has averaged 13.6 points in those games. While Matt Ryan won the MVP last season, is he really that good of a quarterback, or was last season just an anomaly? It may have just been a Rick Porcello-type season, as Ryan hasn’t looked even close to the same this season. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions -- one interception shy of his season total from last year. Also, since 2012 he is just 32-38 in the regular season. Maybe he's just an above-average quarterback.

Offensively, the Patriots appear to continue to make more of an effort to be balanced and establish the running game. It did its best job of the season not only rushing for 162 yards, but distributing those yards among all the backs. Dion Lewis led the way with 76 yards, but Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead each chipped in 31 yards apiece as well. Even James White added 19 more. This is how many expected games to go going into the year with having four capable backs. It was also the first time since Week 2 all four were active.

Tom Brady also spread the wealth in the passing game with seven receivers catching passes and five of them having at least three receptions. Chris Hogan led the way with four for 71 yards, but was closely followed by Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski who had 65 and 51 yards receiving respectively.

While the offense was certainly balanced and more committed to the run, it needs to happen on a more prolonged basis to truly become a trait of the team. 

On defense, for the first time all season there wasn’t a single breakdown leading to a big play. Atlanta finished with just two plays over 20 yards and those went for 22 and 21 yards, and both occurred in the second half when the Patriots had control of the game.

Even though Julio Jones finished with nine catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, the secondary did a tremendous job on he and the other Falcons receivers. The Patriots switched things up a ton by throwing man-to-man and zone at Atlanta with different players lining up at different spots each time. Jones saw Johnson Bademosi, Malcolm Butler and Patrick Chung lined up across him at some point during the game.

It was nice to see the defense handle a powerful offense and go from 30th in points allowed to 24th, but it needs to build on the game and continue to improve each week.

Also, Atlanta continued the trend of the opposition not challenging the Patriots in the passing game and running four wide receiver sets with stacked formations. Apparently opposing teams still haven’t checked out the Carolina game tape when all the Panthers did was run bunch formations. New Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had a tough night, which contributed to the Patriots holding the Falcons to 2-for-9 on third down and 1-for-3 on fourth down.

In addition, it is worth noting this performance on defense happened without starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore, starting nickel cornerback Eric Rowe and starting linebacker Elandon Roberts. Overall, it's hard to say the defense is back when it is still currently last in total defense and 24th in points allowed.

So, while Sunday night was a big win and the best overall performance of the season, it needs to be duplicated and repeated in all three phases in order to completely deserve praise. This seemed to be the general message in the locker room afterwards, as well. It was just one game. After all, any NFL team can have one good game.

“It will be a new set of challenges this week, and we have to meet it,” Brady said. “There’s really no carryover from week-to-week in the NFL. It’s different plans, different teams, different matchups and so forth. This is good, you learn from it and then you move on. You know, our identity changed a lot. We’re very much a game-plan team, and we’ll keep being that. 

“Hopefully we can keep going out and executing at a high level.”

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