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Game Observations: An open and shut(out) case 

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The Falcons once had a 25-point lead over the Patriots – five years ago in Houston – and watched it slip away during Super Bowl LI. In the two teams' latest meeting Thursday night in Atlanta, New England equaled that margin, and there was no way it was letting that one go.

Four days after their best overall performance of the 2021 season, how would New England respond in a rare Thursday night road game against a struggling Atlanta Falcons team? With an even more dominant display. But if the win over the Browns was all about offense, this latest victory over Atlanta was defined by defense.

How dominant? Consider this possibly historic stat: the Patriots intercepted all three Falcons quarterbacks. Digest that for a moment …

On top of that, they sacked starter Matt Ryan four times, limited Atlanta's best skill player, rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, to just three catches for 29 yards, and came up with a momentum-swinging 4th-down stop.

Several individuals stood out for New England's defense, which collected its first shutout of 2021, and whenever it appeared that the Falcons were starting to move the football with any regularity, someone stepped up to make a play that thwarted the drive.

Even when they went into halftime with just a 13-0 lead, it never felt like the Patriots were in jeopardy of losing control of this contest. For their trouble, Bill Belichick's 7-4 squad now gets to enjoy a mini-bye weekend before having all of Thanksgiving Week to get ready to welcome Mike Vrabel and the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans.

In the meantime, without further ado, let's go into detail about how impressive this win over Atlanta was:

* * *

It was a good night for Patriots defenders named Kyle. Safety Kyle Dugger got things started with a nice PBU (pass breakup) on Atlanta's first possession, a 3rd-down pass intended for rookie Falcons TE Kyle Pitts that forced a three-and-out Falcons punt. Dugger added six emphatic tackles, all solo and a couple for no gain.

* * *

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been more involved of late, and Thursday was his best game so far in his second go-round with the club. He made an impact with a pair of first-half sacks. His second one, a 13-yard loss, helped lead to an eventual missed field goal that kept ATL scoreless in the second quarter. Van Noy led all Patriots with eight total tackles (five solo), had two QB hits, knocked down a Ryan pass, and capped off his stellar night with a pick-six of Ryan that completed the 25-0 final score.

* * *

Edge rusher Matthew Judon established a new career high for sacks in a season when he recorded his 9-yard drop of QB Matt Ryan in the late second quarter. Judon, who now has 10.5 sacks on the season, a personal best, made a great bull rush move against the Falcons' right tackle to get into the backfield and bring down Ryan.

* * *

Cornerback J.C. Jackson hauled in his sixth INT of the year late in the 4th quarter. With six games to play in this regular season, he's just three picks shy of tying his 9-INT effort from a year ago, which was good enough for second-best in the NFL. At the moment, Jackson's six INTs in 2021 are two behind the current league leader, Dallas' Trevon Diggs (eight).

* * *

During the 3rd quarter, trailing 13-0, Atlanta chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the NE 16-yard line. The previous play was a run up the middle for no gain. On the 4th down, the Falcons ran essentially the same play with a virtually identical result. D-tackle Carl Davis did a wonderful job of driving the center backward, causing the running back, Qadree Ollison, to slow down and allow safety Adrian Phillips to come in and drop him for no gain.

* * *

On the other side of the ball, rookie QB Mac Jones finished with just four incompletions for the second straight game. It looked like his one first-half miscue was the result of a miscommunication with his intended target, Hunter Henry, when the tight end ran a shallow route in the Falcons' end zone and Jones lobbed the ball to the back corner.

The seam pass to tight ends was something Jones had trouble with during the summer, and that's the precise route on which he threw his 3rd-quarter interception. Jones had just made a nice downfield throw to Henry and tried to connect with Jonnu Smith, who appeared open for a moment as Jones made his throw. However, the Falcons defender covering another Patriot had time to race over and make the play on the ball.

With his legs, Jones is proving almost as proficient at QB sneaks as Tom Brady once was here. Jones has been asked to do it several times already this season and picked up a couple more first downs Thursday. The last one he attempted went for no gain, but by and large, Jones seems to have a knack for squeezing through his O-line to gain the necessary yardage, just like Brady did on a regular basis.

* * *

Mac Jones on the day

Table inside Article
Attempts Completions Yards Sacks/Yards TD Long INT
26 22 207 3/33 1 19 1

Mac Jones vs. ATL

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
4 0 1 1 0 1 0 1

Mac Jones in 2021

Table inside Article
Total Throwaways Overthrows Underthrows Batted Passes Drops Passes Defensed INT
104 11 32 14 5 9 25 8

New England's running game proved solid once again. After sitting out the Cleveland game with a concussion, Damien Harris, was back in uniform and provided a 1-2 punch in the running game along with rookie Rhamondre Stevenson. Harris and Stevenson shared a balanced workload Thursday, as the rookie led the way with 12 carries (a long of 21 yards), while Harris had 10 totes, including a long of 17. As a team, the Patriots rushed for 134 yards. Both men benefitted greatly from great blocking up front, not just from the offensive line, but also fullback Jakob Johnson, who's quietly having a productive year as a lead blocker.

* * *

The offensive line (same combo as Sunday versus Cleveland) did a mostly capable job of allowing Jones time to throw. Three mistakes stood out, when they couldn't pick up a couple of blitzes that led to first-half sacks of Jones, and a third missed blitz in the 4th quarter which resulted in an unblocked Falcon sacking Jones on a 3rd down.

* * *

The pass-catching duo of Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor had their best combined game. Each man caught every pass thrown to him (four for Bourne, five for Agholor).

* * *

Great punt by Jake Bailey at the end of the game's opening drive, dropping it inside the Falcons' 5-yard line. Bailey, the NFL's All-Pro punter last season, has been dealing with a kicking knee injury much of this season and thus hasn't looked as consistent as before. Versus the Falcons, though, he placed three of his four punts inside the 20.

His special teams buddy, kicker Nick Folk, proved perfect once again on field goal attempts, even hitting his season-long from 53. He did miss his final extra point attempt, pulling it wide left, but it wasn't consequential to the outcome. Folk is 26-for-28 on field goals this season and currently leads the league by a considerable margin with 104 points scored thus far. Buffalo's Tyler Bass is second right now with 86.

When it comes to kickoffs, which Bailey normally handles on his own, the Patriots are doing something interesting this year. Perhaps because of his injury, Bailey has shortened his kickoff approach. Normally, he's about 10 yards back and runs up to kick the ball, generally into the end zone for touchbacks. Lately, though, he's just taking three steps and kicking off shorter than usual and returners are having a chance to advance the ball more often. Also, once a game, Folk comes in to kick off and give Bailey a rest. The altered approach hasn't done too much damage in terms of added field position, but it's a curious development. Again, perhaps necessitated by Bailey's injured knee.

* * *

Powerful Play/Player of the Game presented by Enel

New England's 4th-down stop in the 3rd quarter. That drive represented Atlanta's best chance of putting points on the board all night, and had they done so, maybe the dynamic of the game would have been altered. Instead, New England kept the ball, the momentum, and their chances for a shutout, which they eventually got.

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