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Stock Watch: Pass defense anchors win over Atlanta

New England didn’t need an historic comeback Sunday night to dispatch the Falcons 23-7 in a foggy Foxborough.

After a scoreless first quarter, Tom Brady and company put up more than enough points on a night when the much-maligned Patriots pass defense held 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan and the supposedly dangerous Falcons passing attack in check.

Unlike the Super Bowl LI battle for which this Week 7 had been deemed a rematch, the Patriots built a 17-0 halftime lead over Atlanta. And the pass defense that once again had to play without two of its top three corners with Stephon Gilmore (concussion/ankle) and Eric Rowe (groin) inactive happily ended its record streak of 300-yard passers allowed.

The New England game most worthy of being seeing this fall for the Patriots was actually tough to see from both the stands and the press box as a heavy fog settled into Gillette Stadium on this warm, human October night.

Make no mistake, though, for a team that’s been seeking to right the ship for nearly two months, the defending champions turned back the clock on a win that included building a lead and cruising to victory with solid contributions from all three phases. No last-second comeback needed. No holding on for dear life. This was impressive and decisive.

“It was a great full-team performance,” Rob Gronkowski said.

“It was a great team win,” Brady added. “It was great to win tonight.”

"We had a lot of contributions from everybody," Bill Belichick said. "We competed for 60 minutes."

Before turning the page to next Sunday’s meeting with the Chargers, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the win over the Falcons that wasn’t even as close as the final score.

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*Stephen Gostkowski – *On a night when Atlanta’s Matt Bryant had a 36-yard field goal blocked by Cassius Marsh and missed a 37-yarder, New England’s kicker was once again perfect. Gostkowski hit on his 29-, 21-, and 38-yard attempts while taking care of both his PATs. Gostkowski also continued to put the ball high and near the goal line to keep the Falcons returners in check to keep Atlanta inside the 20 on three drives after kickoffs.

*Rob Gronkowski – *When Brady needs a play these days, he goes to his big tight end. It was far from a perfect night for No. 87 as he was called for an offensive pass interference that wiped out his own 40-yard gain and two other false start penalties. But he also had a key, pretty 27-yard gain on a third-and-8 to help set up a field goal. Gronkowski also chipped in as a blocker leading the way for Brandin Cooks’ 11-yard touchdown on what was essentially a jet sweep even though it was technically a pass. Gronkowski finished with three catches for 51 yards.

Dion Lewis – The versatile back continued his streak of good games with his most productive outing. Lewis got the starting nod and turned that into 13 carries for 76 yards (5.8 avg.), while adding a catch for 6 yards. Lewis had a 25-yard run, the second time in three weeks he had a run longer than 25 yards. As he’s proven himself capable, Lewis ran with power and elusiveness, including running over Falcons safety Ricardo Allen. He led a rushing attack that churned out 162 yards on 36 rushes, the best overall output of the season.

Pass defense – By far the worst part of the Patriots team through the first six weeks may have been the best part of the win over the Falcons. The streak of 300-yard passers allowed ended at six, as New England held Ryan to just 233 yards on the night. With Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones again playing significant snaps, Ryan put up zero points and 110 passing yards in first half, when he was sacked once and went 0-for-5 on third down conversions. Malcolm Butler was solid, including a pass defense in the end zone in the second half to prevent a score, even though he did have Julio Jones fight to turn a would-be interception into the game’s only score for the visitors. But overall it was a huge improvement for the pass defense, eliminating the uncovered receivers that had been such a problem for most of the first six games. Atlanta had to work for what it did get through the air and it didn’t get nearly enough to make the game competitive.

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Nate Solder/Marcus Cannon – Though the offensive line was solid in the run game, there were still some issues in pass protection, mostly off the edges. Brady was hit for a strip sack by unblocked linebacker De’Vondre Campbell off left end in the first quarter, though the quarterback was able to recover. It was clearly a missed call or assignment, but it was the type of play that can swing a big game. Brady was only sacked twice, the only two times he was hit by the official stats. But he was under edge pressure and forced to step up in the pocket far more frequently. Solder also continued to add to a high number of penalties. The tackles can and need to be much better.

Penalties – For the third straight week, penalties were a problem for the Patriots. Overall New England was assessed with eight penalties for 65 yards. Gronkowski led the way with his three flags. But others, on both sides of the ball, had plenty of issues. Nate Solder had an early hold. Patrick Chung had an obvious hold on an Atlanta gunner in punt return duty. Phillip Dorsett earned a block in the back on a run play. There continue to be too many flags thrown the Patriots way, this being the only real, major negative to take away from this win.

Fog – Weather games are usually fun. Snow is awesome. Rain is interesting. Wind can be interesting. But fog didn’t really make things all that fun for media or fans trying to watch from afar. The players admitted that long throws and plays at a distance on the field were certainly affected by the poor visibility. Bill Belichick mentioned that it was a challenge for the coaches working from the press box. Maybe the fog looked “cool on TV” as Brady put it, but it wasn’t overly fun to look through.

What do you think of our lists? Alterations or additions? Let us know with a comment below!

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