Week 5 Game Recap: New England Patriots 31, Atlanta Falcons 28
What you need to know
One got the sense of how big a game this was for the Patriots based on Bill Belichickís reaction at the end of the game. The normally stodgy Belichick broke into an enormous smile and was visibly excited alongside his team. The Patriots havenít lost back to back games since 2002, and today the big three Ė Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Adam Vinatieri made sure that streak didnít end.
RB Corey Dillon had another productive day, going over 100 rushing yards by the end of the third quarter. Additionally, Dillon eclipsed 10,000 yards for his career, becoming only the 18th player in history to accomplish that feat. The news was not all good on Dillon, however. He left the game late in the contest with an undisclosed leg injury and did not return. He was later seen walking the sidelines and seemed to be alright, but he didnít return to the game.
QB Tom Brady had one of his finest days as a pro. In addition to statistical dominance, Brady played almost flawlessly. He was the driving force behind each New England drive, and made several remarkable passes that only a select few players can make. He also led yet another late game-winning drive that culminated in an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
WR Deion Branch woke up, snagging eight passes for over 100 yards. He was easily Bradyís top target on the day, and a positive sign in the hope that Branch can continue to be relied upon from fantasy owners.
With QB Michael Vick unable to play, backup QB Matt Schaub walked into a very pressurized situation. To give a sense of how much Vick supposedly means to this team, the point spread on this game had Atlanta at Ė3 as of Saturday night. After news broke about Vick not starting, that line had changed to New England Ė3. That is, oddsmakers decided that Vickís presence alone was worth a six point swing. Schaub, however, performed amazingly well. Not only did he post solid numbers; he didnít wilt in the fourth quarter when New England opened up a 15 point lead. He brought Atlanta back to eventually tie the game, and didnít do a thing to lose.
The Atlanta defense suffered some significant injuries, most notably to LB Edgerton Hartwell and CB Chris Cash. Hartwell injured his Achilles and was seen standing on the sidelines with crutches. The early word is that his season could be over. Cash suffered a probably broken arm trying to make an arm tackle, and his season is likely over as well.
RB Warrick Dunn had a fairly normal statistical day but played very well. He didnít quite have the running lanes that LaDainian Tomlinson had last week, as the Patriotsí defense played much better. Dunn had to work for every last one of his 83 rushing yards, and much of his yardage was tough, up the middle running.
What you ought to know
|QB Tom Brady, Pass: 22 - 27 - 350 - 3 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 1 - 0|
Tom Brady was, well, Tom Brady. He was nearly perfect on a day when the team really needed him to be. Brady threw just five incomplete passes all game long, with one of those coming on a drop and another a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage. Brady was so good for so long that at one point in the third quarter, his passer rating was perfect. He threw an interception shortly thereafter, which ended any shot at finishing with a perfect rating, but even the interception wasnít entirely his fault. The ball was batted at the line and knocked into the air, where it fell directly into the waiting arms of Demorrio Williams. Bradyís two big moments of the game both came in the second half. The first was when he engineered a very brief, two play, 1:01 drive that consisted of 45 and 33 yard completions. The second was when he hung in the pocket long enough to deliver a perfect strike down the sideline to a streaking Bethel Johnson for a 55 yard touchdown. The pass to Johnson in particular was a thing of beauty, as it is very doubtful that many other NFL quarterbacks could even make that pass, let alone stand in the pocket with an oncoming rush to deliver it. Brady lost a total of 49 yards passing on various penalties, though it should be noted that none of the plays would have gone for any yards unless the penalties occurred.
|RB Corey Dillon, Rush: 23 - 106 - 0, Rec: 2 - 13 - 0 (4 targets)|
Dillon had yet another solid game, even though he failed to find the end zone. Dillon eclipsed 100 rushing yards by the end of the third quarter, and was generally moving the pile constantly all day long. The Patriots were opening up good running lanes, and Dillon used them to his full advantage. Dillon also achieved a personal milestone, as he went over 10,000 yards for his career. He is the 18th player to accomplish that feat. Unfortunately for Dillon, he wasnít able to add much to that total as he suffered a leg injury at some point in the late third early fourth quarter. He didnít return to action, but also did not talk to reporters after the game. We should know more about his status as the week goes on. Dillon owners caught a bad break in the first quarter. Patrick Pass scored on a six yard touchdown run after Dillon had carried the ball three consecutive plays to get the team there.
|RB Patrick Pass, Rush: 6 - 34 - 1, Rec: 1 - 6 - 0 (2 targets)|
Pass wasnít as involved in the passing game as last week, likely due to the emergence of the tight end in the Patriotsí attack. Still, Pass made his presence felt on the ground. He scored a six yard touchdown early in the game to put New England out in front. And then, to bookend his afternoon, Pass receiving four late carries to set up Adam Vinatieriís game winning field goal.
Branch re-established himself as the teamís #1 wide receiver threat this week, grabbing a team high eight receptions on ten targets, as well as going over 100 yards again. Whenever there was a big spot in the game and Brady needed a completion, Branch was always the man he looked for. On New Englandís game winning drive, Brady threw four passes, with three of them going in Branchís direction. In addition to the eight receptions, Branch helped set up Adam Vinatieriís game winning field goal by drawing a 30 yard pass interference penalty on Atlanta CB Allen Rossum. Branch lost 34 receiving yards on two separate plays that were called back due to penalties.
Givens was very quiet for the most part. He was thrown to a couple of times late, but nothing materialized from the targets.
Johnson had about as good a game as one can have while only seeing one pass in his direction. Johnson streaked down the left sideline and was delivered a perfect pass by QB Tom Brady for a 55 yard score, beating Jason Webster on the play.
After relatively disappearing, Graham emerged with a game high 119 receiving yards, many of them after first contact. Grahamís 45 yard touchdown reception was remarkable, as he displayed incredible athleticism and skill in eluding would be tacklers on his way to paydirt. Grahamís other 45 yard reception to open the second half was also huge in that in set up the Ben Watson TD grab on the very next play.
Watson wasnít very involved, but he made the most of his one grab, scoring his first career touchdown just one minute into the second half. Even though Atlanta was still able to come back and tie the game, Watsonís score was huge in that New England was able to grab the momentum right back immediately. Watson lost 15 yards receiving on a play called back due to penalty, but the penalty was on Watson himself for offensive pass interference.
Vinatieri came through yet again with the game on the line, though this kick was significantly easier than some others heís been asked to make in recent years. The game-winner today was from just 29 yards out, and with Vinatieri about as automatic as they come, he nailed it with ease. It was the 19th game winning kick of his career.
The Patriots did a good job of not letting the Falconsí run game take control of the game. Atlanta tried establishing the run early, but eventually this game turned into home run derby, with each team trying to match one another in big play capability. Considering Michael Vick is normally a huge part of the Atlanta rushing attack and he was missing, one couldnít have expected Atlanta to run as well as usual. Still, after being chewed up by LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers last week, a lot of people wanted to see how the Patriots would respond. They didnít play flawlessly, but they hardly resembled the inept unit that took the field a week ago, either. On the injury front, Jarvis Green (filling in for the injured Richard Seymour) was a bit shaken up at one point, but returned to action without incident. Willie McGinest went to the locker room a bit earlier than the others at the end of the first half, but he was fine.
Considering the opponent was the mostly unproven and untested Matt Schaub, one might have expected the defending champs to put up a greater showing on the defensive side of the ball. Instead, they allowed Schaub to throw for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns, not to mention bring Atlanta back from a 15 point fourth quarter deficit to tie the game with just under four minutes remaining. Even early in the game, New England didnít look like its usual self. In selling out to the run on a play from their own goal line, Schaub found a wide open Justin Griffith for an easy two yard score. The New England defense also blew several opportunities to put the game a little further out of reach. Duane Starks had at least two near interceptions go off his hands, and both proved to be costly as Schaub led Atlanta to scores on each possession. Guss Scott was shaken up on one play, but remained in the game. Unfortunately for Scott, he was the one who allowed the Alge Crumpler touchdown that enabled Atlanta to close the gap to eight points.
|QB Matt Schaub, Pass: 18 - 34 - 298 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 2 - 3 - 0|
Schaub played incredibly well, considering the circumstances. He said he was prepared to start. Still, regardless of how much time Schaub had to prepare, itís still tough going up against the defending champs no matter the circumstances. Schaub started off a bit slowly, as several of his passes werenít exactly where they should have been and it made tough for the receivers to adjust. But as the game went along and he got more into the flow, Schaub excelled. It helped that the Atlanta offense is basically a carbon copy of the offense Schaub ran in college at Virginia, so the learning curve isnít quite as steep. He wasnít perfect, as he was nearly intercepted on three separate occasions, but at times his passes were perfect (such as the pass to Alge Crumpler). What says it all about Schaubís performance is the fact that he was staring at a 15 point fourth quarter deficit to the Patriots and never blinked. He led his team back to eventually tie the game with less than four minutes remaining. About the only thing he did wrong on that last drive was to score with too much time left, enabling the Patriots to march downfield in the opposite direction.
|RB Warrick Dunn, Rush: 19 - 83 - 0, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (2 targets)|
Dunn fought for every last yard he could get. He compiled a quiet 83 yards on the ground, adding another 23 through the air to go over 100 total yards for the third time in four games so far this year. Dunn had a terrific series of rushes to help set up the Dez White touchdown, as he compiled 30 yards over a sequence of six plays (four of them rushes by Dunn) to get Atlanta down to the New England 14 yard line.
Duckett was barely heard from, for a couple of reasons. 1) The pace of the game was more of a passing style, as evidenced by the two quarterbacks combining for over 600 yards passing and six touchdowns between them. 2) The Falcons didnít really get in close to the goal line for Duckett to take advantage of a short score.
Griffith was the big beneficiary of the Patriots selling out against the run on a play from the New England two yard line. With everyone bunched in the middle, Griffith broke into the end zone for a wide open score.
Finneran caught an early 53 yard reception (a career best) and received consistent looks thereafter, but was never in much of a position to score another touchdown or match the early productivity. He did manage to snag Atlantaís two point conversion to tie the game on a play that was designed specifically to go to him, so itís a good sign that the team focuses on getting him the ball at times.
Despite being targeted ten times, Jenkins really wasnít able to do all that much with those looks. He was slow to get up after an early long incompletion, which may have contributed. There were several other targets that fell incomplete more so due to slight inaccuracy by Schaub rather than any wrongdoing by Jenkins. Still, while Jenkins wasnít able to convert many passes into receptions, it is still a good sign that he is being thrown to ten times (including six in the second half).
White caught a second half touchdown to help Atlanta tie the game, but outside of that and dropping a potential 35 yard reception in the first quarter, he wasnít really heard from all that much.
Crumpler was extremely busy, and posted terrific numbers. As is often the case with Michael Vick, Crumpler was Schaubís outlet in times of emergency. It nearly got Schaub into trouble on several occasions when he forced a pass into tight coverage, but for the most part he knew when to and when not to throw to Crumpler. The big tight end led Atlanta in both receptions and number of targets, and had a very productive fantasy game.
Peterson connected on an early 33 yard field goal but was pulled in favor of punter Michael Koenen for a 58 yard attempt just before halftime. Peterson owners should know that it is unlikely heíll be attempting many field goals beyond fifty yards, because Koenenís kick was perfect from 58 and may have even been good from 60.
The Falcons suffered a serious loss when starting LB Edgerton Hartwell went out with an injured Achilles. He was immediately helped off the field and eventually carted to the locker room. Word after the game is that Hartwell may be lost for the season. In addition to Hartwell, DE Patrick Kerney suffered a strained oblique muscle and was limited to just passing downs. Still, he was able to remain in the game and didnít seem to be limited wildly waving his arms trying to excite the crowd. Aside from the injuries, Atlanta had numerous problems getting to Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass. Most times, the Patriotsí blocking schemes were perfect, and Dillon had plenty of room to run before even being touched. Yet even on the rare occasions that an Atlanta defender was able to get into the backfield, Dillon more often than not pushed the pile forward. In total, Atlanta allowed 141 rushing yards to the Patriots, which may account for the seemingly easy time New England had in marching the ball downfield for their game winning drive Ė the Falcons may have simply been worn out.
This unit for Atlanta looked simply awful. Even the defenseís big play was a product of a ball that was tipped into the air right into the hands of Demorrio Williams. At one point in the third quarter, New England QB Tom Brady had compiled a perfect passer rating, which shows just what a poor job Atlanta was doing. The Patriots completed passes of 51, 45, 55, and 33 yards (three of those going for scores), and pretty much had their way with the Atlanta defense all game long. Perhaps Atlantaís worst moment of the game was right out of the locker room. Having gained a bunch of momentum after a late first half field goal, the Falcons allowed Tom Brady to complete his first two passes of the second half for a combined 78 yards and a touchdown in just over a minute of time. Still, the most important drive for New England was, of course, the game winner. On that drive, Atlanta allowed Brady to complete a big third down conversion, just a couple of plays after being hit with a blatant 30 yard pass interference penalty on CB Allen Rossum (who also did a poor job on his punt returns, calling for two fair catches when there was nothing but daylight in front of him). To make matters even worse for Atlanta, CB Chris Cash may have suffered a broken arm trying to make a tackle, and his 2005 season is likely over.