Four of the NFL’s unbeatens remained so after Week 4 with only the Chicago Bears falling to their long time division rival Detroit, 40-32. That leaves Monday night’s match up between Miami and New Orleans as the next opportunity to whittle down the unblemished. Kansas City routed the Giants at home (31-7), Seattle capped a furious comeback on the road in an OT win over Houston (23-20), and Denver embarrassed Philadelphia (52-20). The last of the 3-0 teams was New England, who traveled down to Atlanta a bit empty handed on offense with both Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski inactive due to injury.
The game had a playoff atmosphere and perhaps early implications with Atlanta on the ropes at 1-2. The Patriots held a slim 13-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter, then exploded for 17 unanswered points and held off a late Falcon rally to remain unbeaten themselves with a 30-23 victory over one of the early disappointments (Atlanta Falcons) in the NFL.
Aside from their blowout win over Tampa Bay, New England has victory margins of 2, 3, and 7 points; not hardly a “statement” run to the rest of the National Football League. Though struggling to put people away, the Patriots are quietly building a strength for the postseason by finding new contributors; players like Kenbrell Thompkins, LaGarrette Blount, Aqib Talib.
I spoke about the irrelevance of style points in a post last week and iterate another indicator – since the free agent era began ’92, only 6 teams with the highest season ending point differential have gone on to win the Super Bowl; New Orleans ’09, New England ’04, St. Louis ’99, Denver ’97, Green Bay ’96, and San Francisco ’94. So while some may be doing early back flips regarding margin of victory, others like the Patriots (whether they know it or not) are strengthening their late season resolve through early tests of resilience.
Consider the following table of Point Differential leaders after the regular season since ’00, many falling in tight games.
|Season||Team – Point Differential Leader||Lost by (playoffs)|
|2012||New England Patriots||15|
|2011||New Orleans Saints||4|
|2010||New England Patriots||7|
|2008 *Tie||Tennessee Titans||3|
|2008 *Tie||Baltimore Ravens||9|
|2007||New England Patriots||3|
|2006||San Diego Chargers||3|
|2003||Kansas City Chiefs||7|
|2001||St. Louis Rams||3|
Sterling Xie for the BleacherReport.com gives us a breakdown of how the Pats went into Atlanta and forged through the first quarter of the 2013 season at 4-0.
The Football Educator
Patriots vs. Falcons: Live Grades and Analysis for New England
The New England Patriots held on despite a furious Atlanta Falcons comeback, improving their record to 4-0. Check out the final grades and analysis below.
New England – 30
Atlanta – 23
|Position Unit||First-Half Grade||Final Grade|
Game Analysis for the New England Patriots
Pass Offense: Patriots fans saw something they haven’t seen in a long time: The Falcons stacked the box, essentially daring Tom Brady to beat them. Atlanta got its wish, as Brady carved up the defense with play-action passes. Kenbrell Thompkins’ fourth-quarter touchdown was emblematic of his progress, as he missed a similar game-changing opportunity against the New York Jets.
Run Offense: LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown was the turning point in a back-and-forth affair, the first explosive scoring play on either side. New England had trouble making headway on the ground after the intermission and could not ice the game, but Blount’s burst lifts the grade a bit.
Run Defense: Vince Wilfork’s injury will be a vital storyline to follow this week, but for one night, the Patriots survive without their rock in the middle. Joe Vellano played as well as one could reasonably expect, even notching a 13-yard sack on Matt Ryan.
Pass Defense: Games like Sunday night are why Aqib Talib is so valuable to the defense, even without superstar statistics. His competitive man-to-man ability allowed the defense to limit Julio Jones, and his critical pass deflection in the end zone saved the game. One of Talib’s best performances as a Patriot.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski’s 49-yard field goal was huge given the Falcons’ frenzied comeback. While the veteran kicker remains a fairly reliable option, one cannot say the same for Zach Sudfeld, whose muffed onside kick recovery allowed Atlanta back into the game.
Coaching: The Patriots benefited from some critical Falcons breakdowns and had a late-game lapse but overall put forth an impressive display of composure in a tough environment. The Pats came ready to play Sunday night, turning in their best all-around effort of the season.