KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 11th meeting. Falcons lead series
6-4, but Patriots won the last
meeting 24-10 at the Georgia Dome in November, 2001. The Falcons had won
four straight in the series before that. In that 2001 game, the Patriots
recorded nine sacks, three of them against Michael Vick, who replaced an
injured Chris Chandler. Vick was 2-of-9 passing for 56 yards with a 35-yard
2005 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 10th (32nd rush, 3rd pass); defense 21st (23rd rush, 17th pass). Falcons: offense 16th (1st rush, 30th pass); defense 13th (22nd rush, 9th pass)
PREDICTION: Falcons 23-20
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots will need a strong performance from their offensive line in the loud Georgia Dome, where opponents have committed 29 false-start penalties since the beginning of last season. To keep the crowd and the Falcons' strong pass rush at bay, the Patriots need to get RB Corey Dillon untracked early. Atlanta QB Michael Vick will be less than 100 percent with a sore knee, but the Falcons will pound the ball at a run defense allowing 114.5 yards per game until the Patriots prove they can stop it. New England, which has forced just three turnovers this season, must come up with some big plays defensively to beat a quality opponent on the road.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: Have won 10 of their past 11 games against NFC teams. ... Are 21-1 against teams with winning records since 2003. ... RB Corey Dillon needs 81 rushing yards to become 18th player with 10,000 for his career. Falcons: Are 10-1 at home under coach Jim Mora. ... QB Michael Vick is 17-3 in his past 20 starts in dome stadiums.
--CB Tyrone Poole returned to practice on Thursday. Poole, who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury, is listed as questionable. Poole will likely miss another week.
--CB Randall Gay appeared to be a late arrival at Thursday's practice, just as the media was being escorted off the field. Gay, who is questionable, has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Gay is also not expected to play.
--LB Matt Chatham, a key special teams performer, was not on the field on Thursday during the time the media was allowed to view practice. He is listed as questionable.
--S James Sanders might make his NFL debut this week. The fourth-round rookie sat out the first four games with an ankle injury. The Patriots need healthy bodies in the secondary, and if Sander's ankle is better, he will play.
--WR Troy Brown has 490 career catches and needs one more to break a second-place tie with Ben Coates on the team's all-time list. Brown is 5 yards away from passing Irving Fryar for the No. 2 spot on the Patriots' career receiving yardage list. Brown has 5,722 yards. Stanley Morgan is No. 1 on both lists.
--RB Corey Dillon needs 81 rushing yards to become the 18th player in the NFL history, and the first Patriot, to gain 10,000 yards.
--PR Allen Rossum had no chances to find his rhythm last week against Minnesota's punt coverage, but the Pro Bowl selection at least hopes New England P Josh Miller will kick the ball in his direction. The Patriots' punt coverage has allowed returns on 15 of his 21 attempts, and New England has yet to force a fair catch. Rossum, who had three returns for just 14 total yards against the Vikings, missed two games with a strained hamstring before coming back last week.
--C Todd McClure is having the best season of his seven-year career as the line clears room for a rushing attack that's averaging a staggering 209 yards per game. His experience has helped LG Matt Lehr assimilate to his new team, but McClure's primary asset is calling out realignments after the defensive line shifts.
--NT Chad Lavalais doesn't play a position that allows him to rack up big sack totals, but his progress in advancing the team's pressure has blossomed in his first year as a full-time starter. Playing primarily alongside UT Rod Coleman forces Lavalais to intentionally draw double teams so that the sack master of the Atlanta defense can face as many single matchups as possible.
--SS Keion Carpenter plays strictly a traditional free safety, the same position he's held during his career. The terminology is just different in Ed Donatell's scheme because the coordinator considers the other safety position, held by Bryan Scott, as having the freedom to pursue the ball from all angles.
--PK Todd Peterson is off to a 5-for-5 start with his new team. He has always been successful kicking indoors, and Peterson's season-long attempt of 39 came last week at the Georgia Dome.
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