PATRIOTS-FALCONS: Report Cards
By Site Staff
PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- After a miserable second half against San Diego the previous week, Tom Brady (22-of-27, 350 yards, 3 TDs, INT) was magnificent, posting his fourth-highest career passer rating (140.4), second-best career completion percentage (81.5) and seventh-highest yardage total. He rediscovered his tight ends -- Dan Graham (five catches for 119 yards) was the star -- threw the deep ball expertly and strafed Atlanta's secondary for passes covering 55, 51, 45, 45 and 33 yards. Brady's 22 completions were spread around to nine different players -- five receivers, two tight ends and two running backs. The lone mistake was a third-quarter interception on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The turnover ended up sparking Atlanta's comeback.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Corey Dillon (23 carries, 106 yards) finally cracked the 100-yard barrier for the first time this season. He was averaging 3.1 yards per carry coming in, but operated at a 4.6-yard clip this time. The best news of all -- the Patriots eliminated the negative plays that had been haunting the running game. Thanks to some strong supporting work from the tight ends, the offensive line won the battles up front. With a full head of steam hitting the line of scrimmage, Dillon gained 5 or more yards on 12 of his 23 attempts. He had had only 18 such runs over the first four games.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Patriots made backup Matt Schaub (18-of-34, 298 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs) look like a Pro Bowler. They applied pressure -- their three sacks were three more than they had against San Diego the previous week -- but tight end Alge Crumpler (six catches for 99 yards) and receiver Brian Finneran (5-103) were problem match-ups all day. No interceptions again. The Patriots are still stuck on one for the season, while opposing quarterbacks have thrown 10 TDs against them.
RUN DEFENSE: B -- The Falcons had rushed for 200, 115, 236 and 285 yards in their first four games. The Patriots limited them to 116, although Atlanta did average 4.5 yards per carry without Michael Vick providing his usual threat. The lone negative -- on the tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Falcons ran four times for 30 yards, including a 13-yard gain by Warrick Dunn (19 carries for 83 yards) that brought the ball into the red zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Bethel Johnson's solid 30-yard kickoff return to the Patriots' 36-yard line put Brady in good position to start the winning drive with 3:47 left in regulation. Adam Vinatieri's winning field goal was the 19th of his career in the late stages of the fourth quarter or in overtime. The Patriots had no huge plays in the return game, but neither did the Falcons, unless you count Allen Rossum's 50-yard punt return in the second quarter that was nullified by a penalty. The Patriots were particularly good covering kickoffs, limiting Atlanta to a 19.8-yard average, and a long of 23.
COACHING: A -- Coach Bill Belichick has a knack for pushing the correct motivational buttons. This time was no exception, as the tape of the 1985 Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns boxing match he showed them the night before the game was the perfect analogy for the against-the-ropes situation the team found itself in. Getting the tight ends involved energized the offense, and once again, the Patriots were up to the task in crunch time. Much of their success there -- Brady is 21-2 for his career in games decided by six or fewer points -- can be attributed to their preparation, which reflects well on the coaches. The problems in the secondary must be addressed next.
FALCONS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Credit QB Matt Schaub with raising the bar of the air attack and for not caving in while WRs Dez White and Michael Jenkins were dropping balls. Schaub showed poise and steadiness. Brian Finneran and Alge Crumpler made some great catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- RBs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett combined for 113 yards and seven first downs. Sure, Atlanta was far off its league-leading 209 average, but that figure is unsustainable. The offense played well enough to win.
PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- This performance was nothing short of disgraceful as LCB DeAngelo Hall, RCB Jason Webster, FS Bryan Scott and SS Keion Carpenter displayed poor technique and a surprisingly sudden ineptitude to read New England's formations and tendencies.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Corey Dillon joined Shaun Alexander and Willis McGahee on the list of elite players to embarrass Atlanta on the ground. Dillon's performance spoke to poor fundamentals, particularly in linebackers getting off blocks and making plays. Strong-side starter Demorrio Williams had easily the worst game of his two-year career.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Props to Michael Koenen for hitting a 58-yard field goal right before halftime and making a tackle after coverage broke down on a kickoff. Koenen, an undrafted rookie punter-kicker, shored up the disastrous afternoon by punt returner Allen Rossum. The punt coverage was excellent.
COACHING: C-minus -- After saying that the Falcons faced the ultimate challenge to match wits against Bill Belichick & Co., head coach Jim Mora and his staff were embarrassed by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the first and third quarters. The defense, in particular, was atrocious.
Fans, submit your own grade for Sunday's game: ( link )