Win Over Falcons, Just What
The Doctor Ordered
By Site Staff
After absorbing a 41-17 loss to San Diego that snapped their 21-game home winning streak, the Patriots needed to reestablish themselves. So, they were understandably relieved when they pulled out a 31-28 win in Atlanta to vault back to the top of the AFC East.
The Patriots again dodged a losing streak -- they haven't dropped back-to-back games since December 2002 -- and no one seemed more enthused by the latest win than Bill Belichick. Their normally staid coach launched his headset into the air when time ran out and was in a good mood the following day when he met with the media, flashing his trademark dry sense of humor on several occasions.
Belichick contrasted the steadiness of kicker Adam Vinatieri, who booted the winning field goal in the final minute, to Belichick's own inconsistency as a golfer. And he acknowledged that in watching the coaches' film the morning after the game, he allowed himself to briefly become a football fan, admiring the perfect execution and brute force of tight end Dan Graham's 45-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Said tight end Christian Fauria: "I think everyone is allowed some relief. It's not baseball, basketball or hockey where it's game after game. You lose or you win (in the NFL); you have a week to either enjoy it or be just tormented by it. I think after a long week and a tough game, a lot of criticism on all different areas, with the game coming down the way it did, I think you're allowed to show some emotion, no matter how stoic and reserved you are."
"It was a big win," Belichick agreed. "It was a very emotional game, being ahead (14-0 after the first quarter), to being (almost) tied at half-time (14-13), to being ahead (28-13 after three quarters), to them coming back (to tie the game at 28-all) and us coming back. It was an emotional day with the momentum swings. A lot of big plays both ways."
Playing without three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Seymour and without three of their six cornerbacks, the Patriots' defense blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead. But the happy ending -- courtesy of Vinatieri's 29-yard field goal with 17 seconds left -- was a pick-me-up of sorts for a team that has been battered by injuries and has struggled to put together the type of complete effort that had characterized their last two Super Bowl championships.
"I was happy for our team and our players," Belichick said. "They worked hard. They played hard. They put a lot into the game. I was happy they were able to enjoy their success and the fruit of their victory. I think they deserved it."
-- WR Bethel Johnson contributed on offense for the first time this season. Johnson's second catch of the year came in the third quarter when he hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb from QB Tom Brady to put the Patriots up, 28-13. For Johnson, in his third year out of Texas A&M, it was his fourth career TD catch.
"That was a nice throw by Tom," coach Bill Belichick said, "And Bethel really showed his speed to track it down."
Johnson, the swiftest Patriot, spent most of training camp on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing off-season foot surgery. He was inactive for the first two games with a thigh injury and then was questionable against the Falcons with a knee problem.
"He missed most of training camp," Belichick said. "That's never what you want. You want everybody to be there for every practice and every game. But his timing and execution have improved steadily (since he returned to practice). He's been working hard and making progress. There's still room to grow."
-- DL Mike Wright, a rookie free agent from Cincinnati, saw his first significant playing time on defense with DE Richard Seymour (knee) sitting out. Wright, who had played mostly on special teams, was credited with a pair of tackles against the Falcons. Belichick joked that Wright had earned his varsity letter with the performance.
"I played in the preseason, but (being in there) when it counts is a different thing," said Wright, who survived the final roster cut in September when the Patriots released veteran DE Rodney Bailey. "I appreciate their trust."
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