Patriots Defense Stepping Up

The Patriots have been keeping their team in games not from their vaunted offense, but their defense. The win over Atlanta showed how far the unit has come.

Finally, the New England Patriots pieced together timely scoring drives in the second half of Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, but the real story might've been the performance of the defense.

With second-year quarterback Matt Ryan behind center for Atlanta, the Patriots still held the Falcons without a third-down conversion in the second half as they pitched a shutout over the final two quarters of a 26-10 win.

"I think some things are better," head coach Bill Belichick said of his defense. "Again, we've seen some different styles. We saw Buffalo -- for the most part -- stay in the one personnel grouping. They kind of lined up, read the defense and had an outstanding group of skilled receivers.

"The Jets were much more of a controlled game and more personnel substitutions. Atlanta was an excellent running game with some big-play receivers and a very good quarterback. They used a lot of stack and bunch formations and some multiple receivers and multiple tight ends, so they had a very different type of attack."

The Patriots adjusted accordingly and managed to shut down Atlanta despite having only three cornerbacks active for the game. They didn't force any turnovers, but they kept Ryan in check and gave their offense a slight margin for error down the stretch.

"Fundamentally, we want to keep making improvement in our techniques and fundamentals," Belichick said. "From a scheme standpoint, we want to make sure we do the right thing in the right situation. Those are the kind of things we are going through at this time of year and again, in all honesty, in preseason we didn't see a lot of the things that we're seeing now, which that's pretty common in preseason."

Whether they can improve on those things depends on the health of the secondary and the production from the front seven, which is still adjusting to working out of a four-man front, unlike the past when they've used a 3-4.

Nonetheless, Sunday's second-half effort was a step in the right direction and something for the Patriots to build on as they look to keep pace with the undefeated New York Jets, who improved to 3-0 Sunday.

"We had a lot of guys play well," Belichick said. "It certainly wasn't perfect there by any stretch. A lot of guys did a lot of good things and it was across the board. I think that was the biggest reason why we came out on the better end of things yesterday. I'm proud of the way the team played and performed and I thought that we finished the fourth quarter strong and that was certainly good. That's the way you want to finish a game."


A lot of credit should go to the cornerback duo of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden, who started and played the bulk of the game due to the Patriots' lack of depth at that position.

They managed to contain Michael Jenkins and Roddy White and also limited superstar tight end Tony Gonzalez to one catch.

"I thought we competed well and overall did a pretty good job against them," Belichick said. "The catch that Jenkins made down the sideline on that fade pattern was a heck of a play. I thought Leigh defended it well. It was a great throw. It was a great catch -- one-handed right on the sideline. Sometimes you have great coverage and these teams make great plays against you, but you'd rather force them to do that then have the guys running wide open and give up plays that I could throw. That's not what you want."

Competitive Fire

--Midway through Sunday's game, the TV cameras caught Tom Brady barking at the bench in apparent frustration over a few early mistakes by receivers Joey Galloway.

"It's the heat of the moment," Brady said. "It's an emotional game; there are emotional things that you say."

Brady's on-the-field relationship with Joey Galloway continues to be a problem, though the two are working toward solving the problem.

"It's part of offensive football, that quarterback-receiver relationship," Brady said. "It's not that I'm right and they're wrong, we're just on different pages at times. That's what it is earlier in the year when you've never played with each other."

McGowan's Domain

--Safety Brandon McGowan has made a smooth transition to the defense despite the relative complexity of Bill Belichick's scheme.

McGowan spent a lot of time covering Tony Gonzalez on Sunday and limited the perennial Pro-Bowler to one catch for 16 yards in addition to forcing a fumble.

"The more he's played, the better he's played," Belichick said, "and the more impact he's had on the game, the more you want him in there. And he's done a good job. I thought the hit that he had yesterday, the fumble that he caused, was really a pretty good play. I'm not sure there are a lot of players that would have made that play, [who] would have been able to get the hit that he did with the impact that he had on it. He knocked that ball loose and that was a huge play in the game."

Player News:
--DB Jonathan Wilhite did not play Sunday and was apparently injured in a police matter prior to the game, which kept him out of the lineup. Wilhite's agent indicated the injury is not serious.
--NT Vince Wilfork hurt his ankle early in yesterday's game and did not return. Coach Bill Belichick did not elaborate on his nose tackle's status.
--RB Fred Taylor continued to impress Sunday, rushing 21 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. With Laurence Maroney continuing to struggle, Taylor has emerged as the No. 1 back.
--WR Joey Galloway caught only two passes for 14 yards in yet another lackluster performance. Galloway could've had a 7-yard touchdown, but his feet were out of bounds in the back of the end zone.
--WR Randy Moss stepped up his game despite having a bad back and caught 10 passes for 116 yards as Wes Welker missed his second game in a row. Moss also caught two critical, fourth-down passes.
--DT Terdell Sands, who last played for the Raiders, was signed by the Patriots Monday.

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