FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts (USA TODAY) – The last time the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons saw each other, Tom Brady & Co. rose from the dead, scored 31 unanswered points to wipe out a 25-point deficit and hoist the fifth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
The Patriots ripped the Falcons’ hearts out en route to that victory, and apparently haven’t given it back.
In the rematch of Super Bowl LI on Sunday night, there were no thrilling heroics, just steady efficiency from New England for a lopsided 23-7 affair.
While the Patriots went about their business with a balanced attack that featured two Tom Brady touchdown passes and a collective season-high 162 rushing output, Atlanta never managed to get its offense going when it mattered.
Not until 4:09 remained in the fourth quarter did the Falcons finally breaks its scoring drought of more than 91 minutes thanks to a 1-yard Matt Ryan touchdown pass to Julio Jones. Until that score, the Patriots (dating back to the Super Bowl) had scored 54 unanswered points on the Falcons.
Whether it was lingering effects of that Super Bowl loss or the dense fog that hung over Gillette Stadium, the Falcons proved hapless for much of the night. They went 2-for-9 on third downs, had a 37-yard field goal blocked and saw a 36-yard attempt clank off the left upright.
The Falcons did come within a yard of scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But an incomplete pass on third down brought on fourth-and-goal, and an end-around to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel resulted in a loss of 5 yards and gave the ball back to the Patriots.
The Patriots may not have put on their most electrifying performance, offensively. But they were efficient.
Brady completed 21 of 29 passes for 249 yards, the two touchdown strikes and no interceptions to post a passer rating of 121.2. The win improved New England’s record to 5-2 while Atlanta fell to 3-3.
The offensive ineptitude, and lack of resistance from the defense, was not new for the Falcons. After jumping out to a 17-0 lead against the Miami Dolphins last week, they gave up 20 unanswered points to lose the game.
As was the case in that game, Ryan didn’t look like his 2016 NFL MVP self. He hasn’t recaptured that form all season, as he entered the game having thrown six touchdown passes and six interceptions after throwing 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions a year ago.
Devonta Freeman did his part to help carry the offense with 72 yards on 12 carries, while Jones - quiet for the first five games of the season - had nine catches for 99 yards (his second-best showing this year). But where the Falcons struggled, the Patriots thrived by converting seven of 13 third downs, further enabling them to tighten their grip on the win.