Well, that was a much better performance by the Patriots than anything we saw in the first 2 weeks of the season. The recap: the Patriots won, 26-10. Our running game finally showed some signs of life. I was especially impressed with Fred Taylor, who continues to show you’re only as old as you feel. He played very well, ran for some big yards, and helped to establish a running game at least good enough to open up the passing game. Scoring a touchdown on the run was just like icing on the cake.
As for the passing game, I think Tom Brady is still working the kinks out of his system. Perhaps we all set too lofty of expectations when we figured he’d come back from a year out of football and immediately return to being Tom Terrific again. When he had that amazing 4th quarter against Buffalo, our expectations were met. But against the Jets he struggled mightily, falling short of our expectations. Today he was much better, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown. This is less than we hoped for, but it at least shows that Tom Brady can still be effective as he continues to shake off the rust.
Defensively, I gotta say I’m beginning to believe. This Pats defense was again very good, holding the Falcons to less than 300 yards of total offense and forcing numerous 3 and outs. The vaunted talents of Matt Ryan were not on display today, as the cornerbacks were able to cover the wide receivers effectively. And the front line was exceptional at stopping the run. While they forced no turnovers and got no sacks, I think this game will go a long way towards dispelling the notion that this defense is too old to be any good. Once Jerrod Mayo comes back, this defense will get even better. And when it comes time for the playoffs, everyone knows that defense wins, not offense.
There are still some troubling features of this team. The big one is their difficulty in the red zone. They kicked 4 field goals today (kudos to Stephen Gostkowski for a pretty good day on special teams), none from further away than 33 yards. They’re only touchdown from inside the 20 came on a Fred Taylor run, not a Tom Brady pass.
The Moss-Brady connection is definitely starting to come back, but so far Tom is not finding his other receivers. Both Julian Edelman and Joey Galloway have been open multiple times in the last few games, only to be overthrown by Brady. Or they’re in the wrong place and the ball goes elsewhere. The Patriots will need more than one wide receiver to succeed this season, and without Wes Welker, someone is going to have to step up and fill the void.
The Patriots took some big steps today towards returning to their elite status of two years ago and before, but they were only steps. To make the playoffs, they will have to play at least at this level on defense, and much better on offense. And for that, we will need to see the return of the real Tom Brady.