Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez took advantage of the double teaming to Falcons receiver Julio Jones. Gonzalez caught 12 passes for 149 yards including two touchdowns in Atlanta’s 30-23 loss to New England on Sunday. (USA TODAY Sports: Dale Zanine)
ATLANTA — Tom Brady is still getting used to his new receivers, but it did not matter Sunday night.
Brady passed for 316 yards and two touchdowns, leading the New England Patriots to a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
Kenbrell Thompkins caught six passes for 106 yards, and Julian Edelman had seven receptions for 107 yards as the duo outplayed the Falcons’ more heralded wide receivers for much of the night. Thompkins caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brady to put the Patriots up by two touchdowns with 10 minutes to play.
“(Thompkins) has done great since he’s been here,” said Brady, who completed 20 of 31 passes. “He’s really been an impressive young player. His attitude and his willingness to work and do what it takes have been great. It’s really rare for a young player to step in with the kind of confidence that he has.”
The Patriots are 4-0 for the first time since 2007, when they won all 16 regular-season games and reached the Super Bowl before losing to the New York Giants.
The Falcons (1-3) couldn’t get going until it was too late. With Julio Jones drawing constant double coverage, Matt Ryan hooked up with tight end Tony Gonzalez 12 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan completed 34 of 54 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Jones wound up with six catches for 108 yards.
“I thought we competed well against their receivers,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “In the end, they made a few big plays in the fourth quarter. Obviously, we had a lot of trouble with the tight end. That’s a good skill team offensively. They have good receivers, tight end and good quarterback. It’s hard to get them all stopped.”
LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown gave the Patriots a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots converted a third-and-19 from their own 12-yard line one play before Blount cut back through the middle of the Falcons’ defense and raced for New England’s first rushing touchdown of the season.
New England built the lead to 30-13 before Gonzalez’s second touchdown catch brought Atlanta within seven points with less than five minutes to go. The Falcons recovered an onside kick, but they settled for a 25-yard Matt Bryant field goal.
Roddy White and Jones were held in check by Aqib Talib and the Patriots’ secondary until late in the fourth quarter. Talib recorded his fourth interception of the season and batted away a pass to White in the end zone with 30 seconds to play.
What the Falcons said
“You look up and you see everyone leaving the Dome, and you think to yourself, ‘Man, it’s over.’ But it’s never over. And I love the way we fought. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t come out on top. It’s such a roller coaster on offense for us right now. It’s something we have to figure out.” — Tight end Tony Gonzalez.
What the Patriots said
“I get to practice against him every day, so I know the kind of player that he is. What an unbelievable talent, and he brought so much leadership to our team. It’s really been a great treat having him. I hope he plays like this all year. He’s a great player.” — Quarterback Tom Brady, on defensive back Aqib Talib.
What we learned about the Falcons
1. The Falcons miss Steven Jackson. Atlanta has not established a consistent running game since the veteran offseason acquisition went down early in Week 2. Jackson rushed for 70 yards on 11 carries in Week 1 against the Saints, but he injured his thigh scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against his former team, the St. Louis Rams, in Week 2 and missed the past two games. Atlanta finished with 58 rushing yards against the Patriots.
2. Tight end Tony Gonzalez is still among the best in the league. Gonzalez considered retiring but elected to come back for what he hoped would be another run at a Super Bowl. He caught the 105th and 106th touchdown passes of his career among his 12 receptions for 149 yards Sunday. Gonzalez ranks second only to Jerry Rice in career receptions.
What we learned about the Patriots
1. Tom Brady misses Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but he’s starting to jell with his new receivers. Gronkowski will be back, possibly as early as next week. Hernandez, of course, will not be back, while his legal issues play out. Without his star tight ends, Brady is trying to create some chemistry with a young group of receivers. It remains a work in progress, but things are progressing, which makes New England a contender once again.
2. The injury to Vince Wilfork showed the Patriots possess defensive depth. The defensive tackle was hurt in the first quarter and did not return. Wilfork is the heart of the defensive front, but backups Michael Buchanan and Joe Vellano came in and did a nice job. Both Buchanan and Vellano recorded sacks of Matt Ryan.