Final, Patriots 30-23: And the Patriots win. Aqib Talib gets the game ball on this one. He dominated the game from quarter one to quarter four. And on the final, most important play of the year, the ball clanged off Talib’s hand.
We’ll have more on NESN.com tonight, but for now, you just need to know the Patriots won.
Fourth quarter, 0:54, Patriots 30-23: The Patriots couldn’t convert on third-and-one (though it looked like they did), then Brady fumbled the snap on fourth-and-one. This game is close all of a sudden. The Falcons have the ball with 54 seconds left.
Fourth quarter, 2:55, Patriots 30-23: The Falcons inched one step closer with another field goal. This one’s 30-23, and we’re not even at the two-minute warning.
Michael Hoomanawanui recovered the onside kick.
Fourth quarter, 4:22, Patriots 30-20: The Falcons aren’t completely out of this one yet. They just recovered an onside kick that bounced off Zach Sudfeld’s paws.
Tony Gonzalez hauled in a touchdown to allow the Falcons to inch closer. Julio Jones made a questionable catch on the drive that Bill Belichick tried to challenge, but the equipment wasn’t working. That could mean something as this game wears on.
Fourth quarter, 6:18, Patriots 30-13: The Patriots are now up 30-13 with just six minutes left.
New England had to settle for a field goal but still took three minutes off the clock.
Fourth quarter, 9:35 Patriots 27-13: A. Qib. Ta. Lib. The cornerback has been a shutdown player tonight and all season.
That’s his fourth interception of the season. All of them have come in the fourth quarter.
Fourth quarter, 9:43 Patriots 27-13: Ken. Brell. Thompkins.
Big touchdown there for KT. He just got a foot and an elbow in.
That was a heck of a pass by Brady, too. He put it in the perfect place for Thompkins to haul it in for six. Edelman had two huge plays on that drive, as well. Who needs Gronk and Amendola?
Fourth quarter, 11:42 Patriots 20-13: The Falcons settled for the field goal there. This game may be different if they had done that earlier, as well.
Michael Buchanan came up with a huge third-down sack to end that drive. Aqib Talib was called for a ticky-tack pass interference penalty earlier in the drive. It was a 38-yard penalty. The Patriots are going to try to take a ton of time off the clock on this one.
Fourth quarter, 14:26, Patriots 20-10: The Patriots finally scored a second-half touchdown. It took a 47-yard rumble from LeGarrette Blount to put the Patriots up 20-10.
Kenbrell Thompkins had another huge reception to give the Patriots a first down on third-and-19. New England looks to be in good shape for now.
End third quarter, Patriots 13-10: This game continues to hurry by. Maybe all the players are trying to get home to watch Breaking Bad?
The Patriots are slowly making their way down the field. Josh Boyce has taken over for Aaron Dobson. They got stopped on fourth-and-1, but a holding call on Akeem Dent pushed the Patriots forward for a first down.
It’s amazing how many offensive weapons New England has lost.
Third quarter, 2:02, Patriots 13-10: The Patriots came up with another big third-down stop. This team is bending pretty consistently, but they only broke once so far.
Unfortunately, NBC cameras just showed Aaron Dobson heading back to the locker room. The Patriots are down to just three wide receivers: Thompkins, Edelman and Boyce.
Third quarter, 5:29, Patriots 13-10: That was a lengthy drive for the Patriots. They could only come away with three, though. Brady couldn’t connect with either Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson in the end zone.
On the final play, Dobson was held and got crushed on the play. He stayed down holding his shoulder for a couple minutes. Thompkins stayed by his side the whole time.
Third quarter, 11:51, 10-10: Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard have done a great job on Julio Jones and Roddy White so far. The Patriots also brought pressure on the final throw that forced Matt Ryan to throw behind Jones. The third-year player could have made the catch, though.
The Patriots have the ball inside the 10-yard line.
Third quarter, 12:57, 10-10: Penalties drove the Patriots back far into their own territory. By third-and-24, it was obvious New England wasn’t going to take any risks on offense. Logan Mankins and Julian Edelman were both the culprits on those penalties.
Atlanta has the ball near midfield. This is an important drive for the defense.
End half, 10-10: The Patriots took a knee to end the half. They will get the ball back in the second half.
New England has done a great job defending Julio Jones and Roddy White so far, but Tony Gonzalez has been beating the linebackers and safeties. He’s still a tough matchup.
On offense, the Patriots have had their running game going, but they’re still having trouble clinching at the end of drives. This one will come down to the wire.
Field Yates of ESPN tweeted that when the Patriots came back on the field, Brandon Bolden was with the team, and Vince Wilfork was not.
Second quarter, 0:38, 10-10: We’re all tied up in Atlanta. Tony Gonzalez continues to have a massive game. Dont’a Hightower bumped Gonzalez and passed him on to Steve Gregory, who slipped while trying to make the tackle. Gonzalez made it in for six.
Second quarter, 2:00, Patriots 10-3: The Falcons are moving the ball again. So far, though, that doesn’t matter. The Patriots have stopped Atlanta in the red zone.
Second quarter, 3:22, Patriots 10-3: Stephen Gostkowski squeaked it over the right goalpost for three.
Brady had three rough throws on that drive. He chucked up a prayer to Kenbrell Thompkins that the rookie hauled in for a 49-yard reception. Brady missed a wide-open Boyce and Thompkins later in the drive, though.
Second quarter, 6:19, Patriots 7-3: This game seems to be moving very quickly. So far, the Patriots’ defense has been impressive. The defense just stopped a high-powered Atlanta offense at fourth-and-2 in the red zone.
Dont’a Hightower had a huge run stop on third down. On fourth down, Ryan basically threw the ball away.
Second quarter, 13:29, Patriots 7-3: The Patriots scored a touchdown in the red zone! And Brady continues his streak for consecutive touchdowns.
Matthew Mulligan was the recipient of an absolutely incredible throw from Brady. It looked like the Patriots got their first rushing touchdown of the season twice at the end of that drive. Bolden came up feet short, and Ridley was inches short.
The Patriots really had the ball moving on the ground on that drive.
End first quarter, Falcons 3-0: After one, the Falcons lead 3-0. Some impressive running from Stevan Ridley has the Patriots moving the ball on this drive.
The Patriots are mixing in Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount, too. It was impressive to see New England hold Atlanta to just three points in the first quarter.
First quarter, 3:48, Falcons 3-0: Atlanta’s offense looked like a mess on that drive. It ended on an impressive play by Aqib Talib to break up a pass intended for Julio Jones.
Julian Edelman took a shot from Drew Smith on the punt return. Edelman got a shoulder to the throat. There was no fair catch interference.
First quarter, 6:18, Falcons 3-0: A mistake by Brandon Bolden cost the Patriots a first down. Bolden took a step too late to hear Brady’s call.
Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both had drops on the drive. It was encouraging to see open players, though. Atlanta’s defense is not very good. The Falcons will get the ball on their own 25-yard line.
Wilfork is questionable with an ankle injury.
First quarter, 9:25, Falcons 3-0: The Patriots really clamped down inside the red zone. The Falcons settled for a field goal and two straight throwaways from Matt Ryan.
Wilfork was getting his foot looked at on the sideline. He was on the injury report this week with a foot injury. Joe Vellano and Chris Jones will take his place.
That could be a big loss, though.
First quarter, 9:56: The drive just stalled with Vince Wilfork folded over at the line of scrimmage. He appeared to be bothered by an injury. The Falcons are having no problem moving the ball on the Patriots’ defense so far.
A couple of notes:
-The team opened in the nickel defense with Hightower and Mayo at linebacker.
-Aqib Talib has mostly been shadowing Julio Jones, but Dennard has had a couple of snaps against the No. 1 wide receiver.
-Dennard got beat bad by White on a curl route.
-Tony Gonzalez beat Jerod Mayo badly.
First quarter, 15:00: The game started with a touchback. Atlanta’s offense is on the field.
First quarter, 15:00: The Falcons won the toss and chose to receive. The matchup everyone wants to watch will be on the field right off the bat.
7:57 p.m.: Alfonzo Dennard is lined up across from Aqib Talib in pregame warmups, according to Nick Underhill of MassLive.com. That likely means Dennard will be starting in the base defense, while Arrington just plays slot in the nickel.
7:35 p.m.: We’re just about an hour away from kickoff now. As we’ve stated all week, this game will come down to Atlanta’s offense and New England’s defense. I think the Patriots’ offense is better than the Falcons’ defense, so Atlanta’s offense will need to be better than New England’s defense to win the game — if that makes sense.
Atlanta’s offense is very good. But there’s a distinct chance New England’s defense is very good too. That unit will just have to prove it tonight.
I’ll say New England wins 24-21, but this is going to be a very close matchup. Gronkowski and Amendola would have helped. The Falcons being without Samuel and Jackson is an underrated storyline.
7:15 p.m.: With Samuel inactive, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Robert McClain will be Atlanta’s top three cornerbacks. McClain will be matched up with Julian Edelman in the slot, meaning rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson will be going against the two rookies, Trufant and Alford. That levels the playing field for the Patriots quite a bit.
7:00 p.m.: Apparently Arrington was fine. The slot cornerback will be active on Sunday night.
Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Leon Washington, Chris Barker, Jake Bequette, Steve Beauharnais and Matthew Slater are inactive for the Patriots.
Asante Samuel, Steven Jackson, Kemal Ishmael, Jamar Chaney, Harland Gunn, Ryan Schraeder and Travian Robertson are inactive for Atlanta. Samuel comes as a bit of a surprise. Throwing the ball on the Falcons will be much easier with Samuel off the field.
Sebastian Vollmer is active and should be staring at right tackle. Will Svitek is active for the first time this season.
6:38 p.m.: Kyle Arrington, Michael Buchanan and Michael Hoomanawanui worked out in front of the team’s training staff, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. Arrington missed most of the second half of last week’s game with a tweaked groin.
The injury report comes out at 7 p.m. We’ll know then whether Arrington is going to play or not.
4:38 p.m.: The Patriots won’t have their No. 1 wide receiver or tight end on Sunday night, but they should have their starting right tackle.
Sebastian Vollmer is “likely” to play, according to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. Vollmer made the trip to Atlanta. He practiced on Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday’s sessions.
If Vollmer had not been ready to go, Marcus Cannon would have taken his place on the line.
8 a.m. ET: It will be business as usual for the 2013 Patriots on Sunday night when they take on the Falcons.
New England will be without Rob Gronkowski for the fourth straight game, and Danny Amendola will be sitting out his third game with a torn groin muscle. In their place, the rookies will have to step up once again.
But for once, the Patriots’ offense won’t be front and center after the final notes of the Sunday Night Football theme ring out and Al Michael and Cris Collinsworth come on screen. Instead, Vince Wilfork and New England’s defense will be in the spotlight.
The secondary, especially, will have to be counted on to stop Matt Ryan and the high-powered Falcons offense. It will likely be up to Aqib Talib to stop Julio Jones and Alfonzo Dennard to shut down the already-hobbled Roddy White. It won’t be easy for either player, but they’ll be receiving plenty of help from Devin McCourty and New England’s pass rush.
Through three games, the pass coverage has been more impressive than the pass rush. Both need to shine against Matty Ice. The less time Ryan has to throw, the easier it will be for Talib, Dennard, McCourty, Steve Gregory and Kyle Arrington to cover.
That’s why we may see the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage than they were against the Bills, Jets or Buccaneers. Rob Ninkovich and Tommy Kelly both spoke about how the front seven knows where Ryan will be. He’s not leaving the pocket, so there’s no need to keep the defensive ends from going at Atlanta’s signal caller full-force. A linebacker is not required to spy on the Boston College product, either.
Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo are all accomplished blitzers, as is rookie Jamie Collins. So, expect to see them rushing through the middle and around the edge to help out Ninkovich, Kelly, Wilfork and Chandler Jones.
The action starts at 8:30 p.m., so stay here until the kickoff for all the latest news.