FOXBORO, Mass. — Here are some notes and nuggets from an entertaining — and at times bizarre — Sunday night of football at Gillette Stadium, during which the New England Patriots again dispatched their Super Bowl LI foes, the Atlanta Falcons, by a final score of 23-7.
— The big story coming into the night was the one we just mentioned — the Super Bowl rematch angle. But before long, all anyone could talk about was the weather.
A game that began beneath a clear fall sky slowly was consumed by a cascade of thick, billowing fog that made watching the action from the upper reaches of the stadium next to impossible as the second half wore on.
Malcolm Butler’s key third-down pass breakup early in the fourth quarter, for example, which preceded a fourth-and-goal stop by Kyle Van Noy, was next to invisible to folks in the press box.
But while the conditions made life difficult for reporters, fans in the cheap seats and those running NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” telecast, most Patriots players agreed the weather did not affect the on-field product much.
“The fog — that was crazy,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “I have never really seen that. It was just so still out there. The fog had no place to go. I don’t think it affected much, really, at the end of the day. I’m sure it looked cool on TV, though.”
“Cool” is one word for it.
Running backs Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead both said the fog was not very noticeable at field level.
“I didn’t even notice it when I was on the sideline,” Lewis said. “When I looked at the Jumbotron, that’s when I knew how bad it was.”
The surreal setting brought back memories of the Patriots’ 28-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1996 NFL playoffs, which was played amid similarly thick fog at the old Foxboro Stadium.
Coincidentally, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was an assistant on that New England team, but he compared Sunday’s game to one he coached in way back in 1975 — his first season as a coach at any level.
Belichick also remembers a surprising number of details from that game, which took place before anyone on the Patriots’ current roster was born.
“Not the most normal situation, but my first year in the league with Baltimore in ’75 when we beat Miami and then that didn?t clinch the playoffs but it put us pretty close in Baltimore,” Belichick said. “The final kick came down to Toni Linhart. It was about a 40-yard field goal, and you could see the line of scrimmage, you could see the two teams line up for the field goal, but once the ball left his foot, you had no idea whether it was good or not good, so we had to wait for the official signal.”
Not everyone completely dismissed the fog’s impact on Sunday’s result. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had an odd take on the Patriots shooting off their celebratory fireworks in the second half, and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski admitted the limited visibility made it tougher to connect on deep balls.
“That fog was pretty crazy,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that or played in anything like that. I mean, a deep ball up in the air was definitely more difficult.”
— This game easily was the best of the season for the Patriots’ defense, which responded to its many critics by holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons to a single touchdown.
Van Noy, who had a particularly strong game with seven tackles and two tackles for loss, sent a message to the haters shortly after the final whistle blew.
Van Noy must be taking Twitter notes from former Boston Celtic Isaiah Thomas.
— Speaking of Twitter reaction, former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount clearly liked what he saw from Dion Lewis, who had a game- and season-high 76 rushing yards on 13 carries in the win.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images