BY ROBERT LEE
Journal Sports Writer
FOXBORO - In a game that the Patriots considered a "must win" to avoid falling below .500 for the first time since October 27, 2002, the Patriots did just that, beating Atlanta, 26-10, to improve to 2-1 and hand the 2-1 Falcons their first loss of the season.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAD THE BALL
After throwing the ball a combined 70.1 percent of the time in their first two games, the Patriots had a much more balanced attack, running it 39 times for 168 yards compared to 42 throws for 277 yards for a total of 445 yards. The new strategy began on their 15-play, 81-yard first drive, which Stephen Gostkowski capped with a 21-yard field goal. The Patriots threw the ball eight times on the drive and ran it seven times. Fred Taylor established the ground game on the Patriots' second possession, racking up 42 yards on four carries, including an eight-yard touchdown run that capped a 6-play, 51-yard drive. Taylor finished with a game-high 105 rushing yards on 21 carries (5.0 yards per carry), while Brady completed 25-of-42 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown, the 200th TD pass of his career. Randy Moss had 20 catches for 116 yards (61st career 100-yard receiving game, second all-time). The Patriots' Red Zone struggles, however, continued (1-for-4).
WHEN THE FALCONS HAD THE BALL
Atlanta used six passing plays and six running plays as it began the game with a 12-play, 72-yard drive that Jason Elam capped with a 26-yard field goal. Michael Turner (15 carries, 56 yards) capped an 8-play, 59-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run at 6:17 of the second quarter to tie the score at 10-10. The Falcons had 46 yards through the air on the drive. Behind for most of the game, the Falcons were forced to go to the air probably more than they would have liked and were shut out in the second half. The Falcons were limited to 58 yards rushing while quarterback Matt Ryan completed 17-of-28 passes for 199 yards and no touchdowns. Michael Jenkins was his go-to receiver (5 catches for 78 yards).
Gostkowski made field goes from 21, 22, 33, and 33 yards, while Elam made a 26-yard field goal . . . After Laurence Maroney, who was held to 21 yards on the Patriots' first kickoff return, was injured, the Pats replaced him with Kevin Faulk, who returned two kicks for 49 yards . . . Atlanta kick returner Eric Weems averaged 27.8 yards per return (5 returns for 139 yards) . . . Patriots punter Chris Hanson had an easy day, booting two kicks for 87 yards (43.5 net average). Neither was returned . . . Faulk returned two punts for 17 yards (8.5 yards per return).
After Bill Belichick said that his staff was outcoached by Rex Ryan's in their loss to the Jets in Week Two, Belichick & Co. were hoping to respond better against Atlanta. Mission accomplished. The Patriots called a much more balanced attack on offense compared to their previous two games, which made things harder for Atlanta's coaching staff. The Pats' ability to run the ball helped them control the clock (39:49 to 20:11), and they were able to call the right plays to slow down Atlanta's high-powered offense. Belichick improved to 3-0 all-time against the Falcons. Atlanta coach Mike Smith is 0-1 against New England.
With a future Hall of Fame tight end on its roster in Tony Gonzalez, a Pro Bowl running back in Turner, and an up-and-coming star in Ryan on its roster, the Patriots said all week that playing the Falcons would be their toughest game of the young season, and they responded with a 26-10 victory . . . The Pats improved to 32-6 all-time against NFC teams since 2001 which includes a 16-game winning streak dating back to 2005. The Pats are now 26-4 against NFC teams at home.