FOXBORO - We all know NFL statisics are malleable. We can shape them to say whatever we want and often they only tell half the story. Check this out: The Patriots are dead last in the NFL in total defense in terms of yards per game. They allow 416.3 total yards and 314.0 through the air. Second worst team in yards allowed? Well, no surprise. It's the Colts. They're 0-9 and allowing 406.1 yards per games, 260.0 through the air. And which team is 30th? That would be the Packers. They are 8-0. They're allowing 399.6 per game and, get this, 299.6 through the air. You can ascribe reasons that help explain all these teams. The Packers are so explosive, they get up on teams and a lot of the yardage totals are compiled in garbage time. The Colts? Well, they suck. The Patriots? A little of both. They've been ahead and teams have been forced to up-tempo it and take shots to try to keep pace. They've also been thrown all over in close games as well. Whatever the reason for the Patriots being 32nd in the most frequently cited measure of defense (by the way, Bill Belichick said this week that "points, turnovers and red zone" are the most important team stats in his mind), safety James Ihedigbo insists their time at the bottom is ending. "You never want to be last at anything in life," said Ihedigbo. "The fact that we're ranked 32nd in the league puts a nasty taste in our mouths and it's something - we're at the midpoint of the season - it's not something that has to change, it will change."This week, the Patriots play Ihedigbo'sold team, the Jets. He spent three seasons there, primarily as a special teams guy. With the Patriots, his role's been bigger. Starting in Week 5, the Patriots' win over the Jets, Ihedigbo's seen significant time. The time will grow more significant now as fellow safetyJosh Barrett has been put on injured reserve. "I definitely feel for him," said Ihedigbo. "It's something that's tough. You battle back from injury (Barrett had a broken thumb) and then have a tough calf injury like that at the end of the game. Tough for that to happen."Safety's been a big concern all season. The Patriots let steady James Sanders and inconsistent Brandon Meriweather go before the season. Now New England has a hobbled Patrick Chung back there as well."We'll definitely embrace the challenge (of playing the Jets)," said Ihedigbo. "It's a great opportunity this week coming up. Big game. Spotlight's definitely on us and people want to see what are the Patriots gonna do, are they gonna fold or are they gonna bounce back? It's definitely a statement game for us back in the secondary and I'll go out and say that it's a big game for us on our part."And the stat that tells no tales - wins and losses - will be the most important one after this one.
FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.
1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right.
They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected.
PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3
2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead.
The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards.
3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one.
They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.
4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late.
They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.
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Tom E. Curran highlights the best and worst moments from Sunday's game between the Patriots and Falcons