'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

'Man, why do we continue to do this?' Patriots FG block work finally pays off

FOXBORO -- Stay low. Drive off the tight end's inside shoulder. And whatever you do, keep your feet. You don't want to be falling into kicker and picking up a penalty. 

Those were the kinds of things that were bouncing around somewhere in Cassius Marsh's subconscious as he lined up to try to block Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's field-goal attempt from 37 yards away at the end of the first quarter. Swimming past his blocker off the snap, Marsh got both arms extended and into the path of Bryant's kick, knocking it down and giving his team a boost. 

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"Guys work hard on that every week," Bill Belichick said after his team's 23-7 win. "Cassius has gotten some opportunities in practice. It’s hard to block Steve [Gostkowski]. Steve gets good height on the ball, gets the ball off quickly. I think this one with not quite as much height maybe as Steve's ball, or at least what Steve's balls were in practice, Cassius got a hand on it. 

"It was a big play for us because, again, we worked so hard on that and that’s everybody across the board. That’s all 11 guys, not just the guy that blocks it. The other guys have to do their job and if they block Cassius and take him away then that gives somebody else an opportunity so we never know how that’s going to go. We just want everybody to come hard and do their job right and wherever the opening is it is. That was a big play for us . . . 

"You can see the whole team – we were all excited. Sideline, players, guys on the field. That was a big moment for us. Our special teams units work very hard. They take a lot of pride in their job. The return teams, the coverage teams, the field goal and the field goal block team. It’s good to see that hard work pay off in a big play like that."

It was a big enough play that it earned Marsh a high-five from his coach. Marsh laughed about his reception on the sideline, remembering that the last time he got that kind of recognition from Belichick it came after a Week 4 sack.

"That's pretty much it that I can remember," Marsh said, beaming. "He only really smiles in situations like that so you've gotta cherish those moments."

The Patriots recovered at their own 26-yard line and embarked on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to get them on the scoreboard.

"With the defense playing as well as they were, to be able to preserve the shutout at the time was big," said special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Those are huge momentum plays when you're able to block a kick. It's not a traditional play that happens every game. Huge play. A UCLA guy stepping up, who would've thought? 

"You gotta tip your hat to those guys because they coach that, they work that and sometimes it seems like, 'Man, why do we continue to do this?' But it paid off for us tonight. You tip your cap to not only Cash but the rest of the guys on that unit." 

While Marsh's block was the highlight, it was a strong night overall for New England's special teams units. Every Falcons drive started inside their own 30-yard line, and Gostkowski had kicks returned to the 12, 19 and 18 before they were stopped.

Slater called it the most complementary game the Patriots played all season. Offense, defense, special teams. They all worked together to make Sunday perhaps their most dominating performance of the year. 

"That's the effort that we've been looking for and striving for all year," Slater said. "I think that's a good starting point for us. Lot of football left. Nine games left so we're going to have to continue to do it and be consistent week in and week out."

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Jones suggests Falcons comeback attempt hampered by fog

Jones suggests Falcons comeback attempt hampered by fog

FOXBORO -- When the field was flipped as Sunday night's Patriots-Falcons game moved from the third to the fourth quarter, Tom Brady and his offense moved from their spot near the south end zone to the opposite end of Gillette Stadium. As they headed toward the lighthouse, they strutted into the mist and disappeared slowly until they were almost fully out of sight. 

Though most players said afterward that it didn't impact what happened on the field during New England's 23-7 win, the fog was thick enough to force NBC to abandon its standard camera angle, and Bill Belichick hinted that it made life difficult on Patriots spotters residing in the upper levels of the stadium.

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The fog was also an apparent source of frustration for Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who suggested that it may have impacted the deep passing game as Atlanta was attempting its comeback.

"It didn’t affect me, but it’s crazy, though," he said. "Like, they score and they shoot fireworks off and then it sits high, kind of in the stadium. So it’s kind of hard, like, if you do get behind, like, how can you throw deep balls and things like that, because it’s foggy? I mean, it didn’t affect us at all though. They were just the better team tonight."

Most other players just kind of marveled at the weather as it hung above the field like a low ceiling.

"Yeah, the fog – that was crazy," Brady said. "I have never 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."

"I’ve never," Dion Lewis said, "seen anything like that before."

"I mean, a deep ball up in the air was definitely more difficult," Rob Gronkowski said. "But, it didn’t change anything in the game."

For coaches and staff spending the game watching from high above the turf, relaying what they saw to their peers on the sidelines, the fog was an issue. But Belichick liked the way his crew handled it. 

"Well, I think the coaches upstairs did a real good job on that," he said. "It was challenging at times. I would say I don’t know what happened with Atlanta, but for us we took a couple of timeouts. It wasn’t really because of the fog. It was just we wanted to get our goal line in there on the goal line. I wouldn’t attribute it to that, but it was not easy for our spotters upstairs to get it.

"That being said, I didn’t think it really affected the game too much. 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. The final kick game down to, you know, 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. So, that’s the first year. I haven’t had anything that bad since . . . I’d say this was – it was tough to see from up on top. I wouldn’t say it was that bad on the field. I mean, it wasn’t clear but I don’t think it changed anything."

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

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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