'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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Rex Burkhead, David Harris in uniform for Patriots vs. Falcons

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Rex Burkhead, David Harris in uniform for Patriots vs. Falcons

FOXBORO -- The Patriots went into Sunday night's game with only three corners available to them, and even one of those was questionable. Pitted against a Falcons attack that features the reigning MVP and one of the most physically-gifted receivers to ever play, that felt like a problem. 

It still might be, but that one questionable corner -- Johnson Bademosi (abdomen) -- will be in uniform to help thwart Julio Jones and Co. Patriots tight end Jacob Hollister (questionable with a chest injury) is also active and in uniform. 

The Patriots ruled out three players in the days leading up to the game: corners Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe and defensive end Harvey Langi. Joining them as inactive on Sunday night at Elandon Roberts (ankle), Geneo Grissom (healthy scratch), Cam Fleming (healthy scratch) and Cole Croston (healthy scratch). 

Running back Rex Burkhead will be available to the Patriots for the first time since Week 2 when he injured his ribs against the Saints. Though he's only seen a very limited number of snaps this season, when he was on the field through the first two weeks he was heavily involved. He's seen just 18 offensive snaps, but he's carried the ball five times and he's been targeted seven times in the passing game. 

Also in uniform will be veteran linebacker David Harris. He's played just seven snaps this season, but with Roberts out, maybe this is the week when he sees more playing time. He should slot in behind Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower as New England's off-the-ball 'backers.