FASTEST DELIVERY ON EXPECTATIONS
Tommy Kelly said it on Friday: "You know they want to throw the ball, so to me, I'm playing the pass." So it's not like the Patriots didn't see it coming, but Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan came out slinging the football, starting with a third-down ball to Tony Gonzalez. The Patriots had him in double coverage, but Ryan made a great throw and his big tight end pulled it in. He completed his first seven passes. Though he finished the drive 7-of-9, Atlanta got three points out of the 75-yard, nearly six minute series.
LAST THING A PATRIOTS FAN WANTS TO SEE
When it comes to Vince Wilfork, you might think the worst thing you could see is the Patriots nose tackle getting sat on his butt by Atlanta's offensive line, which did happen on the Falcons' first series. But it got worse. Wilfork went down on the 10th play of the game. Ankle -- bad enough that he got carted off the field and to the locker room. The Patriots announced he was questionable to return. As if Atlanta needed help getting downfield.
MOST SUCCESSFUL COMMITTEE
New England's corps of running backs. Tom Brady only completed two of four passes for gains of 39 yards, so the Patriots went to the ground game. Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and LeGarrette Blount split 10-straight carries on a 12 play, 75-yard touchdown drive. It was the best New England looked so far, by far.
BIGGEST PLAY FROM A SMALL TOWN GUY
One question rang out -- everywhere the Patriots-Falcons game was being watched -- after New England scored its first touchdown: Who the hell is Matt Mulligan? Well. Mulligan is a 28-year old tight end from Bangor, Maine. He has 14 catches to his name in four NFL seasons. The Patriots signed him September 3, released him September 5, then re-signed him five days later. And so Mulligan's 15th reception just happened to be a 1-yard go-ahead touchdown grab, for New England, on Sunday Night Football. Not bad.
SHARPEST-LOOKING OLD MAN
All respect to Tony Gonzalez, but who thought he would be such a big factor against the Patriots? The 37-year old tight end didn't show any signs of age Sunday night. Gonzalez lead the Falcons in receiving at the half with seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Atlanta's star receiver Julio Jones, on the other hand, had just two catches for six yards. Who would have thought?
STRANGEST-LOOKING STAT LINE
So the run game got New England its first and only touchdown of the first half. Might as well stick with what works. But Tom Brady throwing just 12 passes into the third quarter is unusual, to say the least. Not only that, but only three of those balls went to wide receivers. Total yardage through 35 minutes: 162. And not much to show for it.
The Patriots passing game got in gear right after I wrote about it being stuck in neutral. Of course. Anyway, with the score tied 10-10 Edelman breathed 34 yards of life into a third quarter drive. The catch not only put New England in Falcons territory, but marked Edelman's 30th catch of 2013. Big deal? Yes. The receiver had an incentive on that receptions tally that earned him $30,000. Seven plays later, the Patriots broke the tie with a field goal.
MOST EFFECTIVE GAMEPLAN THE FALCONS DIDN'T DRAW UP
A war of attrition, apparently. First Wilfork suffered an ankle injury that took him out of the game. Bolden was next, taking to the sideline after tweaking his knee. Bolden did return, but the hits kept coming. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson's neck snapped unnaturally after a brutal hit and he left for the locker room. Bet Brady didn't plan on looking to Texas Christian product Josh Boyce in New England's hour of need.
QUICKEST DRIVE OF THE NIGHT
That fourth quarter scoring drive gave you a bit of whiplash, didn't it. (Sorry, Dobson.) The Patriots were deep in the muck of their own territory, facing a third-and-19 situation, and without a lot of options. But Brady made it work. He took the snap, took his time, and found Kenbrell Thompkins for a 26-yard reception. A Falcons person foul tacked on another 15 yards and just like that, New England was on the right side of midfield. Bet the Patriots didn't expect to get those 47 yards in one shot, though. Everybody in the Georgia Dome was probably a bit surprised to see Blount, all 250-pounds of him, lumber all that way to the end zone. The 89-yard "drive" took all of six plays.
STICKIEST HANDS IN THE NFL
Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib picked off a deep ball intended for Julio Jones in the fourth quarter. The pick was Talib's fourth of the year -- a league high. True, Talib had two rookies and a soon-to-be-benched quarterback to toy with over the first three weeks, but being on pace for 16 interceptions isn't a bad thing. His career high of six came in 2010 with the Bucaneers. For the record, six is less than 16.