What We Learned

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2021 NFL season, Week 11: What we learned from Patriots' win over Falcons on Thursday night

New England Patriots
2021 · 7-4-0
Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 4-6-0

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  1. Mac Jones took another positive step. Against a Falcons defense that fought hard to keep the game close, the Patriots’ rookie quarterback was efficient if not spectacular in directing his fifth road win in five trips away from Gillette Stadium. He joined Dak Prescott and Ben Roethlisberger as the only NFL rookie quarterbacks to win their first five road starts. Jones completed 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards in the face of a pass rush that had to blitz to generate pressure. Over his last two games, he’s now connected on 41 of his last 49 throws (83.7%), and continues to maintain a veteran-like poise that belies his experience. Jones’ lone interception to Falcons CB A.J. Terrell was an ill-advised throw to be sure, but overall, this was another step forward for the most successful rookie quarterback in the 2021 draft class.
  2. Matt Ryan’s pass protection was flat-out awful. The Falcons' game plan tried to account for this with a lot of screens and shallow crossers to get the ball out of the veteran quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible, but the heat on Ryan was such that even those passes often had to be released too soon. The Patriots defense snuffed out the short stuff with no fear of the deep ball, and the Falcons’ 16-for-40 rushing effort offered no balance to keep New England’s pass rush more honest. The Patriots got two sacks from Kyle Van Noy and one each from Matt Judon and Davon Godchaux. Ryan took a dozen hits and was pressured on a whopping 50% of his dropbacks. Time and again, he had to look for his hottest read.
  3. Call them the Flagcons. As if the Falcons didn’t have enough problems matching up with a better team, they made it all the harder with penalties, and no side of the ball was blameless. Defensively, they gave the Patriots four of their 20 first downs via penalty. Offensively, they punted on their opening drive after a flag backed them up to their own 2-yard line, and regrouping at the half was no help as Atlanta committed two false starts to mar their first possession of the second half. On special teams, an inexcusable illegal formation call on offensive lineman Jason Spriggs foiled Younghoe Koo’s 45-yard field goal; after the step-off, Koo missed from 50. The Falcons finished with nine penalties for 72 yards.
  4. Kicking game helps lift Patriots. New England won the special teams battle handily, which was crucial in a game that wasn’t a blowout until the fourth quarter. Start with the field goals -- Nick Folk calmly drilled a season-long 53-yarder to put the game out of reach at 16-0, and was four for four on the night, while Atlanta missed one from 50. But the edge went deeper than that. The Patriots picked up a lot of hidden yardage through punter Jake Bailey, who launched a 60-yarder and, with his first three punts, pinned Atlanta on its own 4-yard line, its 14, and its 19. On its only appearance, the New England kickoff unit notched a tackle at the Atlanta 17. Save a missed PAT after the outcome was a given, it was a buttoned-up effort all around.
  5. Pats defense stiffened in short yardage. Whatever slim chance Atlanta had to get back into the game in the second half ended with a masterful short-yardage sequence by the New England defense. With the Patriots holding a 13-0 third-quarter lead, and Atlanta’s offense making one of only two red-zone appearances, Dont’a Hightower and Adrian Phillips stuffed fullback Keith Smith on a third-and-1 for no gain. On fourth down, Phillips combined with Carl Davis to nail Qadree Ollison, again for no gain, to preserve what became a shutout. Throw in a sack of Ryan by Van Noy on a third-and-1 earlier in the night, and New England’s defense throttled Atlanta when inches mattered.


Next Gen stat of the night: Falcons CB A.J. Terrell was targeted six times in primary coverage, allowing five receptions and a touchdown but also recording his first interception of the season.


NFL Research: The Patriots won their 44th game in a row when leading by double digits at halftime, the longest active streak in the NFL.



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