Tom Brady is a miracle worker given that most of his receivers other than Julian Edelman, who caught seven passes for 118 yards, and a few others, have very little NFL experience.
This hardly mattered for the future Hall of Fame quarterback who tossed two touchdowns without an interception as New England held off Atlanta, 30-23, at the Georgia Dome last Sunday night.
It took some luck as the Falcons had the ball at the Patriots’ 10-yard line and 36 seconds left when Matt Ryan’s pass to wide receiver Roddy White (28 yards on three receptions) in the end zone fell incomplete.
The drive came after Brady fumbled and recovered the snap on fourth down and one at the Atlanta 37-yard line. Ryan’s 49-yard toss to wide receiver Julio Jones (108 yards on six catches) helped the Falcons get deep inside New England territory.
“That was poor execution on my part,’’ said Brady, who completed 20 of 31 attempts for 316 yards. “I’ll have to correct that. It’s nice to be undefeated (4-0), but we’ll have to grind it out game by game.”
Brady’s legacy is secure after leading the Patriots to three Super Bowl titles and five appearances. Blessed with the physical tools, it’s his mind that places him at the top of the current list of signal-callers that includes Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, who have combined to capture seven Super Bowls.
Brady’s one-yard throw to tight end Matthew Mulligan early in the second quarter made it 7-3 and closed out a 75-yard, 12-play drive.
The Falcons (1-3) tied it at 10-10 when Ryan (34 of 54 for 421 yards) found tight end Tony Gonzalez (game-best 12 catches for a game-high 149 yards) with a 21-yard offering and 38 seconds left before the half.
“We need to do a better job on him,” New England Head Coach Bill Belichick said to Michele Tafoya, the NBC sideline reporter at the half after Gonzalez had seven receptions for 90 yards.
Stephen Gostkowski’s 22-yard field goal made it 13-10 with 5:25 left in the third quarter, and running back LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter capped an 89-yard march that gave New England a 20-10 edge.
“We came in with the mind-set that we were going to run the ball,’’ said Blount, who finished with 64 yards on nine carries as the Patriots tallied 132 rushing yards while the Falcons managed 58 yards.
Matt Bryant’s 45-yard field goal cut the lead to seven points with 11:52 left in the final quarter, before Brady’s 18-yard bullet to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (team-high 127 yards on six catches) with 9:43 showing ended an 80-yard march that pushed New England’s lead to 27-13.
Gostkowski, who had a 48-yard field goal with 3:22 left in the second quarter that gave the Patriots a 10-3 advantage, booted a 49-yarder with 6:18 on the clock in the fourth quarter that made it 30-13 after cornerback Aqib Talib (two tackles and three passes defended) intercepted Ryan.
Atlanta scored the next 10 points to get within seven as Ryan found Gonzalez with an 11-yard pass and 4:23 left, while Bryant, who had a 23-yarder in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead and 9:23 showing, nailed a 25-yarder with 2:55 remaining.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.