The New England Patriots set the tone early by scoring on two of their first three possessions and never looked back, cruising to an easy 28-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the second preseason game for both teams. New England improved to (2-0) with the victory, while Atlanta dropped to (1-1) this preseason.
The big story in this one was New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker returning for his first game action since tearing his left ACL and MCL last season. Welker had an immediate impact for the Patriots on their opening possession against the Falcons. Atlanta took the ball 49 yards on their opening possession and capped off the drive with a Matt Bryant 46 yard field goal.
Welker came onto the field for the Patriots second offensive play and was targeted on three consecutive passes. First, he lined up in the right slot. Welker sat down in an open zone and caught a short comeback pass in the middle of the field for a six yard gain. Working out of the right slot again on the next play, Welker reached back and caught a ball across his body on a slant route for a 14 yard gain, and a first down. The third time was not the charm however as they went to Welker on a bubble screen to the left side. Randy Moss missed a block and Welker got blown up resulting in an incompletion. Welker looked pretty good in his return to live game action, and is an incredible story recovering from a major knee injury suffered just under nine months ago.
The Patriots offensive series continued with running back Kevin Faulk making a nice grab out of the backfield on third down to extend the drive. The Patriots attempted to go for the end zone after a nice play action fake a couple plays later, but the deep ball to Moss was broken up by the Falcons secondary. Faulk once again extended the drive with an eight yard gain on an inside handoff. Logan Mankins replacement Dan Connolly threw a key lead block on the play.
On the twelfth play of the Patriots opening drive, Fred Taylor took a handoff to the left side following the outstanding blocking of veteran tight end Alge Crumpler, ran over a potential tackler, and scampered 28 yards for the games first touchdown putting New England up 7-3.
Patriots rookie Devin McCourty had a strong game at cornerback, ending the Falcons second offensive possession by getting good inside position to knock the ball away from Pro Bowler Roddy White, forcing Atlanta to punt. New England went 3 and out on their second possession after Julian Edelman came up short of the first down on third down.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan went to the no huddle and had success on the teams third possession against the Patriots defense. However, it didn’t result in any points after Brandon Merriweather broke up a pass to Tony Gonzalez on third down and Matt Bryant missed a 47 yard field goal.
Tom Brady came out for the third offensive possession and completed a ten yard slant to Randy Moss. Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez made the flashiest play of the drive catching a crossing route and then putting the shake and bake on several potential tacklers picking up a first down. Brady was hit hard by defensive lineman Kroy Biermann and fumbled on third down in Atlanta territory but the Patriots recovered. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the field goal on the next play, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Patriots an automatic first down at the Atlanta 11 yard line. After another nice run by Fred Taylor, Hernandez made another spectacular play. Hernandez caught a bullet back shoulder pass from Tom Brady behind Atlanta rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for another Patriots touchdown. Hernandez’s four yard touchdown grab put the Patriots up 14-3.
John Parker Wilson took over for Matt Ryan, who finished 8-for-13 for 76 yards, with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. Parker Wilson drove Atlanta down the field during the closing minutes of the first half, but the drive stalled inside Patriots territory with under a minute to go in the first half. New England cornerback Jonathan Wilhite picked off Parker Wilson on fourth down to end the Falcons scoring threat and send the game into halftime with the Patriots up 14-3.
Brian Hoyer took over for Tom Brady, who finished 10-for-12 for 85 yards and one touchdown.
Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Brandon McGowan set the tone for the Patriots defense early in the second half. Arrington laid a massive hit on Atlanta running back Antone Smith to break up a pass on the Flacons first offensive play of the second half. McGowan came off the edge on a safety blitz and lit up Atlanta’s John Parker Wilson on third down, forcing a bad incompletion.
Aaron Hernandez continued to impress in the second half, showcasing his incredible hands on a 21 yard square in route from quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Patriots split Hernandez out wide on a number of occasions and even ran some two tight end set with their other rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. Hernandez finished the game with four catches for 46 yards and one touchdown. Gronkowski didn’t look too shabby either, catching a touchdown of his own in the red zone from backup Brian Hoyer. Gronkowski pulled down a 24 yard touchdown pass over an Atlanta defender on the second play of the fourth quarter. Both rookie tight ends looked outstanding, both scoring touchdowns, and flashed the red zone potential many Patriots fans envisioned when both were selected in this past April’s NFL Draft.
Someone who may have been feeling a little bubblicous coming into this one is Sammy Morris, but he played extremely well and looks like a safe bet to make the roster. Morris scampered around the left end for a 20 yard touchdown on the Patriots first possession of the second half to put New England up 21-3. Morris finished the game with 52 yards and one touchdown on just six carries.
Brandon Tate continues to impress at the wide receiver position this preseason and looked good in the second half of this game; slicing through the Falcons defense picking up 15 yards and a first down after a catch late in the third quarter.
The Patriots defense continued to dominate in the second half as second year defensive end Ron Brace stuffed Atlanta running back Dimitri Nance in the hole and forced a fumble near the end of the third quarter. The fumble was recovered by another sophomore defender looking to make an impact, linebacker Tyrone McKenzie.
Atlanta struggled all game long, as the Patriots young upstart defense showed what they are capable of when at their best. John Parker Wilson showcased his mobility, but it resulted in very little on the scoreboard. Atlanta wide receiver Troy Bergeron caught a 19 yard touchdown pass from Parker Wilson with just over five minutes remaining to close out the scoring. Third string quarterbacks Zac Robinson and Chris Redman saw action under center for both squads in the final five minutes to close this one out. Atlanta travels to Miami next week, while St. Louis pays a visit to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
ATL: Matt Bryant 46 yard field goal
NE: Fred Taylor 28 yard touchdown run
NE: Aaron Hernandez 4 yard touchdown catch
NE: Sammy Morris 20 yard touchdown run
NE: Rob Gronkowski 24 yard touchdown catch
ATL: Troy Bergeron 19 yard touchdown catch
New England: WR Matthew Slater, CB Leigh Bodden, S Bret Lockett, WR Darnell Jenkins, CB Terrence Johnson, OL George Bussey, LB Thomas Williams, LB Dane Fletcher, LB Gary Guyton, OL Nick Kaczur, DL Damione Lewis, LB Tully Banta-Cain, LB Jermaine Cunningham, S Josh Barrett, RB Laurence Maroney.
Atlanta: WR Michael Jenkins, CB Brent Grimes, CB Dunta Robinson, S William Moore, DB Brian Williams, RB Jerious Norwood, RB Jason Snelling, DT Thomas Johnson, DT Peria Jerry.