Instead of saving a comeback for the final minutes, the Patriots regrouped after a somewhat lackluster first half to win decisively over the Atlanta Falcons on a gray and drizzly afternoon in Foxboro today. The win puts them back above .500 and kept the Patriots breathing down the neck of the first-place Jets, who notched their third win in Tennessee.
Runningback Fred Taylor was a standout throughout the game, scoring the Patriots' only touchdown of the first 30 minutes with an 8-yard run early in the second quarter. The score was the fifth consecutive running play on the drive, the fourth in a row featuring Taylor, the team's leading rusher today with 105 yards. Taylor would make three more consecutive carries just before halftime and again to open the third quarter; he had more attempts (21) than the rest of the team combined today (18).
Might Taylor become the Patriots' featured back? Or is there really no such thing when it comes to the Patriots?
Sammy Morris also made some key appearances today, but had more yards receiving (46) than rushing (16); most of the time he seemed to be used on screen plays and quick outs rather than running plays.
If Julian Edelman is the new Wes Welker, is Sammy Morris becoming the new Kevin Faulk?
Meanwhile, who's the new Vince Wilfork, and for how long will the team have to find that out? I noticed my rookie favorite Myron Pryor took over on a few downs when Wilfork went down with a leg injury in the first half.
After the half, the Brady-Moss Show took over for the running game, and spent the last 7 minutes of the third quarter putting together one of the ballsiest drives I've ever seen in person.
Beginning deep in their own territory, the Patriots offense faced a 4th and 1 on their own 24 yard line; at that time the game was still 13-10. "The way we're playing defense so far today, we're gonna go for it down there?!" cried my father incredulously, peering downfield through his binoculars.
They were. And they made it, on a two-yard run by Sammy Morris.
Taylor, Brady and Moss ate up yards in gulps after that, down to the Atlanta 37, where once again the offense stalled, facing a 4th and 3. Once again, the regular personnel took the field. Moments later, Randy Moss was cradling the ball near the sideline; it had floated 20 yards over his shoulder to land gently in his outstretched hands before he tumbled with his defender out of bounds.
This kind of thing doesn't happen when Brady isn't around.
Let me take off my Homer Hat for just a moment; fun as it was to watch them gut out that drive, it still wasn't until the mid-4th quarter that Brady finally captured that elusive touchdown pass.
It came on another deep route up the right-hand sideline, this time to Chris Baker, who ran it the rest of the way in. This made the score 26-10 Patriots, your final, and made Brady the first NFL player in history to rack up more than 200 touchdown passes with less than 100 career interceptions.
In today's context, the record books don't matter much. More important is the way the team is clawing its way toward coherence so far this season, just like they were on those fourth-down plays in the third quarter. In those last moments of this game, it felt like things might finally be coming together.