Neither the Atlanta Falcons nor the New England Patriots are particularly sexy picks to win their respective divisions this year. After last night's preseason game in the Atlanta, odds-makers may want to reconsider at least one of those trends.
A revamped Patriots offense, energized by the return of Wes Welker (2 catches, 20 yards) and bolstered by a veteran running game and rookie tight end presence, trotted up and down the carpet at the Georgia Dome en route to a 28-10 victory over former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's Falcons.
Tom Brady went 10-for-12 for 85 yards and a touchdown, rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski each had four receptions and a touchdown and Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris each rushed for over 50 yards and six points of their own while the defensive secondary covered up for a weak performance from the linebacking corps. The Patriots first team outscored the Falcons first team, 14-3 in the first half.
The second team is still fighting growing pains, although the second defensive front seven didn't disappoint, according to Pats Pulpit:
Brandon Deaderick had a very solid game, along with Myron Pryor. But defensively, the story of the day may have been the play of Ron Brace. Brace lined up at left end, and was really solid. He got some quarterback pressures, picked up three tackles, and forced a fumble that was recovered by Tyrone McKenzie (who also had a solid day).
Although it's hard to take much from preseason games, there's no doubt that this trip south was a series of steps in the right direction for the Patriots, who struggled mightily last season in the red zone. The emergence of a ground game and two pass-catching tight ends should go a long ways to easing those woes in the season ahead.
The defense is still raw and vulnerable, but they are equally as hungry, and it looks like the secondary will lead the charges again.
In the defensive backfield, Pat Chung had another good game. He really flies all over the field, and made a couple of big hits. I really like what I've seen from Chung so far, although he still needs to work on his coverage. Jonathan Wilhite also had a solid game, coming up with an interception, but looked solid in coverage as well. Patriots 1st round pick Devin McCourty looked like a first round pick. He absolutely shut down Roddy White on one play, and made a couple of plays in run support.
Belichick has never struggled to put together a strong defense; the Patriots' ultimate undoing last year was the inability of the offense to milk the clock late in games and give the defense a rest. A younger defensive unit, coupled with a promising short-yardage attack on offense, should alleviate some of the problems that Belichick, Brady and company fought all too often last season.