1. Fred Taylor - Finally, the Laurence Maroney experiment is over, and Bill Belichick has turned the running game over to a competent professional. Taylor carries 21 times for 105 yards and a score as Maroney (thigh boo-boo) sits and rides the stationary bike.
2. Brandon McGowan - Lowered the boom on Michael Turner, forcing a first-half fumble at the pivotal juncture of the second quarter. With the game tied at 10-10, Atlanta looked comfortable on offense, ready to take charge with a first down at the Pats' 31. Instead of taking the lead, the Falcons lose the football, and New England marches down the field to grab a 13-10 halftime lead. Just a huge play for a defense seeking identity to rally around.
3. Brandon Meriweather - "Sometimes I was getting man-to-man coverage and as soon as I went into somebody's zone, he would jam me," said Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez of his one-o'clock shadow, Meriweather. The safety closed the bracket on a double team that limited the soon-to-be Hall of Famer Gonzalez to one catch for 16 yards.
1. Gary Guyton - Something has to be done about the middle of the football field. Guyton simply is not stout enough to play inside. He runs like a gazelle from sideline to sideline, but can be and was exploited on plays right at him
2. Joey Galloway - If this receiver corps wasn't so thin, he'd be retired right now. Tom Brady's presence commands a better effort than the 37 year old is providing.
3. Laurence Maroney - He and his thigh injury were skipping around the locker-room after the game. Finished with 17 yards on four carries.
Grading the Groups
Line (B+) - I factored in the degree of difficulty with the task at hand here. Atlanta rushed four linemen all day, blitzing twice, so this one was on a tee for the big boys. However, they did muscle up and open holes for a 1,000-yard rusher, something we hadn't seen here since Dec. 14, 2008.
QB (B) - Not vintage Brady by any means, but he's working extremely shorthanded. Solid day under little or no rush, throwing for 277 yards on 25 of 42.
Backs (A+) - I am eliminating Laurence Maroney from this group. Bill Belichick should have done the same back in August. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris ran hard - with lean and purpose. Kevin Faulk moved the chains on third downs with 25 yards on five rushes and 3 catches for 12 yards.
Tight ends (C) - Yes, Chris Baker caught a TD, but it took about 12 seconds for him to get open. Ben Watson had one nice grab and then disappeared. Truly unreliable group.
Receivers (B) - Treated like any other guy, Randy Moss made Atlanta pay with 10 catches for 116 yards. Julian Edelman had a Bam Childress week as opposed to being last week's Wes Welker. Joey Galloway is a lost cause. And Belichick will hold open auditions again this week to try to find another warm body that can catch.
Line (A+) - This group goes six or seven deep and doesn't drop off as Myron Pryor filled in nicely when Vince Wilfork went down with an ankle injury. It was these guys stuffing the run and stifling Michael Turner (15 carries, 56 yards).
Linebackers (B-) - Gary Guyton at least tries. I'm not sure the same can be said for Pierre Woods (1 solo). Adalius Thomas kind of hung around and made four solo tackles.
Secondary (A-) - You know and I know receivers ran free all over the field. BUT ... the bottom line is just 10 points were allowed and Matt Ryan threw for only 199. Success.
Coaching (B) - If I graded on a curve, this would have been an A+++. On a day where Belichick and the boys brought their "B" game - very little ingenuity on defense, solid but unspectacular play-calling on offense - the Pats dominated the coaching war like Dick Jauron was across the way. Mike Smith's flagrant errors make you appreciate the Belichick regime much more.
The turning point
Trailing 16-10 in the third quarter, Atlanta takes the lead with a 36-yard Matt Ryan TD pass to Michael Jenkins.
Before the celebration begins, a flag flies in from center field and the play gets called back for offensive pass interference.
"It was a tough call, two guys fighting for the ball, the ref thought I pushed off," said Jenkins. "I was looking to see what they called. The ref made the call, we had to live with it."
Instead of taking the lead, the Falcons turned the ball over and New England marched 70 yards on 16 plays, eating up 6:59 to make it a two-score game on Stephen Gostkowski's 33-yard field goal.
"That was definitely a questionable call. I don't agree with it," said Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. "If we make that play, who knows."
An officiating crew that tried to give the New England defense a touchdown on Matt Ryan's incomplete pass, forcing Falcons coach Mike Smith to blow a challenge on a call that every person in Foxboro saw clearly except for the seven men in stripes, shackled Atlanta with 7 penalties for 54 yards.
Meanwhile, the Pats were flagged just twice, once when punt cover man Terrence Wheatley ran out of bounds on his own and once on an illegal motion five-yarder on Kevin Faulk.
The fear is gone
For the second straight week, the opposing defense paid no special attention and had no special gameplan for Randy Moss.
Unlike last week when the Jets clamped Darrelle Revis on him all over the field, the Falcons played a straight up cover-two zone.
Moss feasted on the soft coverage, catching 10 balls for 116 yards.
No. 200 a flat-out gift
Hopefully, Tom Brady went over to the Atlanta locker-room and patted Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on the back, maybe even offered to buy him a beer. Atlanta's cover-2, rush-four zone standard defense was just what the doctor ordered after a week of sheer horror in New Jersey.
Brady's 200th career TD pass was a product of the Falcons' passive nature as he stood in the pocket, waiting and waiting and waiting for Chris Baker to finally break free of the coverage.
An unhurried Brady finished the day at 25 of 42 for 277 yards and the score. He is now the 27th player in NFL history to throw 200 career TD passes.
The coach never forgets
Tony Gonzalez confirmed that all the attention from the Pats' secondary stems from the 2000 season when he caught 11 balls for 147 yards and a TD against New England.
"Coach Belichick, every time I come up against him now, I get bracketed," he said. "It's not a good thing for me, but it's expected. Ever since that game, he's been like, 'That will never happen again.'"