FOXBORO - The numbers: 17, 16 and 10.
A New England Patriots defense, considered suspect at best and flat-out trashed in more than a few circles, can strut a little bit on the way to work this morning.
Those numbers — points allowed defensively in the three games to date — sparkle. And there's no qualifying tag with this one. This wasn't "only the Jets" or "only the Bills."
The Patriots stifled one of the most lethal attacks in the game, the previously unbeaten Atlanta Falcons, 26-10 in the mist at Gillette Stadium yesterday.
"Total team effort," exclaimed cornerback Terrence Wheatley, part of a secondary that held gunslinger Matt Ryan to 199 passing yards. "We didn't blow any coverages. We played physical. We played hard and just did our assignments. That's what you get when you play smart football."
First and foremost, the Patriots defense, instead of buckling or bending when it mattered, did its job and got Tom Brady back on the field. Atlanta converted only 2 of 9 third-down tries.
That, as much as Fred Taylor's 105-yard rushing day, allowed New England to dominate the time of possession, 39:49-20:11, and keep Ryan where he can't administer any pain - on the sidelines.
For the first time this year, New England didn't bend.
Maybe there are players out there, and we just don't know it.
For starters, the defensive front again played monstrous football. That's three weeks straight now.
Sure, Richard Seymour might have been an upgrade, but who can notice with this front stepping up?
They didn't hit Ryan, who rolled out much of the day, but they eliminated Michael Turner (15 carries, 57 yards) forcing the Falcons into an uncomfortable one-dimensional position.
"Up front they handled the run game," said safety Brandon McGowan, the biggest of heroes on the defensive side. "When you know what a team is running ... it's hard to just pass with us knowing you're not going to run the ball. You can just lock those guys up."