A quick glance at the Patriots ticket exchange this morning showed over a hundred tickets available for tonight’s game, which is a first for this season. Maybe it’s because it’s a late one or maybe because fans have, in the words of Hudson from Aliens, “a bad feeling about this drop“.
Does any of us really know what to expect tonight? It seems like a tall order to expect the Patriots defense to hold the Falcons under 30 points no matter how bad Atlanta’s looked in back-to-back home losses to the Bills and Dolphins. Those poor performances were largely powered by turnovers. In the last three games the Falcons have seven turnovers, but those are fickle as we saw with the 2010 Patriots’ defense who lived off turnovers and helped power the team to a 14-2 season. Then the Jets didn’t have a giveaway in the playoff game and the Pats couldn’t overcome it.
On paper it would appear that the Patriots defense must get a pick or force a fumble if they’re to get the Falcons off track.
Still, I, like most of you I’m sure, am still waiting for the Patriots defense to suddenly come alive. It’s been too many years of good football for the sloppiness and inconsistency to continue. At least that’s what I’m still telling myself. So as much as I want to just resign myself to it being a long night of the Falcons going up and down the field, I can’t bring myself to abandon hope just yet, especially when great football defense can happen even when you think your defense sucks.
There have been plenty of really good plays by the defense this season, but they are easily overshadowed by the embarrassing ones. But it’s a thin line and when all defenders “do their job” quality defense can look pretty easy. The emergence of really good run defense last week has been my silver lining all week. When your run defense is dominant it makes things so much easier on the pass defense. But they better be prepared for Devonta Freeman to run like the Patriots defense stole something from him, which they of course did, while embarrassing him in the process.
Maybe the best thing that could happen tonight would be for the Patriots to get an early lead and to finally play a game on their terms. How different would this defense play early on if they’re playing with the lead?
Here’s what I still believe — the Patriots don’t get blown out even when they get dominated. Tonight will be a back and forth affair and the chess match of how Atlanta plays Brady will be fascinating. Remember in the Super Bowl, Atlanta clogged the middle of the field, and once Brady started going outside the Pats started moving the ball at will. In 2017, throwing outside is what the Pats do better than the quick-open Edelman routes that powered last year’s offense.
Will Atlanta alter their gameplan given Cooks and Hogan, and how they were carved in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Super Bowl? Or will they stick with what shut the old Patriots offense down for nearly three quarters?
Aside from the Super Bowl rematch narrative, this is a defining game for both teams. Atlanta cannot lose three in a row. The Patriots cannot lose their third of four games at home this season. Something has to give, and whatever it is will largely define the rest of both team’s seasons. It should be fascinating to watch, late into the night (ugh).