There was a whirlwind of questions surrounding the New England Patriots heading into last night's game. Sure, they had managed to post three straight victories to open the season 3-0, but the haters simply refused to acknowledge that beating the Bills, Jets, and Bucs was anything to feel good about.
Look, I get it. The first two games were anything but pretty. It was hard to watch Wes Welker catch touchdowns from Peyton Manning while Danny Amendola sat on the sindelines with a groin injury. Still, there were plenty of positives to take away from the first three games. The young receivers were making strides. The defense looked noticeably improved from last season. Still, in the minds of many, the Patriots hadn't "proven" anything yet. They needed to beat Atlanta on the road to somehow "validate" the fact that they belonged among the AFC contenders.
How's that for validation?
Aqib Talib (DB) – I think it's safe to say that no Patriot had a better night than Talib. The man blanketed Julio Jones and made him a non-factor for most of the evening. Sure, he had plenty of safety help, but Talib got the job done. He made his fourth interception in as many games, and when the game was on the line, he came up with a HUUUUUUUGE stop on 4th down to ice the game.
Pay the man already!
Kenbrell Thompkins (WR) – The undrafted rookie was Brady's go-to target on the evening. He made an outstanding catch on 3rd and forever to keep a drive alive that lead to the Patriots first touchdown in the 2nd half. He also made a terrific diving grab in the end zone for a score as well.
LeGarrett Blount (RB) – Following Thompkins' huge grab, Blount ripped off a massive 47-yard run into the end zone. He also made a "game-winning" run on 3rd and 1 on the Patriots' final drive, clearly making it to the first-down marker before the referees inexplicably marked the ball a good two feet backwards.
Joe Vellano (DT) – The rookie came up big in place of Vince Wilfork, recording an important sack on Matt Ryan.
Stephen Gostkowski (K) – The Ghost ices three field goals and is now 11 for 12 on the year.
The Referees – I'm not putting a single Patriot on the Fallers list this week. Everyone stepped up their game and fought hard and I'd be nit-picking to put somebody in this spot over a single missed tackle or other error. Instead, let me rant about the debauchery that was the officiating down the stretch in last night's game. For starters, how is the instant replay equipment not working when Belichick challenged a questionable catch that ultimately set up the Falcon's touchdown in the 4th quarter? Then, what about the horrific, horrific spot they gave on LeGarrett Bloun'ts 3rd and 1 run? The replay shows he's clearly across the yellow line. A yellow line which is clearly laid directly over a yard marker. Yet somehow after a booth review they still get the spot completely wrong? The game was essentially over at that point if they simply put the football down anywhere within the same zip code of where Blount was actually down. Then, they allow Julio Jones to push off like an Olympic swimmer at the turn on his big catch at the end of the game. No call there of course.
In the end, Aqib Talib and the defense simply would not be denied. But boy, did those refs do everything in their power to keep America from turning off the TV and heading to bed a few minutes early.