The New England Patriots were on the right end of a wild fourth quarter Sunday night. The Pats turned a close game into a big lead before holding off an impressive comeback attempt from the Atlanta Falcons for the 30-23 victory at the Georgia Dome.
Bill Belichick's squad led 13-10 heading into the final quarter, but LeGarrette Blount busted off a long 47-yard touchdown run to kick off the fourth quarter and Tom Brady caught fire to put the Pats ahead, 30-13, with about six minutes to play.
Atlanta responded with a touchdown, a successful onside kick and a field goal to make it 30-23, but wasn't able to punch it in on the game's final possession.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman combined for 245 receiving yards, as Brady threw for 316 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions to help the Pats improve to 4-0.
Matt Ryan threw for 421 yards, two scores and an interception, and the ageless Tony Gonzalez racked up 12 catches, 149 yards and two touchdowns. However, neither was enough as last year's NFC championship runners-up fell to 1-3.
The story of much of the game was the Falcons' inefficiency in the red zone. They had very little trouble marching the ball up the field, racking up 217 yards on 36 plays (6.0 yards per play) for 13 first downs and just one punt in the first half.
But a 75-yard drive to start the game fizzled into a short Matt Bryant field goal, and in the second quarter, a 67-yard drive resulted in zero points when they failed to convert on a fourth-down conversion inside the 10-yard line.
Bleacher Report's Knox Barden summed it up:
Overall, the Falcons finished 1-of-6 in red-zone scoring opportunities.
On the other side of the gridiron, Tom Brady showed the Falcons how it's done, finding Matthew Mulligan for a one-yard touchdown to cap off a 75-yard drive and put the Patriots ahead, 7-3.
After a Stephen Gostkowski field goal, the Falcons found a solution to their red-zone problems by simply scoring from the 21-yard line, as Ryan connected with the Gonzalez to tie the game at 10 just before halftime.
But eventually, those early missed opportunities would come back to haunt the Falcons.
That time came in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots offense exploded. Blount's long TD run to begin the quarter, Brady found Thompkins for an 18-yard score, and Gostkowski added a field goal to make it 30-13 with 6:18 to go.
The Falcons weren't about to go crumble in front of their home fans, though.
Matt Ryan led an 80-yard touchdown drive in just under two minutes, and after Pats rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld fumbled away the ensuing onside kick, Ryan led Atlanta right back down for a 25-yard field goal.
With just minutes left in the game, Brady and the Pats were lined up to go for it on fourth down but a fumbled snap and the ensuing turnover on downs gave the Falcons one last opportunity to tie the game.
With under a minute to go, Ryan once again drove down the field with ease. But the Falcons couldn't score from inside the 20 and the Patriots escaped with the win, as Roddy White could not haul down Ryan's final fourth-down pass in the end zone.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: A-
Although Brady's first touchdown throw was of the one-yard variety, it was about as accurate of a throw you'll see. He had virtually no window, but somehow found his tight end for the score:
For most of the game, Brady continued to display that accuracy. He missed on a few throws early in the game and was plagued by a couple of drops, but for the most part, he moved the ball with ease.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons: B-
Ryan's final numbers were pretty, but it was an uneven performance.
He missed an open Roddy White on fourth and short in the red zone early in the game, and he threw a fourth-quarter interception with the Falcons down by two touchdowns. Even as he was leading long drives late in the fourth quarter during the comeback attempt, he missed some throws.
I'll let Rotoworld's Evan Silva sum it up:
Aqib Talib, CB, New England Patriots: A
When Talib matched up with Jones, he absolutely shut him down. In the end, he finished with an interception and four pass deflections, including the game-winning breakup on the last play.
Even those transcendent numbers don't even fully tell the story of how spectacular Talib was on Sunday. He was vital to New England's win.
The Patriots head to Cincinnati to take on the struggling Bengals on Sunday, while the Falcons will attempt to right the ship at home against the New York Jets on Monday night.