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Halftime analysis: Patriots and Falcons tied at 10

09.29.13 at 9:51 pm ET
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After two quarters, the Patriots and Falcons are tied at 10. Here are a few quick notes:

• The Falcons — who came into the game tied with the Chiefs for the best first-quarter point differential in the league at plus-31 — got on the board with their first drive when Matt Ryan engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that stalled out in the red zone when Ryan tossed a pair of incompletes toward the end zone. Matt Bryant banged home a 23-yard field goal with 9:27 left in the first quarter to make it 3-0, but the stop represented a positive for the Patriots, as they kept the Falcons out of the end zone.

• Atlanta was stopped on its second drive of the night, and then took a big risk on the third when they went for it on 4th and 2 at the New England 7-yard line. Ryan couldn’t connect on a pass play to Roddy White, and the Patriots took over on downs. It was a bold move — but one that failed when they couldn’t properly execute. The Falcons bounced back nicely with a crisp, efficient drive at the end of the half that ended with a Ryan pass to Tony Gonzalez to tie the game at 10 with 38 seconds left in the second quarter. It was the first touchdown the Patriots had allowed in six-plus quarters — their last touchdown allowed came with 5:05 left in the third quarter of the Week 2 win over the Jets.

• Offensively, the Patriots couldn’t get anything going on their first drive, as the series slowed to a stop after a pair of drops from rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. On New England’s second series, the Patriots were able to really do a good job grinding down the Atlanta run defense, as they pounded it downfield — 10 of the 12 plays on the drive were runs — and finished it off with a 1-yard pass from Tom Brady to Matthew Mulligan, the first touchdown catch of the season by a New England tight end. It was a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:05, and encompassed the end of the first quarter and start of the second quarter.

• The offensive highlight of the first half was a Brady pass to Thompkins that went for 49 yards down the sideline, a heave from Brady that saw Thompkins go up and fight for the ball against the Atlanta defenders who were in coverage. It was the longest pass play of the season for the Patriots, besting the 39-yard touchdown pass to Dobson in Week 2 against the Jets. That series ended with a 48-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski that made it 10-3 with 2:57 remaining in the first half.

• On New England’s first defensive series of the evening, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork went down with what appeared to be a right ankle injury. He was taken to the locker room, and the team announced that his return was questionable. Joe Vellano appeared to get most of the reps in his place. (Late in the second quarter, Brandon Bolden suffered a knee injury, and the Patriots announced he was questionable to return.)

• Three other defensive wrinkles we noticed over the first two quarters from the Patriots: One, New England appeared to play mostly nickel, utilizing a 4-2-5 set against the Atlanta passing game. Two, the Patriots went after Julio Jones with a steady dose of Aqib Talib, and while it wasn’t exclusive, it looked an awful lot like the defensive game plan they used last week against Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson. And three, perhaps because of Atlanta’s decision to go hurry-up (at least early on), the Patriots didn’t kick Chandler Jones into the defensive tackle spot for more than a few snaps (at least by our count) throughout the first quarters. Of course, part of that could be because he was doing a very good job dominating Atlanta tackle Sam Baker. (Baker went out with an injury midway through the second quarter.) Jones bumped inside for a handful of snaps in the second quarter.

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