ATLANTA (AP) — Led by a defense that is downright nasty, the New England Patriots are suddenly playing with the swagger of their Tom Brady years.
Mac Jones threw a 19-yard scoring pass to Nelson Agholor for the game’s only offensive touchdown and Kyle Van Noy and the New England defense took care of the rest, blanking the Atlanta Falcons 25-0 on Thursday night for the Patriots’ fifth straight victory.
New England (7-4) has allowed just 13 points in its last three games.
“We’re catching our stride,” said linebacker Matthew Judon, who picked up another sack to push his total for the season to a career-best 10.5. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
New England (7-4) wasn’t as dominating as four days earlier, when the Patriots blew out the Browns 45-7, but it was a thorough beatdown of a feeble Falcons team that hasn’t scored a touchdown in nearly nine quarters.
New England has its longest winning streak since an 8-0 start to the 2019 season, which turned out to be Brady’s final year with the Patriots.
“I feel like we’ve got one of the best defenses in the league,” said cornerback J.C. Jackson, who had one of the four picks by the Patriots.
Atlanta (4-6) was shut out for the first time since a 38-0 loss to Carolina on Dec. 13, 2015.
Matt Ryan was sacked four times and intercepted twice, enduing another miserable performance — this one in prime time — after posting the lowest passer rating of his career in a 43-3 rout by the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
“It’s been a tough five days offensively,” Ryan said. “We haven’t thrown the ball well enough, we haven’t run the ball well enough.”
The Patriots drove 76 yards in seven plays for a touchdown early in the second quarter.
Damien Harris did most of the dirty work, running four times for 34 yards and grabbing a 9-yard pass, before Agholor got open over the middle against busted coverage, hauled in the throw from Jones and scooted to the end zone.
Jones completed 22 of 26 for 207 yards.
“It was a good team win,” the rookie quarterback said. “The defense stepped up and played really well.”
Van Noy had two sacks and capped his brilliant defensive performance with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown off Falcons backup QB Josh Rosen.
Nick Folk booted field goals of 32, 44, 53 and 33 yards.
Atlanta’s only chance to make a game of it came after A.J. Terrell’s 35-yard interception return sparked a drive that reached the New England 16 in the final minute of the third quarter.
On fourth and 1, the Falcons handed the ball to Qadree Ollison, who had been promoted from the practice squad just before the game. He was swallowed up by the Patriots for no gain.
Atlanta simply had no offensive punch with hybrid star Cordarrelle Patterson unable to go because of an ankle injury.
The Patriots devoted much of their attention to rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, limiting the first-round pick to three catches for 29 yards.
Of course, any meeting between these two teams is sure to bring back memories of the greatest comeback — and collapse — in Super Bowl history. In 2017, the Falcons squandered a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter and lost to the Brady-led Patriots 34-28 in overtime.
The Falcons should’ve known they were in a for a long night when a lunar eclipse occurring after the game was set to last three hours — and 28 minutes.
Yep, another reminder of 3-28.
The Patriots social media team couldn’t resist a little poke, sending out a tweet before the game that said, “We weren’t going to mention it but … You can’t make this stuff up.”
FINISHING IT OFF
The Patriots didn’t let up, even after the Falcons essentially put up the white flag by pulling Ryan.
Van Noy dropped back into coverage to pick off a pass that was intended for Russell Gage, returning it for the TD that finished off the scoring.
The Falcons then sent in third-string quarterback Feleipe Franks, who received the same treatment from the New England defense.
On his only play, Franks was intercepted by Adrian Phillips.
The Falcons became the first team since Nov. 12, 2000, to have three QBs picked off in the same game. It last occurred when San Diego’s Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Leaf and Moses Moreno threw interceptions in a 17-7 loss to the Dolphins.
A terrible sequence in the second quarter epitomized Atlanta’s offensive woes.
On third and less than a yard at the New England 14, Ryan was thrown down by Van Noy for a 13-yard loss.
The Falcons still appeared to salvage some points when Younghoe Koo kicked a 45-yard field goal, only to have it wiped off the board by an illegal formation penalty on lineman Jason Springs.
Forced to kick again, Koo’s 50-yarder veered wide left of the upright.
Patriots: Host the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans (8-2) Nov. 26 in what is shaping up to be one of the biggest games of the year.
Falcons: Travel to Jacksonville on Nov. 26 to face the woeful Jaguars (2-7).
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and find his work at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.