The Falcons' defense bent again, but it did not break. Down by three points at halftime, I'm thinking that despite all of the yards they've accumulated the Falcons are probably thinking they could have done a lot better.
In fact, judging from the look of Tom Brady, whom the broadcast showed in a number of situations looking angry (it's probably a good thing Fox didn't pick up the audio or it might be looking at a fine from the Federal Communications Commission), both teams are probably thinking the same thing.
At half, both teams have 179 yards total offense. As I mentioned before, red zone defense and turnovers are going to be huge. The Falcons got another big stop with three straight incomplete passes by New England that forced the Patriots into that go-ahead field goal just before halftime. But the turnover -- a fumble by Michael Turner that was recovered by New England's James Sanders -- is the difference right now. In regards to that turnover, here's what Troy Aikman had to say at the time: "Michael Turner was not careless with the ball. He had both arms wrapped around it."
I suppose there are two big surprises: Tony Gonzalez, with seven catches last week, has none so far and the Patriots have 92 rushing yards. I would suggest that would be one of the Falcons' big halftime adjustments -- trying to find a way to get No. 88 the ball and another will be shoring up that run defense. Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith often talks about how the team's philosophy is to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Well, they're not controlling it when New England is on offense. Smith mentioned during the week how the pass-happy Patriots (averaging 50 attempts the first two weeks) can totally change things around and run it. Their run looks real effective right now.
Here's more from the broadcast. After Eric Weems' nice kickoff return following the Patriots' touchdown, the Fox broadcast showed an image of Smith speaking sternly to his defense. Jamaal Anderson seemed to be the focal point of Smith's attention. Said Joe Buck: "Mike Smith moments ago, taking a bite out of that defense." Who knows when they took the image -- could've been after the roughing the passer call on Anderson in the first quarter -- or maybe Smitty was just getting after his defensive line to stop the run. The Falcons really got gashed by Fred Taylor (54 yards on seven carries and one touchdown in the first half) on that touchdown drive.
Here's a few other random thoughts from the first half:
Looks like Mike Mularkey is not taking a page out of Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen's goal-line play calling. (Did anyone see that yesterday when Miss. State -- yes, you, Falcons intern Vance McCullough, a Mississippi State student, I'm sure you saw it -- couldn't score on four tries from the 2 -yard line or closer, failing to score a potentially huge upset over LSU? It was pretty sorry.) Well, Mularkey knew that a little dose of Turner up the middle would do the trick. *
Replay challenges are playing a huge factor. The game could've been really out of hand if Smith didn't get that non-fumble by Matt Ryan returned for a touchdown by New England. Then New England lost a challenge on Michael Jenkins' catch at the Patriots 2 that set up Turner's score. *
The Falcons also weren't helped on that touchdown drive by Michael Koenen's 29-yard punt. Koenen had a huge game last week against Carolina, booming two long ones when the Falcons needed him to in order to make the Panthers' offense drive a longer field. *
Penalties are hurting the Falcons. Koenen's punt combined with Christopher Owens'5-yard penalty for an illegal touch the Falcons gave New England the ball at their own 44. That's way too short of a field to ask the Falcons to hold against Brady and Co. *
The Falcons had another fourth-down conversion. The Falcons are now 3 for 3 going for it on fourth down the last two weeks. That's huge. I'm thinking there's probably a big correlation between successful fourth down conversions and wins. *
Brady still isn't in sync with his offense. There was so much talk about this during the week with Brady missing all of last season (except that one quarter of the first game) and then the Patriots' failing to score a touchdown in their loss to the Jets. On that last scoring drive for New England (with the three incompletions), here's what Aikman had to say: "[New England receveiver] Sam Aiken did not do what Tom Brady was expecting." Probably this part of the lingering affect of Wes Welker being out. How can any team make up for the loss of a player who has had 223 catches the last two years? *
Patriots massive defensive tackle Vince Wilfork went to the locker room in the second quarter. That could be a big factor in the second half. *