The New England Patriots played a back and forth game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in a close one which went down to the wire. The injuries have become a major concern for New England which had three more players hurt during the game. The Patriots had to play against a Michael Vick-less Falcons team without their top defender Richard Seymour. The concern now is whether the Patriots can continue to win without key starters.
PHOTO: New England Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour smiles as he talks to his defensive line coach Pepper Johnson August 3, 2005 (AP Photo/ Robert E. Klein)
RECAP: Injuries a big concern
By Site Staff
Moving forward toward a Week 6 matchup with the Broncos in Denver, the story surrounding the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champs is the same as it has been through the previous five weeks of 2005 -- injuries. The Patriots lost linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson in the offseason and left tackle Matt Light, running back Kevin Faulk and defensive leader Rodney Harrison in a win over Pittsburgh in Week 3, and All-Pro defensive tackle Richard Seymour joined the list with a left knee injury suffered while playing goal-line fullback in New England's loss to San Diego.
Listed as questionable and having "missed a portion" of team practice each day last week as the team prepped for the Falcons, Seymour didn't make the trip with the team to Atlanta. Fourth-year reserve defensive lineman Jarvis Green started in Seymour's place against the Falcons in New England's 3-4 front and finished the game tied for second on the defense with five tackles while adding a half-sack.
Seymour's absence, should he once again be unavailable for the team's trip to Denver, puts even more stress on a New England defensive front that has seemingly faced strong tests on a weekly basis this season without a full lineup of defensive options. Starting with a trip to Carolina in Week 2, then moving on to face Pittsburgh, San Diego, Atlanta and now Denver, the Patriots have gone up against some of the best rushing attacks in football.
The results have been mixed. The Patriots held tough against the Panthers and Steelers, then fell apart in allowing LaDainian Tomlinson to rush for 134 yards in the unit's first full game without Harrison. Last week without Seymour, the Patriots held the Falcons, a team that entered the game averaging more than 200 yards rushing per game, to a more than respectable 116 yards on 26 carries (4.5 average). To be fair, Atlanta was without rushing quarterback Michael Vick who, like Seymour, was inactive for the game with a knee injury.
So the question remains whether the loss of Seymour, the third Pro Bowl starter the Patriots have lost from last season's unit, if even for the short term, is yet another proverbial straw that will break the camel's back.
Only time will tell, but how the defense responds to a tough test this week in Denver against a mobile quarterback, zone-blocking line and diverse rushing attack could go a long way toward the Patriots' postseason hopes. Atlanta backup quarterback Matt Schaub found big openings in the New England secondary, and the ground game kept the Falcons balanced. Thankfully for Patriots fans, Tom Brady and the offense found enough equally big plays of their own.
It's hard to win in the NFL on a consistent basis by simply outscoring opponents, but that's what the Patriots have had to do in recent weeks. Could that continue without Seymour and Co. over the short haul? Sure. Can the team defend its Super Bowl titles that way? Not likely.
The Patriots went into the Georgia Dome and used a dominating offensive attack to beat the Falcons 31-28 on a 29-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with 17 seconds to play.
Bouncing back from a disappointing second-half offensive effort in a Week 4 loss to San Diego, New England put up 483 yards of offense, led by a 22-of-27, 350-yard performance from Tom Brady. Brady spread the ball around to nine receivers while throwing three touchdown passes and just one pick, although Deion Branch (eight catches, 107 yards) and tight Daniel Graham (five catches, 119 yards, one touchdown) did a bulk of the work. Corey Dillon chipped for his first 100-yard performance of 2005 with 23 carries for 106 yards.
Defensively, New England benefited by not having to face Michael Vick, who missed the game with a knee injury. Atlanta backup Matt Schaub had an impressive day, completing 18 of 34 passes for 298 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 112.1 passer rating. Schaub connected on a number of big plays and just missed on a few others against a banged up and still suspect New England secondary. The Falcons also gained 116 yards on 26 rushes (4.5 average), led by Warrick Dunn's 83 yards on 19 attempts, as New England continues to try to tighten up its defensive play.
In the end though, New England made more plays offensively, and that carried the defending champs to a big road win that improves the team's record to 3-2. And the win came in true Patriots fashion as Brady led the team on a fourth-quarter drive to set up Vinatieri's field goal against one of the top handful of teams in football. It wasn't pretty, and beyond the offense's output, it wasn't dominant. But winning on the road in the NFL isn't about style points. Patriots coach Bill Belichick will take the win and move on to prepare his team for another tough road game this week in Denver.
"I'm proud of our players," Belichick said after the win. "They stepped up and made plays when they had to against a real good team. They withstood an assault and made enough plays to win."
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