"We made mistakes in all three phases," Smith noted. "There's a lot of hard work to do and a lot of evaluations we have to make so that we can play better and improve as a team..."
Thursday evening in Atlanta, Georgia was the first away game of the 2010 preseason for the New England Patriots as they faced the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. As Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense showed off its depth, the Falcons struggled to complete scoring drives. The second preseason game concluded with the Patriots holding the Falcons to just 10 points.
With a final score of 28-10, the Patriots are now 2-0 in the preseason.
Defensive Backs Make Impact
Highlights for the Patriots defensive backs included several plays by rookie cornerback Devin McCourty. The 2010 first round pick started his second consecutive game as a Patriot and continued to show he can hold his own against some of the league's top receivers. McCourty led the defense with five combined tackles and displayed solid awareness in the passing defense. Providing tight coverage on a receiver like Atlanta's Roddy White was a test for McCourty, one which may allow him to secure a spot playing opposite Darius Butler or Leigh Bodden.
White spoke about the struggles the Falcons had on Thursday.
"We've got to find a way to finish drives and convert some of those third downs and things like
That" White said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job, we've just got to continue to get better and just keep going."
The defenses' second unit, however, still showed some weakness against the Falcons' sole successful scoring drive. Terrence Wheatley did have the only interception of the game while Kyle Arrington made his second dominant showing in the preseason after making a big hit against Falcons' running back Antone Smith. Arrington continued to play on both special teams and was a constant presence in zone coverage.
Tight Ends Produce Immediate Results
The Patriots finally began to show off exactly why they drafted two tight ends early in the 2010 Draft. Both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were starters on Thursday night and both succeeded in their respective roles.
Hernandez showed finesse in the end zone catching a perfectly thrown ball by Tom Brady in the second quarter. The Florida rookie averaged 11.5 yards per catch and even lined up in the wide receiver spot for a few plays. Hernandez even managed to take a snap at the fullback position. If his versatility was questioned in the preseason, his performance against the Falcons quieted any skeptics.
Rob Gronkowski may not have made as many crowd-pleasing catches as his fellow rookie, but his performance Thursday night can hardly be overlooked. The towering tight end was efficient catching 4 of 4 passes for 38 yards but it was his 28 yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer that solidified his growing comfort with the Patriots' offense.
Bill Belichick discussed how, although impressive, the rookies still have plenty to learn.
"TE Rob Gronkowski and TE Aaron Hernandez both have shown flashes of good things," Belichick said. "But they still have a ways to go. They are working hard to make progress."
New England Patriots running back Fred Taylor (21) scores a touchdown in the first quarter as Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dominique Franks (24) gives chase during their pre-season NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
The Running Game
Along with the tight end focus, the running game has also been emphasized more than in the previous season. Fred Taylor totaled 11 carries for 54 yards and also had a rushing touchdown. Taylor's 28 yard rush into the end zone in the first quarter has been the veteran's most impressive run since the Patriots signed him last season.
Bill Belichick talked about Taylor's performance and progress in his post game interview.
"...All the running backs had long runs at one point or another tonight. Fred has had a good camp and he has been out there everyday. He has worked hard and he is in condition. He looks like he has come a long way."
Although the Patriots have averaged about two rushing touchdowns per game in the preseason, the leading back has yet to be established. Sammy Morris also rushed for 52 yards and scored a touchdown against Atlanta. Morris' score came in the third quarter. Both players saw limited time in the preseason opener last week.
During the Saints game, it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis who had the most carries while Laurence Maroney was responsible for two short yardage scores. It was clear that the Bill Belichick was fairly distributing carries among the running backs on the roster, all seven of them.
Sammy Morris saw plenty of positives to the running attack, "As a group, I think we did well," Morris stated. "...The way we rotated everybody by the end, kind of allowed us to be fresh."
Keeping the unit fresh and explosive was a major issue for the Patriots all of last season with several dropped balls by Maroney and Taylor's early season injury. Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were distributed carries for most of the previous season.
Welker Makes Surprise Appearance
Wes Welker's return to the field has highly anticipated by fans and experts alike. Many observers assumed that the slot receiver wouldn't be ready to run routes until after the first regular season game. To the surprise of most people Welker was fully dressed and ready to play. He even led the Patriots as they charged onto the field prior to kickoff.
Of the three times he was targeted Welker finished with two receptions on the night for a total of 20 yards. As quick as he stepped onto the field, Welker was then quickly taken out of the game. The goal, as Welker discussed in his post game interview, was to slowly work back into playing consistently.
When asked if Brady or anyone said anything in the huddle to him before his first play, Welker claimed it was all professional.
"It was strictly business and going out there and doing our job and calling the play and everything like that." Welker confirmed, "There weren't any inspirational moments or [anything] touchy-feely like that. It was just playing ball."
If Welker continues the recovery progress at this pace, then it will only be a matter of time before the Patriots' top slot receiver will be back in business.
New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker (83) is pulled down by Atlanta Falcons defender Chevis Jackson (22) in the first quarter of their pre-season NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Patriots training camp is officially over and the rest of the season's team practices will be closed to the public.
The Patriots return to Gillette Stadium on Thursday, August 26 to face the St. Louis Rams in the third preseason game. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM EST.
Kisha Tapangan is a contributing writer for PatriotsInsider.com She also maintains her personal blog Necessary Roughness and can be found on Twitter @KishaT. Be sure to check in all camp long for regular updates by Kisha