ATLANTA — BenJarvus Green-Ellis is long gone — although the Patriots will see him this Sunday – but the law firm was well represented at the Georgia Dome in New England’s 30-23 prime-time win Sunday night over the Falcons.
If Green-Ellis was an established partner in his time spent with the Patriots, this new quartet of young, obscure associates rolls off the tongue just as well.
Vellano, Mulligan, Jones, Buchanan.
Not exactly the contributors’ names that Patriots fans would have expected, either before the season or even at the start of Sunday night’s game. But there they were, catching touchdown passes, filling in for Pro Bowlers, and sacking Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Things got extremely tight late, with the Falcons scoring 10 points in the last 4½ minutes to cut a 17-point deficit to 7, then driving to the Patriots’ 10 in the final minute. It turned what had been a Patriots’ breather into something unexpectedly dramatic.
The late push might have overshadowed the efforts of Joe Vellano, Matthew Mulligan, Chris Jones, and Michael Buchanan. Or, considering how close the game ended up being, maybe it reinforced how important they were to the outcome.
Three rookies and a Maine native. The Patriots likely wouldn’t have stayed perfect on the season without them.
Mulligan’s first — and so far only — reception as a Patriot couldn’t have been any shorter. It went for 1 yard, but resulted in a second-quarter touchdown on third down that got the visitors on the scoreboard.
Mulligan had been on the field for only 19 snaps prior to the game, but caught a crossing pattern from Tom Brady for his second NFL touchdown. He had one last season, when the Bangor native was playing for the Rams.
The other three — Vellano, Buchanan, and Jones — are rookies who play defense. All were pressed into service when Vince Wilfork left the game with an ankle injury on the Patriots’ opening defensive series.
Vellano went undrafted. Buchanan was picked in the seventh round, and Jones in the sixth, drafted by the Buccaneers, who released him before the Patriots swooped in and claimed him off waivers.
When Wilfork went down, Vellano was the first to step in, taking over at defensive tackle and lining up next to Tommy Kelly. Vellano saw action in the first three games (seven tackles), but received substantial snaps against the Falcons, and performed well, as he has the first month of the season.
Vellano registered his first sack when he dragged down Matt Ryan in the third quarter, a loss of 13 yards. The Maryland product finished with three tackles.
Buchanan, a quick edge rusher, has shown an ability to get to the quarterback, and did so again. He brought Ryan down on the Falcons’ next series, a loss of 10 yards early in the fourth quarter that prompted the Falcons to kick a field goal. Buchanan was helped on the play by Vellano, who could have received credit for another half-sack.
Jones had been inactive the past two games (and wasn’t on the active roster for the opener), but got the call this time, and saw his first action at defensive tackle, spelling Vellano and bringing a fresh set of legs in to chase Ryan & Co. Jones recorded one tackle.
The bigger names will get more of the credit: Brady threw for 316 yards, the running game delivered, and Aqib Talib had an interception in his third straight game, not to mention knocking down the final pass by the Falcons in the end zone.
But Vellano, Mulligan, Jones, and Buchanan left their mark. Without it, the Patriots might have been handed a much different verdict.