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Patriots notebook

Patriots’ interior defensive linemen were right in the middle of this victory

Defensive tackle Carl Davis stops Atlanta's Qadree Ollison on fourth down deep in New England territory.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The defense had Mac Jones’s back.

While the Patriots rookie quarterback was doing a slow burn on the sideline after throwing a third-quarter interception, his defense was building a firewall.

While the turnover could have been a momentum-changer that allowed the floundering Falcons to get back in the game, the visiting 11 was not about to let that happen or let their young quarterback down.

While the secondary and the edge rushers received most of the headlines from New England’s 25-0 whitewashing of the team in black Thursday night, it was the big behemoths in the middle who ended this threat.


Atlanta looked like it might finally be finding a rhythm on offense as Matt Ryan moved the home team into the red zone.

Facing a third and 1 at New England’s 16, Ryan handed off to fullback Keith Smith, who was immediately met by Dont’a Hightower and Adrian Phillips and stopped for no gain. On fourth down, tailback Qadree Ollison was swamped by tackle Carl Davis and Phillips.

The sequence highlighted the work of New England’s tackles, who often fly under the radar but have been exceptional at controlling the line of scrimmage, moving bodies, and creating space for the linebackers and defensive backs to fly around and make stops.

New England’s group is versatile, with most of the linemen able to play several techniques. It also has a nice mix of valuable veterans (Davis, Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux, and Deatrich Wise Jr.) and the youthful exuberance and power of rookie Christian Barmore.

“They really do a good job, and to have more than one of them so that you can have somewhat of a rotation, keep them fresh, and attack the middle of the offensive line, whether it’s run or pass from the guard/center gap to the center in different ways, it can be very disruptive,” Bill Belichick said Friday morning.


The coach explained the challenges the group creates with its physicality because they must be accounted for on every play.

“It’s not like a corner or an outside linebacker, somebody you can run away from or work the other side on,” he said. “Those guys in the middle of the formation, the defensive tackles, the middle linebackers, they’ve got to deal with them on every play. The depth and the ability to have more than one guy do that has been huge. They’ve all done a good job.”

The New England defense held Atlanta to 165 total net yards, including just 40 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Block party

Jakob Johnson never got his hands on the football Thursday night, but did he ever get his hands on some Falcon defenders.

The fullback was a terrorizing lead blocker, crashing into linebackers at the second level to provide paths for Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

Perhaps his best sequence came on the Patriots’ lone touchdown drive. On back-to-back Harris runs of 14 and 17 yards, Johnson erased two linebackers. First, he lined up in the traditional I-formation and hit the B gap and pummeled Deion Jones. On the second carry, the Patriots went sweep right, where Johnson blasted Foyesade Oluokun.

Finally, Johnson slipped into a flat route and safety Duron Harmon followed him, leaving the middle of the field open for Jones to hit Nelson Agholor for the score.


“Jakob brings a real physical style to the game,’’ Belichick said. “He does a good job on lead blocks and that helps sell some of the play-actions. When he leads up in there, it creates space behind the linebackers.”

Zeroed in

The shutout was the 30th in Patriots history and 13th under Belichick . . . Guy was named the NFLPA’s Community MVP for Week 11 after he and his wife, Andrea, hosted a baby shower that provided more than $40,000 in products for 20 area mothers in need. “Giving back has always been a priority of mine, and I am so grateful to be able to have a platform to help others and raise awareness in areas that are in need,” Guy said … Devin McCourty now has 30 career interceptions. Only Ty Law (36) and Raymond Clayborn (36) have more in franchise history . . . New England intercepted all three Falcons QBs: Ryan, Josh Rosen, and Feleipe Franks. It was the first time three QBs on the same team each threw picks since Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Leaf, and Moses Moreno did so for the Chargers against the Dolphins in 2000 . . . Franks was selected by the Red Sox in the 31st round of the 2019 draft but the former high school pitcher stuck with football.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.