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Unconventional Review

This defense is as scary as ever, and there was never a doubt the Patriots would beat the Falcons

Adrian Phillips (21) celebrated his fourth-quarter interception with his defensive teammates.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and storylines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

In some ways, the Patriots’ 25-0 win over the Falcons Thursday night was the quintessential Bill Belichick game, a tried-and-true blueprint for victory come to life.

The defense was scarier than those so-called Boogeymen ever were, picking off three passers for four total interceptions, sacking starter Matt Ryan four times, and holding the Falcons to 165 total yards.

The running game was relentless, with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson combining to rush for 125 yards on 22 carries, while quarterback Mac Jones was efficient, with just four incompletions in 26 attempts.


And there were just enough mistakes (a bad interception, some spotty offensive stretches, five penalties for 59 yards, including one that wiped out a 36-yard Stevenson run that looked as if it was lifted from a Ricky Williams college highlight video) that Belichick shouldn’t have a hard time keeping them humble.

Thursday games are never easy, but there was never a moment of doubt in this one, even when the score was still reasonably close. That’s what good teams do.

The Patriots have now won five straight, are 5-0 on the road, and picked up their second win in five days. They’re7-4, matching their win total from a season ago. The Patriots, to the chagrin of the rest of the league, have been fully rebuilt in a year.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review …

Three players who were worth watching

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Kendrick Bourne, Grady Jarrett, Stevenson)

Kyle Van Noy: The veteran linebacker was the most dominating player Thursday night on a defense that didn’t even let the Falcons surpass 100 total yards of offense until the final minutes of the third quarter. He finished with eight tackles and two sacks, and punctuated the win with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown. Early in the season, there was some question about how much Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower (seven tackles) had left. Those questions do not and should not get asked anymore.


Kyle Van Noy's interception return for a touchdown gave the Patriots a 25-0 lead.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

Damien Harris: Harris and Stevenson essentially split the backfield workload — the former had 10 carries for 56 yards, the latter 12 for 69 — and for most of the game it seemed as if they were having a competition to see who could truck the most Falcons defensive backs. Harris destroyed the Falcons’ Eric Harris on a 17-yard run in the second quarter, a play immediately following a 14-yard run in which Jakob Johnson wiped out linebacker Deion Jones. He certainly looked like his usual hard-running self after missing Sunday’s game because he suffered a concussion the week before.

Devin McCourty: The veteran safety is 34 years old now, but he still has impressive range. He had to cover some ground to come up with his interception early in the fourth quarter. But he made an even more impressive coverage play late in the first quarter, sprinting to his right to bust up a second-and-9 pass intended for Tajae Sharpe. McCourty is third in Patriots history with 30 interceptions, trailing only Ty Law and Raymond Clayborn, who are tied with 36.

Grievance of the game

I’ll give Mark Sanchez some credit. During the Fox pregame show (which always seems to leave me with a sensory-overload headache), he cited three players — Van Noy, McCourty, and Dont’a Hightower — as those who have aided the Patriots’ defensive turnaround.


It’s not untrue, though mentions of Matt Judon (another sack Thursday, giving him a career-high 10½) and a few others warranted mention, too.

Had Sanchez stopped there, he would have been OK. But like everyone else on Fox’s show, he kept talking after it was time to stop.

“I’m going to add a fourth, and that’s their coach, Matt Patricia,” he said. “Don’t forget, he’s back, dialing these defenses up.”

And a moment later: “That defense runs through [Hightower], and Matt Patricia, their defensive coordinator.”

Now, unless Sanchez knows something we don’t about the Patriots’ staffers responsibilities . . . actually, you know what, we can’t even give him the benefit of the doubt on that.

Patricia isn’t running the defense. Steve Belichick is calling the plays. Patricia appears to be Ernie Adams’s successor as the Odd Man of Mystery and Secretive Methods.

Sanchez didn’t know what he was talking about. It was the butt-fumble of pregame segments.


Patriots safety Kyle Dugger vs. Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts

The Patriots got their first pick right in this year’s draft. Got it right last year, too. Dugger, taken by the Patriots in the second round last season, their first selection in the draft, is becoming a star. The latest evidence: He was the primary defender responsible for shutting down Pitts, the Falcons’ dazzling rookie tight end and, frankly, Ryan’s only weapon. Dugger did it with relative ease.


Dugger made his presence known early, busting up a third-and-9 throw aimed Pitts’s way with a little more than 10 minutes left in the first quarter, more evidence his coverage skills are getting sharper by the game.

Kyle Dugger (left) had six tackles Thursday, including this one on Kyle Pitts.Todd Kirkland/Getty

Pitts, who had a catch for 7 yards in the first half, did make a 16-yard catch in the third quarter, but on the very next play Ryan went to him again and McCourty came up with his interception. Troy Aikman noted on the broadcast that Pitts seemed to quit on the play after Dugger belted him at the line.

Pitts finished with three catches on five targets for 29 yards.


(Predicted final score: Patriots 28, Falcons 3)

(Final score: Patriots 25, Falcons 0)

Ryan (19 of 28, 153 yards) looked like he aged five years from the start of this game until he was pulled mercifully in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were credited with 12 quarterback hits, but Ryan looked as if he took about 30. He just doesn’t have any help beyond Pitts . . . Jones (22 of 26, 207 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) has more than one thing in common with Tom Brady, and it’s OK to say it. Here’s one: He goes temporarily insane with rage when he makes a mistake. Brian Hoyer played the role of calming influence after Jones was picked off by AJ Terrell (terrific player) in the third quarter on a misguided throw to Jonnu Smith . . . How about that 25-0 final score, huh? Same margin as 28-3. Hey, that has to mean something.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.