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Patriots’ defense shines in win over Falcons

Malcolm Butler celebrates with teamates after goal line stand during the fourth quarter.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

It may be a short film session for the Patriots on Monday.

Not just because they put together a sound 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but also because of the fog that rolled into Gillette Stadium and grew thicker over the final three quarters.

Quarterback Tom Brady said when reviewing film on the sideline during the game that he and the offense couldn’t see much. But it didn’t derail New England from winning its third straight contest and finishing with 403 yards of offense.

“It was a great win for our team,” said Brady, who finished 21-of-29 passing for 249 yards and two touchdowns. “Our defense played so well. We made enough plays on offense. It was a great win against a really good team.


“We knew we’d have to play well in all three phases and we did.”

In a matchup between Super Bowl LI opponents, it was New England’s defense that asserted itself, including two stops on fourth down, one of which came at the goal line.

The unit, which ranked dead last in the league in yards per game and 30th in points per game entering Sunday, held Atlanta scoreless through three and a half quarters and halted a streak of six straight quarterbacks amassing 300 or more yards through the air, holding Matt Ryan to 233 yards on 23-of-33 passing.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who recorded six tackles and a pass breakup, said the defense’s improvement came through better communication.

“We had a good week of preparation,” he said. “We just had to match their intensity.”

The Falcons finished with 343 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of a season that has seen them fall to 3-3. The Patriots improved to 5-2 and gained sole possession of first place in the AFC East.


As for the fog’s effect on the defense, Butler said it was “OK.”

“It was kind of blurry, but you can still see,” he said on the field after the game. “No excuses. Just glad we could get the win.”

Here is the box score. Here is the play-by-play.

4th quarter: Patriots 23, Falcons 7

Julio Jones caught his first touchdown of the season to prevent Atlanta from being shut out on the road.

Jones plucked a 1-yard pass from Matt Ryan out of the grasp of Malcolm Butler in the end zone to cap off an 11-play, 88-yard drive.

4th quarter: Patriots 23, Falcons 0

Stephen Gostkowski made his third field goal of the game to add to New England’s lead, converting a 38-yard attempt.

Another turnover on downs

For the second time in the game, the Falcons failed to convert a fourth-down attempt.

This one was a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Kyle Van Noy brought down Taylor Gabriel for a 5-yard loss.

The Patriots’ offense took over at its own 6-yard line.

Injury updates

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has a shoulder injury and is questionable to return.

Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown is questionable to return with an ankle injury. Falcons linebacker Duke Riley has been ruled out with a knee injury. Patriots receiver Chris Hogan was examined by the independent neurological consultant in the medical tent. He eventually returned to the field.

3rd quarter: Patriots 20, Falcons 0

Stephen Gostkowski made his second field goal of the game, this time making a 21-yarder to wrap up a 13-play, 71 yard drive.

No good

Matt Bryant could not convert his second field goal attempt of the game. After having his first attempt blocked, the kicker missed a 36-yarder in the third quarter, hitting the left upright and keeping the Falcons off the scoreboard.


Halftime stats

Total yards: NE 219, ATL 130

First downs: NE 15, ATL 7

Total plays: NE 38, ATL 26

Yards per play: NE 5.8, ATL 5.0

Passing yards: NE 127, ATL 100

Rushing: NE 92, ATL 30

Penalties: NE 6 for 50 yards, ATL 5 for 35 yards

Time of possession: NE 18:16, ATL 11:44

2nd quarter: Patriots 17, Falcons 0

James White scored his first touchdown of the season on a 2-yard pass from Tom Brady just before halftime.

It capped off a seven-play, 53-yard drive that started after the Falcons turned it over on downs.

The Fog Bowl

FOXBOROUGH — The elements are interfering slightly with the viewing experience at Gillette Stadium.

The humidity level was around 88 percent when the Patriots and Falcons kicked things off on Sunday night.

By the start of the second quarter, a thick fog started creeping into the upper levels of the stadium. Around halftime, a misty haze filled the entire bowl.

While the view from television cameras aimed down at the field was blurred by the fog, cameras at field level showed that players appeared to have clear sightlines. NBC shifted to using the camera suspended above the field for parts of the third quarter, giving viewers the vantage point from behind the offensive lines.

— Nora Princiotti, Globe Staff

Stephen Gostkowski made a 29-yard field goal late in the first half as fog settled over Gillette Stadium.Barry Chin/Globe staff

2nd quarter: Patriots 10, Falcons 0

A 29-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal extended the Patriots’ lead.


The scoring drive was 14 plays in 64 yards, including a 27-yard completion from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski on third and 8.

2nd quarter: Patriots 7, Falcons 0

Brandin Cooks scored on an 11-yard touch pass to get the Patriots on the board first.

It capped a seven-play, 74 yard drive by New England after a blocked field goal.


After the Falcons drove 52 yards in 12 plays, Patriots defensive end Cassius Marsh blocked Matt Bryant’s 37-yard field goal attempt. Johnson Bademosi recovered it, and New England’s offense took over at its own 26-yard line with just over a minute left in the first quarter.

Brandon Bolden and Cassius Marsh celebrate the blocked field goal.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Defensive personnel notes for the Patriots

David Harris started at middle linebacker with Elandon Roberts inactive. Johnson Bademosi started opposite Malcolm Butler for the second straight week. Jordan Richards started at safety alongside Devin McCourty.

Yellow flags, flying everywhere

There were five penalties on the opening possession.

Coin toss

The Falcons won the coin toss — called tails — and deferred. The Patriots received the opening kickoff.

Crucial catch

Tom Brady’s parents, Galynn and Tom Brady Sr., are at Gillette Stadium, honored on the field as part of the NFL’s Crucial Catch cancer awareness initiative.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Color rush uniforms

The Falcons are wearing all white while the Patriots are wearing all navy blue.

Steven Senne/AP
Charles Krupa/AP

Warm it up

Malcolm Butler leads the Patriots with two interceptions and six passes defended.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Deatrich Wise Jr. has three sacks so far this season, second on the Patriots.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Danny Amendola entered Sunday tied for third-most receiving yards on the Patriots with 307.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Quarterback Matt Ryan is on pace to throw 19 touchdowns and 19 interceptions this season.Steven Senne/AP
Entering Sunday, Julio Jones ranked 21st in the league in receving yards with 367 and no touchdowns.Steven Senne/AP


For the Patriots, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, linebackers Elandon Roberts and Harvey Langi, tackle Cam Fleming, offensive lineman Cole Croston, and defensive lineman Geneo Grissom

Roberts is out with an ankle injury. Running back Rex Burkhead and linebacker David Harris are both active for New England.

For the Falcons, receivers Nick Williams and Marvin Hall, safety Sharrod Neasman, linebacker Jordan Tripp, guard Sean Harlow, tackle Austin Pasztor, and defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin.


Welcome to Gameday

Week 7 is here for the Patriots, pitting them against their opponent from Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons. (How many 28-3 signs do we think will be sprinkled throughout the stands in Gillette Stadium?)

New England is trying for its third straight win while Atlanta will try to avoid a third straight loss.

Follow along here as we’ll update this post throughout the game.

And we’ll have a feed of Globe reporter tweets and the Globe sports Instagram posts during the game.

For some pregame reading, here is Jim McBride’s thorough scouting report, which includes keys to victory and players to watch. Cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe were both ruled out for Sunday night’s contest. Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise is not resting on his laurels after getting the starting nod last week. Quarterback Tom Brady lamented some missed opportunities and vowed to improve his passing.

Game details:

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: NBC / WBZ 98.5.

All signs point to . . .

The Falcons famously blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

And New England fans will be gleeful in reminding the visiting team of that.

Here are a couple signs we’ve seen so far (we’ll update as we spot more):

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Pete Frates in the house

Pete Frates is at Gillette Stadium for Sunday night’s game.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the BC product, caught up with Frates before the game.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A few notes on the Patriots and Falcons

■ For as much as the Falcons heard all offseason about blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl, they haven’t gotten any better this season at defending leads. Their first-half scoring margin is 81-31, as they have allowed just 7 points in the first quarter, but it’s 40-72 in the second half. Last week, the Falcons led, 17-0, at halftime but lost, 20-17, to the Dolphins.

While they enter Sunday night’s rematch against the Patriots with a 3-2 record, they easily could have lost in Week 1 to Chicago (which failed in four shots at a winning touchdown from the 5-yard line in the final seconds) and would have lost to Detroit in Week 3 if not for a crazy finish that wiped a touchdown off the board and created a 10-second runoff.

Of course, the Patriots haven’t been much better in the second half. Their first-half scoring margin is 111-85, but it’s 61-74 in the second half, including 31-54 in the fourth quarter.

— Ben Volin, Globe Staff

■ The Patriots’ run defense is coming off its most impressive effort of the season, holding the Jets to 74 yards.

A big reason was the big men up front. The tackle rotation of Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Alan Branch, and Adam Butler closed gaps, occupied bodies, and let the guys at the second and third levels make the tackles.

Branch said another big showing is needed Sunday night as the Falcons boast a talented tailback twosome in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

While lauding Freeman’s quickness and power, Branch said one of the things that makes Freeman unique is his vision and ability “to see the next block coming.’’

Branch said Freeman “is a hard runner and he’s hard to tackle. He gives guys problems because you don’t know if he’s going to try and shake you or if he’s going to come at you with power.’’

As for Coleman, Branch said he’s impressed by his “ability to find the hole, cut in there, and get downfield quick.’’

■ The Patriots have allowed just 14 and 17 points in their last two games but still rank 30th in points allowed, leading to lots of criticism. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, however, said he pays no attention to the noise. “I really don’t read into it. I don’t think too many guys in here do,’’ Hightower said. “We’re just really concentrated on just going out and keeping the other team from scoring and getting the ball back to [Tom Brady].”

■ Matt Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP, enters Sunday’s prime-time matchup riding a streak of 50 road games with at least 200 yards passing, part of his NFL-record 60 straight games overall with at least 200 yards passing . . . The Falcons have allowed just nine offensive TDs, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL.

— Jim McBride, Globe Staff

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Follow Rachel G. Bowers on Twitter @RachelGBowers.