Improving and impressive Patriots win fifth in a row, shutting out the Falcons

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Bill Belichick's first few Super Bowl championship teams didn't feature Tom Brady throwing the ball everywhere, piling up points. 

Brady was a young quarterback, and the New England Patriots won a lot of games running the ball, playing great defense, with their quarterback making enough plays to win. 

The formula is a couple decades old, but it still works. New England shut out the Atlanta Falcons 25-0, the first home shutout for the Falcons since 1988. That means the Georgia Dome lived its entire life without playing host to a Falcons shutout. But the Patriots kept Atlanta off the scoreboard Thursday night. The Patriots have won five in a row and suddenly are a real factor in the AFC East race at 7-4. 

The way the Patriots are playing with rookie quarterback Mac Jones and a stifling defense, they might be thinking about more than a division title. Rightfully so. 

New England's defense has a great night

The Falcons were without Calvin Ridley and Cordarrelle Patterson, and it showed. The Falcons didn't have much chance on offense. They have rookie tight end Kyle Pitts, but Belichick is a master at taking away one thing an offense does well. And he did on Thursday night, making Pitts a non-factor. Pitts had three catches for 29 yards. 

It was a shorthanded Falcons offense, but don't take anything away from the Patriots defense. New England hit Matt Ryan hard and often. Their pass rush controlled the game. They rarely let the Falcons past midfield. They grabbed two interceptions. And when they needed to make one big play, they did. 

In the third quarter Jones threw an interception to A.J. Terrell, who returned it to Atlanta's 48-yard line. The Falcons trailed 13-0 at that point, with some faint hope of getting back in the game. They drove to the New England 16, and went for it on fourth-and-1. The Falcons didn't have an imaginative play call, and their run right up the middle was stopped cold. 

There was more than a quarter to go but with the way the Patriots' defense was playing, everyone knew the game was over. 

Matt Judon (9) of the New England Patriots sacks Matt Ryan. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Matt Judon (9) of the New England Patriots sacks Matt Ryan. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Patriots offense does enough to win

The only question was whether the Patriots could get a shutout. An interception in the fourth quarter by J.C. Jackson practically ensured that. 

The Falcons scored in the first half, but it was taken off the board. Younghoe Koo hit a field goal, but the Falcons had to kick again due to an illegal formation penalty. Then Koo missed from 50 yards out. It was that kind of a night. 

The Patriots' offense didn't have to do much. Jones hit Nelson Agholor for a 19-yard touchdown. Nick Folk was 4-for-4 on field goals. The Patriots ran the ball very well, controlling the clock and the flow of the game. Jones made plays when he needed to and when he made a mistake, the interception to Terrell, the defense picked him up with the key fourth-down stop. Then Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who had a huge night, poured it on with an interception return for a touchdown off Josh Rosen, who replaced a banged-up Ryan in the last two minutes. Then Feleipe Franks came in for Rosen and threw another interception. 

At one point this season, the Patriots were 2-3 coming off an ugly win over Houston. Texans rookie quarterback Davis Mills carved up New England in that game. The defense hadn't played great and the offense looked like it was being run by a rookie quarterback. There was no reason to believe the Patriots could be a playoff team at that point, other than figuring Belichick would get things right. 

Belichick has gotten the Patriots on track. The Patriots aren't playing the most exciting style of football in this fast-break NFL era, but it works. Belichick knows that better than anyone, even if it has been a while since the Patriots played championship football with this blueprint. 

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