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Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons looked lost in a fog against a Patriots defense that hadn't put up much resistance this season.
The Falcons were grounded in a thick New England peasouper on Sunday night, losing 23-7 in a rematch that had none of the excitement of the Super Bowl the teams took to overtime in February.
Following up a collapse in the NFL championship game, when they blew a 25-point lead, the Falcons (3-3) fell behind 23-0 on Sunday night before a touchdown with 4:09 left helped them avoid a shutout.
"The defense kept making plays, and we kept going out there and chipping away," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "They had some big stops in the red area; the fourth-down plays were huge. It was great complementary football and everyone did a great job contributing."
The Patriots (5-2) were the first team in league history to allow more than 300 passing yards in the first six games of the season. But they held Ryan, the reigning NFL MVP, to just 233 yards - 76 of them on a garbage-time scoring drive.
"This was a reminder that when we play the game the right way, we can do good things on defense," Patriots safety Duron Harmon said when asked if the defending Super Bowl champions wanted to send a message to the league.
"If anything, we got a message for ourselves," he said. "Letting us know: If we just do the right things on defense, it's going to be hard for teams to move the ball on us."
It hadn't been that way in the first six weeks of the season, when New England allowed an average of 324.8 passing yards - 29 yards per game worse than the next-worst team in the league. Atlanta came in with the NFL's No. 5 offense.
But the Falcons failed on their first five third-down conversions, and finished 3 for 12 on third and fourth down for the game.
Among the stops was Malcolm Butler knocking a pass away from Julio Jones on a fourth-quarter third-and-goal from the 1. On the next play, linebacker Kyle Van Noy chased down Taylor Gabriel for a 5-yard loss .
The Patriots also blocked one field goal attempt , and another by Matt Bryant went off the upright.
"There were plays out there; we didn't make them," Falcons center Alex Mack said. "If it's third down, if it's red zone - all those little things add up. And to play a good team, like the Patriots are, (you've) got to make them."
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