BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots don’t have to wait long to try to win their fifth straight game. Coming off their best game of the season, the Patriots now get to visit the Atlanta Falcons on a short week.
It will be Patriots-Falcons on Thursday Night Football this week, a tilt between a team that is red hot, and one that is just sorta playing things out. The Falcons are somewhat decent at 4-5 and they’ve won three of their last five. But they’re also coming off a 43-3 pounding by the Cowboys in Dallas.
The Patriots haven’t lost a road game this season. The Falcons haven’t won a home game, with their lone “home” win coming in London. And even that carries a big asterisk, considering it came against the Jets.
The Patriots will look to make it seven straight wins over the Falcons on Thursday night, a streak that includes New England’s epic comeback in Super Bowl LI. This will be the first time that the two teams face off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, though the Patriots have won a game at Atlanta’s home stadium: Their 13-3 win over the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
It was just over a month ago that the Patriots were sitting at 2-4 and the season felt like a loss. Now, the team has a legitimate shot at improving to 7-4. Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Patriots and the Falcons kick off their Thursday night matchup.
Completions From Mac
We’re gonna start with New England’s rookie quarterback, because everyone wants to talk about New England’s rookie quarterback.
Mac Jones was awesome last Sunday against Cleveland, completing 19 of his 23 attempts and turning in the first three-touchdown day of his career. Now he’s set to go against an Atlanta defense that has struggled, especially in the secondary. The Falcons are allowing 246 yards per game, which ranks 16th in the NFL. They have just three interceptions on the year, and have sacked quarterbacks only 11 times. Jones should be able to complete plenty of passes against this unit on Thursday.
Four quarterbacks have completed at least 70 percent of their passes against Atlanta this season: Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts (77 percent in Week 1), Washington’s Taylor Heinicke (70 percent in Week 4), Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa (80 percent in Week 7) and Prescott (77.4 percent in Week 10). Daniel Jones also completed 69 percent of his passes against the Falcons in Week 3, while Tom Brady completed 67 percent in Week 2.
Jones has completed over 70 percent of his passes on six different occasions this season, and is inching closer to an NFL rookie record. Dak Prescott currently holds the rookie record for the most games with a completion percentage over 70 percent at nine. Prescott also owns the rookie record for highest completion percentage at 67.7 percent; Jones is currently sitting at 69 percent through 10 games.
Jones can inch closer to another rookie record as well. He’s won four straight road games to start his NFL career, and is two away from matching the rookie record of six straight, which was set by Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 and Prescott in 2016.
Mac also has a pretty good game under his belt at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the site of the 2020 SEC Championship when Alabama beat Florida 52-46. Jones tossed five touchdowns that game and set an SEC Championship record with 418 passing yards.
In addition to having issues stopping the pass, the Falcons also have issues stopping the run. They surrender an average of 122.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL.
Damien Harris was cleared to play Wednesday and has a chance to run wild in Atlanta. But the Patriots may want to work Harris back from his concussion slowly, and they should feel pretty comfortable setting rookie Rhamondre Stevenson loose again.
Stevenson racked up his first career 100-yard game last week against Cleveland, averaging five yards on his 20 carries. He’ll look to become the second Patriot with back-to-back 100-yard games this season, joining Harris, who accomplished the feat with 101 yards against Dallas followed by 106 yards against the New York Jets last month. He’ll also look to become the first Patriots player with back-to-back games with a two rushing touchdowns since Cam Newton did so to start the 2020 season.
Given Atlanta’s deficiencies against the run, expect the Patriots to establish their ground attack early on Thursday night.
A Pick From J.C.
J.C. Jackson hasn’t picked off a pass in two weeks. He’s due, especially after he recently changed his Instagram handle to @
With five interceptions on the year, Jackson is up to 22 through his first four seasons. That ties Mike Haynes’ Patriots record for the most INTs through a player’s first four seasons with the team.
There’s a good chance Jackson will come down with a pick or two on Thursday night. Matt Ryan is fresh off throwing two interceptions to the Cowboys, and five of his seven picks this season have come over the last four weeks.
Ryan may be down one of his best playmakers in former Patriots receiver/running back/return man Cordarrelle Patterson, who is a game-time decision for the tilt.
If Patterson can’t bring his Swiss Army game to the mix, that will leave Ryan with rookie Kyle Pitts as his only true game-changer on offense. The tight end is really good, leading the Falcons with 40 catches for 606 yards. Pitts has just one touchdown this season, but it came during a career day against the Jets last month when the rookie had nine receptions for 119 yards.
Bill Belichick has had lots of great things to say about Pitts leading up to this matchup, and they’re all true. He’s fast. He’s a big target. And he makes some really unreal one-handed catches.
“Somewhere between a Julio Jones and a Tony Gonzalez,” Belichick said of Pitts on Wednesday. “He’s really good and I’m sure he’ll break all the tight end records for a rookie this year.”
He may get there at the end of the year, but this week Pitts has to face a New England secondary that is feeling it in recent weeks. The Pats will look to take Pitts away from Ryan, and the pass rush will try to force the quarterback into make some quick throws that he doesn’t want to make.
Get ready for Thursday night’s Patriots-Falcons game with a special edition of Patriots GameDay at 7pm on WBZ-TV! After the game, switch over to TV38 for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!