By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes and the New England Patriots toyed with the Atlanta Falcons — sound familiar? — 23-7 in a fog-filled Super Bowl rematch Sunday night that wasn’t particularly super.
New England scored the final 31 points to win the NFL championship in February. Placards and shirts reading 28-3 were ever-present in and around Gillette Stadium as the Patriots (5-2) scored the first 23 points in this prime-time mismatch. The Falcons (3-3), who led New England by that 25-point margin in the third quarter of the Super Bowl before folding, were outplayed throughout this one.
While Atlanta looked tentative, if not intimidated, Brady and his offense clinically tore apart the Falcons. Mixing runs and passes, New England controlled the clock and field position. And its defense, ranked at the bottom of the entire league through six weeks, stymied the NFL’s fifth-ranked offense.
Brady threw a shovel pass to Brandin Cooks that traveled perhaps a foot, and the receiver used his speed to get into the left corner of the end zone. The other TD was a 2-yarder to James White, who had three touchdowns, including the winner, in the Super Bowl.
It got so bad for Atlanta that the usually reliable Matt Bryant had a field goal blocked and then put a 36-yarder off the left upright. That Super Bowl losers’ malaise folks talk about might have found a home in the ATL this year.
Stephen Gostkowski had no trouble sending field goals of 29, 21 and 38 yards through the fog for New England.
The Falcons seemed ready to end the string of points allowed to the Patriots at 51 when they got to the 1 early in the fourth period. But Matt Ryan, who struggled all night, was off-target to Julio Jones in the end zone. Then receiver Taylor Gabriel lost 4 yards on a fourth-down run.
Even the fans in the upper deck who could barely see through the haze at that point let out a huge cheer, then Gostkowski added his third field goal to extend New England’s mastery of Atlanta to 54 straight points
Jones’ 1-yard touchdown reception with 4:09 to go ended the schneid, and he hurled the football high into the mist as if to say “at last.”
The Falcons surrendered 20 straight points in last week’s loss to Miami, and then 23 in a row to New England before Jones’ TD.
In the first quarter alone, there were seven penalties, including six on the opening drive of the game by New England. The flags cost the team’s 55 yards in the 0-0 opening period. To keep the sloppiness going, Patriots LT Nate Solder drew an illegal motion call on the first play of the second quarter, and Adrian Clayborn’s roughing-the-passer penalty negated an interception and helped set up Cooks’ TD.
Things got cleaner in the second half.
Falcons: Linebacker Duke Riley was sidelined by a knee injury in the first half.
Patriots: Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, sidelined earlier this season with a knee problem, left in the second half with a shoulder problem. DL Malcom Brown left with an ankle injury.
Falcons: At New York Jets next Sunday.
Patriots: Host Los Angeles Chargers next Sunday.