The Falcons (1-2) face the second of three consecutive AFC East opponents with a game against New England (3-0) Sunday night at the Georgia Dome.
The Patriots earned narrow victories at Buffalo (23-21) and at home over the Jets (13-10) before thumping the Buccaneers 23-3 on Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. New England is 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
The Falcons will be New England’s toughest test to date. The Bills (1-2) and Jets (2-1) each started rookie quarterbacks and the Buccaneers are winless.
There are three subplots:
- Red zone woes: Before Monday night’s game, the Falcons ranked ninth in yards per game and fourth in yards per play but were tied for 17th in touchdown percentage in the red zone. The Falcons have scored touchdowns on 50 percent (6 of 12) of their possessions inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. In their 27-23 defeat at Miami on Sunday, the Falcons scored touchdowns on just two of five trips inside Miami’s 20. They settled for two field goals and kicker Matt Bryant also missed a 35-yard attempt.
- Protecting Ryan: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wasn’t sacked against the Dolphins after he was dropped three times in the opener at New Orleans and twice against St. Louis. But that doesn’t mean Ryan didn’t feel Miami’s pass rush. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins hurried Ryan 13 times and hit him twice on 39 drop backs. The Patriots totaled seven sacks in their past two games.
- Return of Gronk: Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, could make his season debut after sitting out because of injury. Gronkowski had 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 11 games in 2012. In 2011 he totaled 90 catches for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“(Roddy White) says don’t act like you never did it? Nada, kid. Not me. Especially when you have so much on the line. You’re making millions of dollars, you can afford to have a personal driver. Shame on you Roddy White for even going there. You can’t put everybody in a box and say that everyone has done it. I’ve never done it. Player Protect is a (NFL) service you can call. The team pays for it. I used Player Protect so much that I knew everybody on a first name basis.” — Bart Scott on CBS Sports Network, responding to White’s tweet about 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith’s DUI arrest.
“They’re struggling to win games and there’s a lot of frustration from Tom Brady. On top of that, they don’t have the talent they’ve had in the past. The Patriots used to strike fear in their opponents when they showed up, but now I don’t think everyone fears them as much. I don’t know if the coaching can overcome the injuries, drops or lack of talent from this Patriots team.” — Michael Strahan on FOX NFL Sunday before the Patriots routed the Buccaneers.
By the numbers
Combined quarterback hurries and hits allowed by Falcons left tackle Lamar Holmes against the Dolphins, according to Pro Football Focus.
Average yards gained on 34 first-down rushes this season for Falcons, ranked No. 25 in NFL after Sunday.
Average yards gained on 41 first-down pass plays this season for Falcons, ranked No. 13 in NFL after Sunday.
Roddy White — @roddywhiteTV
Falcons wide receiver
“Aldon smith isn’t right in any way form or fashion but come on guys don’t act like you never did it you just got away with it.”
Stansly Maponga — @BeAst_MoDe90
Falcons defensive end
“That’s one reason I love being on this team and being around the guys in this locker room is we know it’s early in the season but we don’t use that as an excuse. We know we have things we need to work on. As long as we stick together, we are good to go.” — Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas
Rules violation: Harry Douglas lost a key fumble against the Dolphins because he didn’t follow the Falcons’ rules for punt returns, according to Douglas and coach Mike Smith.
Douglas signaled for his teammates to get away from the punt as it fell to the ground but then tried to field the ball after it took what he called a “crazy hop.”
“We have a first bounce rule,” Douglas said. “I caught (the ball) on the second bounce. I’ve got to just let it go.”
Miami’s Don Jones jarred the ball loose with a big hit against Douglas. The Dolphins recovered at Atlanta’s 19-yard line and three plays later tied the game 20-20 with a touchdown.
Douglas said the rule is designed to eliminate the risk of trying to field a bouncing punt as defenders converge.
“We have details in our rules and the details were not followed,” Smith said.
Shut out: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez caught four passes for 24 yards on the first series against Miami but didn’t have another reception the rest of the game. Gonzalez left the game after he was tackled hard to the turf but Smith said he wasn’t affected by injury.
“We are going to attack the defense based on how they are trying to defend us,” Smith said. “Early on, we had the opportunity to get Tony some catches. As the game wore on, (the Dolphins) changed their strategy a little bit.”
Penalties hurt: Officially the Falcons were penalized seven times for 59 yards against the Dolphins but Smith, using a formula that accounts for field position forfeited by special teams penalties, said they actually had 92 yards in penalties. The Falcons had three special-teams penalties, two holding calls that wiped out first downs (and a Jason Snelling 63-yard run) and two pre-snap procedural penalties.
White on mend: Falcons wide receiver Roddy White is still hobbled by a high ankle sprain he suffered during the exhibition season but he played a season-high 47 snaps (64 percent) against the Dolphins. White played 34 snaps (53 percent) against the Rams in Week 2 and 37 snaps (66 percent) against the Saints in the opener.
“It’s getting better every week,” White said. “I’ve got to continue to work with it and go out there and try to make some plays and help my team win.”
The New England Patriots (3-0) 8:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“I did watch part of the (Buccaneers) game before our game in our locker room and they looked like they were very efficient in what they were doing offensively and they are playing very good defense,” coach Mike Smith said. “They held the Tampa Bay Bucs to three points in the game and there’s the potential that their tight end (Rob Gronkowski) may be back, one of the better tight ends in the NFL.”