Following three consecutive games against NFC opponents, two of which were divisional matchups, the Atlanta Falcons move back into inter-conference play against an opponent that’s had their number in recent history.
The New England Patriots have been the gold standard in football in the 2000s, building one of the most imposing modern day dynasties in North American sports, winning six Super Bowls since 2001. They possess a positive 9-6 record against the Falcons overall.
This was a matchup which was largely dominated by the Falcons before the turn of the millennia — after the Patriots won the first two games, in 1972 and 1977, the Birds rattled off six wins in seven contests between 1980-1998. Their 41-10 victory in 1998 was the most lopsided game in this series.
Since Bill Belichick took over in Foxborough, the pendulum has completely swung in New England’s favor. The Patriots have won six straight meetings, all occurring between 2001 and 2017. In all of them, they were quarterbacked by the legendary Tom Brady, who’s still to this day beating the Falcons, just in Tampa Bay now.
The most famous of those matchups happened in Super Bowl 51, which I won’t go too far into because we all know what happened in Houston that night.
The closest the Birds ever came to beating Brady’s Patriots, outside of that Super Bowl, actually happened in 2005, when they were quarterbacked by a young Matt Schaub starting in place of the injured Mike Vick. Down 28-13 late in the third quarter, Schaub staged a fourth quarter comeback to actually tie the game before Brady drove downfield to set up a game-winning Adam Vinatieri kick.
There was a lot of hype going into the Sunday Night Football matchup between these teams in Week 7 of the 2017 season — this was a Super Bowl rematch after all, and the squads were sporting similar records.
We got 28-3 talk ad nauseam from the major sports networks all week leading up to the matchup, and the expectation proved to be much greater than the reality.
Following a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots jumped on Atlanta in the second, scoring 17 points on three consecutive drives. Steve Sarkisian’s offense, meanwhile, got nothing going and looked like a shell of what it was a few months prior when led by Kyle Shanahan.
Nothing went right for Atlanta on a foggy night in Foxborough. All-Pro kicker Matt Bryant missed two sub 40-yard kicks (one was blocked), and the team went 0-2 on 4th down conversion attempts, one of which was the infamous Jet Sweep handoff to Taylor Gabriel from the 1-yard-line which resulted in a loss of five.
Down 23-0 late in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan did finally break into the scoring column with a touchdown pass to Julio Jones, where he underthrew it but Jones forcibly snatched the ball from Malcolm Butler in the end zone.
The Falcons bounced back following this defeat and ended up making the playoffs as an NFC Wildcard, with a 10-6 record. The Patriots brushed off any notion of a Super Bowl hangover by going 13-3 and making it back to the big game for a second consecutive year. This time, however, they lost to Nick Foles and the Eagles.