If pre-season experts had said tonight’s NBC Sunday Night Football game between the Patriots and Falcons would see Atlanta with a higher-ranked offense and passing game than Tom Brady-led New England, they’d have been laughed out of the studio. Tonight, they’d laugh the loudest. The Falcons and QB Matt Ryan have the NFL’s seventh-ranked passing game and ninth-ranked overall offense. On the other side of the field, the Patriots have a paltry 17th-ranked offense and 22nd-rated air attack. What in the name of Tom Brady’s great hair has gotten into New England? Brady would quickly point to his receiving corps, and that’s part of it. But it’s not the only reason, and the chapters unfolding tonight will be worth the price of admission if you can catch the game on NBC or watch Sunday Night Football live streaming online as the Patriots take on the Falcons in Atlanta.
Even with those seemingly flip-flopped offensive statistics, New England enters tonight’s NBC Sunday Night Football game with a 3-0 record, while Atlanta limps in 1-2. Multiple reasons exist for Atlanta’s record, from wide receiver Roddy White still nursing a sprained ankle and running back Steven Jackson playing just five quarters to starting a second-round draft pick at center and having a pair of undrafted free-agent rookies getting significant playing time at linebacker. Meanwhile, New England finds itself making excuses not for its undefeated record but for Tom Brady’s seeming inability to provide a calm, mentoring role to his young wide receivers rather than berate them with verbal barbs and vicious body language.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan has some of his own explaining to do, but it’s more in the “justification” department as he seeks to show why he deserved his massive contract. Going up against Tom Brady tonight and coming away with a win could go a long way toward building his case, although Ryan already lost one such QB battle when Atlanta lost to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. Still, Ryan leads Brady in every important statistical category, having gone 81-119 for 909 yards and six touchdowns compared to Brady’s 73-127 for 698 yards and five TDs. But personal stats don’t get teams into the playoffs, and as you watch Sunday Night Football live streaming online tonight, realize that the Falcons are basically playing a must-win game.
Things may have gotten a bit easier for the Falcons in that regard, as New England’s passing game got a dose of bad news Saturday. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has practiced lightly for the past two weeks, and New England fans were hoping this might be the game he returned to the field. Unfortunately, the Patriots confirmed that both Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola would be on the sidelines against the Falcons. What’s odd is that ESPN reported that Gronkowski “caught about 15 passes in practice as recently as Thursday.” Maybe Brady’s body language was due to frustration at Gronk’s inexplicable sitting more than it was the inexperience of his receivers…
The Patriots’ troubles aren’t just on the receiving end, though. At least, not against the Falcons. Looking at the teams’ head-to-head stats, the Falcons are better than the Patriots in total yards per game, passing yards per game, points per game, third-down conversion percentage and rushing yards allowed. New England owns most of the defensive categories, but this offensive rundown indicates that it’s not just a young batch of receivers that’s to blame.
Then again, why point fingers and lay blame at all? New England rolls into Atlanta with an undefeated record, so as much as they may be statistically performing below expectations, they literally couldn’t have a better record. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said to his players this week “If you love football, then Sunday night at 8:30 in Atlanta will be the place to be.” He’s right, because when else would you expect to see the 3-0 Patriots as an underdog on some analysts’ predictions? Clearly this is one game to watch on NBC or watch Sunday Night Football live streaming online via NBC Sports’ website.