New England Patriots crush the Atlanta Falcons, but tougher tests remain

New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (32) Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The New England Patriots defense crushed the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11, but now they face some even sterner tests over their next four games on the schedule.

It was the first time the Falcons had been blanked at home since 1988. That’s a testimony to how far and how fast this defense has risen from OK to superlative in just a matter of a few weeks.

It’s not all that surprising that they have improved though for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look at some of them.

The New England Patriots defense rises to elite status

The New England Patriots emergent defense ranks second in points allowed to who else, the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo sits in first giving up 14.1 per game while the Patriots allow 15.0.

They seem to be strengthening every game and getting better as the season progresses. No great shock there.

Related Story. Belichick praises Pats effort in another blowout victory. light

First, the defense had to assimilate a whole host of new players. Key free-agent acquisitions like Matt Judon, Davon Godchaux, and Jalen Mills had to learn the new defense.

They also had to meld with their teammates, get to know how they play and how they all could coordinate their talents to make the whole better than the sum of the parts.

In addition, returning from opt-out, key leader Dont’a Hightower and the re-signed and very versatile Kyle Van Noy had to get back into the swing of things in the Patriots defense. That too took some time.

Now, all of that seems to be coming together at just the right time. The Patriots will face a hellacious four-game schedule over the next five weeks.

These games will not only determine how good the defense really is, but where the team will likely finish in the AFC playoff sweepstakes as well.

They play the top-ranked team in the AFC, the Tennessee Titans, a Patriots nemesis first at Gillette Stadium in Week 12.

They then head for Buffalo for their first showdown against their divisional rival for the top spot in the AFC East and a possible home playoff game.

After a bye week, they then travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts before hosting Buffalo at Gillette Stadium the day after Christmas. That’s quadruple trouble or opportunity depending on how you view it.

These AFC games undoubtedly will determine the team’s ultimate place in the AFC standings. And the defense will have to hold up its end of the bargain to be successful in any of those outings.

New England Patriots defense now must prove itself against the iron

The Patriots’ defense has been great, especially in the last few weeks. Yet, it can be argued that they haven’t really faced too many top teams, as in the iron of the AFC or the league.

Certainly, they stopped a high-flying Cleveland Browns team that had shellacked Cincinnati Bengals the week before, but Atlanta had itself been crushed by the Dallas Cowboys the prior week.

Yet, Patriots fans can look back soberly to 2019 when the team in Tom Brady’s last hurrah in New England opened with an 8-0 record.

Some felt at the time that kicking around the tomato cans of the NFL was no real indication of the defense’s strength. Wait to see how they do against the iron.

That caution proved sound as the team went 4-4 the rest of the way against better competition. Then the Patriots blew a bye week in losing to the Miami Dolphins in the final game of the season.

They were quickly then summarily wiped out of the playoffs in Brady’s last game with New England by the same Tennessee Titans whom they’ll face in Week 12.

So, now they go into the teeth of the dragons. Yet, it’s as it should be and ultimately always is if your team is to emerge as the titleholder in a division, a conference, or even hopefully the entire NFL.

The Patriots defense, led by Matt Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Christian Barmore, Adrian Phillips, and J.C. Jackson will be up against top teams in their next four games.

Next. Pats pounced on Mac Jones while the rest of the NFL missed out. dark

It’s time for the rubber to meet the road, the cream to rise to the top, or whatever other adage you’d care to apply to these tough and more importantly, defining tests.

But this is why they play the games. And, oh, by the way, the defense doesn’t have to do it all by themselves.

There’s a very, very proficient offense led by rookie sensation Mac Jones to slice and dice opposition defenses, and together they’ll take a lot to beat for any team from here on in.