FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots made sure the Super Bowl rematch turned out to be a dud.
“I think (head coach) Bill (Belichick) said it best this week — he said it was about time that we played complementary football for four quarters,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said after the Patriots dominated the Atlanta Falcons en route to a 23-7, fog-shrouded Sunday night victory.
Just as they did in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the Patriots manhandled the Falcons — and the final score really wasn’t an indication of the game itself.
“It was a great win for our team tonight,” said New England quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for two touchdowns and 249 yards on a night when the running game helped control the clock.
Fog began rolling into Gillette Stadium during the second quarter and was thick and covering the entire field by the third. Local observers recalled a playoff game in 1997, where the Patriots downed the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-3 at Foxboro Stadium next door.
That score — 28-3 — was the lead the Falcons held back in February before the Patriots scored the last 31 points to steal the game. On Sunday night, New England (5-2) ran it to 54 consecutive points against Atlanta before Julio Jones made a great touchdown catch on a 1-yard pass from Matt Ryan with 4:09 left in the game — Jones’ first score of the season.
The Patriots held the Falcons to 343 yards of offense, and much of the yardage came after the game was out of reach. Atlanta was 2 of 9 on third-down conversions and 1 of 3 on fourth down.
“I thought we executed our game plan perfectly,” McCourty said.
Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant had already had one field-goal attempt blocked and another hit the left upright before his team finally scored when it was 23-0.
While the Patriots maintained their half-game lead in the AFC East, the Falcons lost their third straight game — all to AFC East teams — to drop to 3-3.
Brady’s first touchdown pass was an 11-yarder that started with a short timing flip forward to Brandin Cooks. The wide receiver carried the ball around left end and rode a Rob Gronkowski block into the end zone. The other TD catch was a 2-yarder to running back James White, who scored the winning touchdown in overtime in the Super Bowl.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals.
The Falcons got down to the New England 1 in the fourth quarter, but cornerback Malcolm Butler broke up a pass in the end zone. On fourth down, linebacker Kyle Van Noy tackled wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 5-yard loss on an end-around.
“No big plays, tackled well,” Butler said. “We just competed all the way through. We played good on offense, defense and special teams.”
Brady completed 21 of 29 passes with no interceptions.
Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan made four receptions for 71 yards, but he left the game in the third quarter. NBC reported he was in the concussion tent being checked.
Ryan, hoping to make up for what happened in the Super Bowl, had a poor game, going 22 of 33 for 233 yards and a touchdown, with much of his success coming with the game out of reach. He has seven TD passes and six interceptions this season.
“I know this is sounding like a broken record the first couple of weeks of the season, but when we get our chances, we have to make plays,” Ryan said. “And we haven’t done a good job of that so far.”
Jones caught nine passes for 99 yards, while Mohamed Sanu had six catches for 65 yards.
“We are never frustrated — let’s clear that up, and nothing about it is frustrating,” Jones said. “It is football and on any given Sunday we just have to keep working and just keep putting the work in.”
The Patriots, the first team ever to surrender at least 300 yards passing in each of the first six games of a season, held Ryan under 300 for the second straight time.
New England running back Rex Burkhead, who missed the previous four games with an injury to his ribs, returned with three 9-yard runs on a first-half drive that led to a field goal.
“It’s definitely great to be back out there with the guys,” he said after finishing with 31 yards on six carries and also catching a pass for 11 yards.Dion Lewis led the Patriots, who have won their past six games against the Falcons, with 76 yards on 13 carries.
NOTES: Atlanta LB Duke Riley sustained a knee injury in the first half and did not return. … Cancer survivors were on the field for a pregame ceremony in conjunction with the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” campaign. Among the honorees was Tom Brady’s mother, Galynn. … Atlanta QB Matt Ryan visited with former Boston College schoolmate Pete Frates, of the Ice Bucket Challenge, on the field before the game. … There was a heavy military presence on the field as the Patriots donated hundreds of tickets to military members and their families. … NBC reported Patriots T Nate Solder’s son Hudson has had a recurrence of his cancer. … Former Patriots John Hannah, Mike Haynes and Andre Tippett were presented with their new NFL Hall of Fame Rings of Excellence in a halftime ceremony