The Falcons’ slumping offense went up against the Patriots’ soaring defense Thursday night. Let’s just say, New England had an early Thanksgiving feast against those birds.
The one-sided nature of the Week 11 matchup peaked during the fourth quarter when the Pats (7-4) intercepted all three Falcons quarterbacks and returned one of the picks for six.
PATS-FALCONS: Updates, highlights from Week 11 opener
In fact, the Falcons (4-6) had four possessions in the quarter and all of them ended with interceptions. Matt Ryan was picked off with 12 minutes to go and again with five minutes remaining. After a gimpy Ryan was pulled from the game at the two-minute warning with Atlanta down three scores, backups Josh Rosen and Feleipe Franks threw INTs on their respective possessions. Rosen’s INT, to Kyle Van Noy, went 35 yards the other way for New England’s final scoring in its 25-0 victory.
If you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time three different Falcons quarterbacks have been intercepted in the same game. It also happened in 1966 during the team’s inaugural season (Randy Johnson, Dennis Claridge, Steve Sloan against the 49ers).
And according to The Associated Press, the last time it happened to any NFL team was Nov. 12, 2000, when the Chargers’ Ryan Leaf, Jim Harbaugh and Moses Moreno were picked off by the Dolphins.
The first Falcons interception was on a Ryan pass that was intended for rookie tight end Kyle Pitts. The ball sailed well over Pitts’ head and into the arms of Devin McCourty at the Patriots’ 22. The play led to a New England field goal that made the score 16-0.
“It was man-to-man coverage. I was trying to lay it out in front and it felt like there was a lot of contact, but we didn’t get a call there,” Ryan said. “Trying to put it over the top, give [Pitts] a chance to run and make a play, and it didn’t work out.”
Ryan’s second pick was on a high throw to the sideline that receiver Olamide Zaccheaus tipped into J.C. Jackson’s hands. New England converted that turnover into another field goal and a 19-0 lead.
“When you get ahead, that’s kind of when some of those plays come,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Devin’s interception was a big one after they had the ball in good field position and had a chance to get back in the game. That was a big play for us.”
Belichick acknowledged that New England came into the game focused on containing Pitts, a strategy that became more urgent when wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (ankle) became a late scratch. Pitts finished with three receptions for 29 yards.
“He’s a big challenge,” Belichick said. He singled out the work of linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Dont’a Hightower and defensive backs Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger.
“I thought our players did a good job, they had good awareness,” he said. “They tried to throw a bunch of play-action passes and I thought that Bentley, Hightower, Phillips and Kyle Dugger, those guys had some good awareness on some of the over routes.”
To the Falcons’ credit(?), the other five passes they attempted in the quarter were all completed to their receivers, so the ball never touched the ground with Atlanta on offense in the final period.
The four interceptions Thursday gave the Patriots the NFL lead with 18, ahead of the Bills’ 15. Twelve of the picks have come against Zach Wilson (four), Sam Darnold (three), Mike White (two), Tua Tagovailoa, Rosen and Franks (one each), but the other INTs have been against Ryan, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert and Baker Mayfield.
Good quarterback, bad quarterback, in-between quarterback, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that New England’s ball hawks are eating well this year.