Atlanta, GA – Tom Brady is starting to resemble Tom Brady.
The New England quarterback threw two touchdown passes, and the Patriots survived a last-ditch rally by the Atlanta Falcons to hold on for a 30-23 win at the Georgia Dome.
Brady finished with a season-high 316 yards on 20-of-31 passing for New England, which has started a season 4-0 for the seventh time in franchise history and first since 2007.
Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib picked off Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, leading to a Stephen Gostkowski 49-yard field goal that put the visitors up 30-13 with 6:18 to play in the fourth quarter. Talib then came through with a game-sealing breakup in the end zone to thwart the Falcons' comeback bid.
Playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola, Brady continued to show improved timing with his young targets, especially Kenbrell Thompkins.
The rookie wideout led the team with 127 yards and a touchdown on six grabs. Julian Edelman was another popular option for Brady, totaling seven receptions for 118 yards.
Ryan completed 34-of-54 passes for 421 yards and threw two touchdowns to Tony Gonzalez. The veteran tight end made a game-high 12 catches and finished with a career-best 149 yards for Atlanta (1-3), which has dropped consecutive games in the same season for the first time since Weeks 13 and 14 during the 2009 season.
"We've had opportunities, and we haven't made the most of those opportunities," Falcons coach Mike Smith said about his team's disappointing record. "We, as a coaching staff, and as a team, have to learn from those mistakes we have made in the first four games and move on and get them corrected. It's a long season, it's just the end of the first quarter, and we will learn from the mistakes we have made and move on."
Leading by three points heading into the fourth quarter, New England went up 20-10 on LeGarrette Blount's 47-yard touchdown run in the frame's opening minute.
On their next possession, Brady countered a Matt Bryant field goal with an 18- yard scoring strike to Thompkins for a 27-13 Patriots' advantage.
Talib's fourth interception of the season came on the first play of the ensuing Atlanta drive. After Gostkowski's field goal gave New England a seemingly comfortable 17-point cushion, the Falcons quickly reached the end zone.
Atlanta covered 80 yards in seven plays, with Gonzalez's TD grab trimming the deficit to 30-20 with 4:22 to play. The Falcons then recovered an onside kick that rookie New England tight end Zach Sudfeld failed to corral.
Down two scores, the Falcons settled for a short Bryant field goal after the drive stalled at the New England 7-yard line.
No mishap this time on the onside kick by the Patriots, but Brady did drop the snap on 4th-and-inches, giving the ball back to Atlanta at its own 38 with 1:50 remaining.
Ryan hit wideout Julio Jones for a 49-yard completion on first down. Ryan misfired on his next two attempts before picking up a modest gain on third down.
New England's defense was determined to not let Gonzalez be a decisive factor on the drive and continuously mauled him at the line of scrimmage.
On fourth down, Ryan tried to hook up with Roddy White, but Talib batted the ball from the receiver's hands.
"We got to do a better job of finishing out the game, but we did a good job putting ourselves in that position, 17-point lead with six minutes to go in the game," said New England coach Bill Belichick, who won his 209th career game to tie Chuck Noll for fifth place on the NFL's all-time coaching wins list. "Obviously, could have played a little bit better at the end, but good to be 4-0."
Atlanta reached the red zone on two of its first three possessions and came away with only three points.
The game's opening drive culminated in Bryant drilling a 23-yarder, but New England grabbed the lead when Brady capped a run-heavy series with a short TD toss to tight end Matthew Mulligan early in the second quarter.
Atlanta then advanced the ball to the New England 7-yard line, where Ryan's pass on fourth down sailed wide of White.
A 48-yarder by Gostkowski made it 10-3 with 3:22 left in the first half, but the Falcons pulled even prior to halftime on Gonzalez's 21-yard TD grab.
Gostkowski's 22-yard field goal summed up the scoring in the third quarter.
Brady has now thrown a TD pass in 52 consecutive games, two shy of Drew Brees' NFL record ... New England extended its streak of forcing a turnover to 31 straight games ... Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork suffered an ankle injury on the opening drive of the game and did not return ... Jones had 108 yards on six catches, while White made only three grabs for 28 yards ... White has now caught at least one pass in 104 straight games, a new franchise record ... Cornerback and former Patriot Asante Samuel (thigh) was inactive for Atlanta.