Brady throws for TD, Welker returns, Patriots cruise past Falcons 28-10 in preseason game
ATLANTA – It was a short little pass over the middle, nothing special.
Try telling that to the New England Patriots.
Wes Welker was back just seven months after tearing up his left knee, and Tom Brady wasted no time going to his favorite receiver in a 28-10 preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.
On New England's second offensive play, Brady zipped a 6-yard pass to Welker. On the next play, they hooked up on a 14-yard completion. A third straight pass toward Welker was broken up by the Falcons, but the message was clear.
The NFL's most prolific pass-catcher over the last three years is back.
"Getting out there catching balls and getting hit was good," said Welker, who has 346 catches during that span but was injured in January during the regular-season finale. "It's a step forward. I'm not sure I'm all there yet."
Brady threw for a touchdown, Fred Taylor ran for a score and the Patriots (2-0) cruised past a team that still has some work to do on defense.
Atlanta (1-1) has plenty of weapons on offense, but upgrading the defense is considered the key to challenging Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the NFC South.
The most glaring shortcoming for the Falcons was their inability to get off the field on third down. The Patriots were 11 of 17 in those situations, including a pair of third-and-7 conversions on their opening possession.
"That was our Achilles' heel the previous season, and that's something we've got to get fixed," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.
But he wasn't real happy with any phase of his team. The first-team offense twice stalled in New England territory and had to settle for field-goal attempts, and Matt Bryant missed one of those. A disputed roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the Patriots a second-chance touchdown.
"I know it's only the preseason, but we didn't play as well as we need to in all three phases," Smith said. "We've got a lot of work to do."
New England reached the end zone on two of its three possessions with the first-team offense. Taylor scored on a 28-yard run, and Brady passed 4 yards to Aaron Hernandez for a touchdown that finished off a 10-for-12, 85-yard performance.
The Patriots seemed to get the most benefit from traveling south early to hold a couple of joint practices with the Falcons.
"It was a good trip," coach Bill Belichick said. "We played well as a team."
Cornerback Dunta Robinson, Atlanta's big free-agent acquisition, missed his second straight preseason game with an ailing hamstring. Two other potential defensive starters, cornerback Brian Wilson and tackle Peria Jerry, also sat out. All are expected to return for next week's game at Miami.
"It will be nice to see a full complement of players out there," Smith said.
Brady's one miscue was a double-pump that allowed Kroy Biermann to deliver jarring hit, knocking the ball loose. New England recovered, and the offense got another shot when Chevis Jackson was penalized for knocking down Stephen Gostkowski on a 41-yard field goal attempt that was wide right.
Jackson dove for the block and came up short of the kicker, who then fell over the Atlanta player while he was sprawled on the Georgia Dome turf. Smith screamed in protest that Gostkowski was acting, then watched Brady go back to work.
Three plays later, he fired a pass that got Falcons rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon all turned around, allowing Hernandez to make the catch in the back of the end zone while the first-round pick was looking the wrong way.
At least Weatherspoon didn't look as bad as Thomas DeCoud, who came up to make a hit on Taylor and was instead sent flying by 296-pound teammate Jonathan Babineaux, trying to assist on the tackle. Taylor bounced outside and went untouched the rest of the way for New England's first touchdown.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense did some good things on his three possessions, driving twice into New England territory. Both resulted in field goal attempts, leaving the first-teamers still seeking their first TD of the preseason.
Ryan said he's not concerned.
"We don't gameplan a lot for these games," he said. "We're just trying to improve on some different things, see what we like and don't like and what we want to take into the regular season."
Bryant kicked a 46-yard field goal that gave the Falcons a short-lived lead, but missed from 47.
Ryan was 8 of 13 for 76 yards before giving way to John Parker Wilson, who played all but the final possession. The third-stringer accounted for Atlanta's lone TD on a late 19-yard pass to Troy Bergeron after most of the crowd had left.
New England backup Brian Hoyer directed a couple of scoring drives in the second half. Sammy Morris scored on a 20-yard run and Rob Gronkowski hauled in a 24-yard TD pass.
NOTES: Atlanta rookie DT Corey Peters went out with a knee injury. Smith said he didn't know if it was serious. ... Falcons WR Harry Douglas played for the first since sustaining a knee injury in training camp a year ago. He had two catches for 13 yards. ... Hoyer was 8 of 15 for 94 yards.