What it means: The Patriots turned in an impressive effort through three and a half quarters and then almost collapsed. But they held on and improve to 4-0 for the first time since the 2007 season. The Falcons have been tough to beat in the Georgia Dome since 2008 (they were 34-7 entering the game), and they have been tough to beat after a loss over that span (22-3). The Falcons made a late charge, and the Patriots helped them get back into it with some sloppy play in critical situations, but the Patriots will obviously take the win.
Stock watch: Patriots defense -- rising. There were plenty of questions leading into the game about how the Patriots’ defense would fare against a top-level quarterback such as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan after beating rookies EJ Manuel (Bills) and Geno Smith (Jets) and soon-to-be-benched five-year veteran Josh Freeman (Buccaneers). It did its part, holding down the Falcons’ explosive offense. A heavier mix of pressure was part of the plan as Ryan had his rhythm disrupted at times. Cornerback Aqib Talib came up with the big pass breakup on fourth down in the end zone to end the game.
Wilfork’s injury looms large: Starting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowler, left the game on the opening drive and didn’t return. He hobbled off to the sideline and then was carted to the locker room. The Patriots announced that he had an ankle injury and, at the start of the second half, Wilfork was spotted in street clothes with his right foot in a boot in the tunnel. The Patriots have been thin at defensive tackle since training camp began. After Wilfork, they have veteran Tommy Kelly and rookies Joe Vellano (undrafted) and Chris Jones (a sixth-round draft pick of the Texans who was claimed on waivers on Sept. 11). Jones was making his debut on Sunday night. Vellano had his first career sack in the third quarter.
Dobson leaves with injury: In addition to Wilfork, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson left the game with a neck injury in the third quarter and did not return. With Dobson not returning, and with Danny Amendola (groin) and special teams captain/emergency receiving option Matthew Slater (wrist) inactive, the Patriots’ depth at receiver was down to three players -- rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, five-year veteran Julian Edelman and rookie Josh Boyce.
Brady’s stats of note: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady extended his streak of games with at least one touchdown pass to 52, which is two shy of tying Drew Brees' record. But in a first half in which the Patriots turned to the power running game, Brady attempted just nine passes. Can’t think of too many times that has happened.
What’s next: The Patriots visit the Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) on Oct. 6.