ATLANTA -- There was no hiding from the challenge of facing the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4.
And on Sunday night, as the game hung in the balance with a last-gasp effort from the Falcons to try to tie it in what would have been a miraculous comeback, it was a defensive player who capped the evening in fitting fashion, as Aqib Talib broke up a fourth-down pass intended for White. The play preserved the Patriots’ 30-23 victory.
“Coach dialed it up,” Talib said after the game. “I was on Roddy. Me and Roddy. He just ran a straight -- like an over route, a crossing route and Matt Ryan put it up. I just had to get to it, break it up.”
And break it up he did, as Talib managed to swat his fourth pass of the evening on a night when he also recorded his league-leading fourth interception.
Talib has been a stabilizing force for the Patriots' secondary since being acquired last season in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Sunday night may have been his best outing yet.
“Aqib’s played great for us all year,” coach Bill Belichick said. “All the way back to the spring, training camp, he’s stepped up when we needed him and he played well. He played the ball well. Played against good receivers, tackled well and just played well. He’s done a good job for us.”
There were times early in the game when the Patriots appeared to use Talib to shadow Jones, who finished the game with 108 yards -- nearly half of which came on one late downfield throw -- but he noted the importance of giving Jones a variety of looks to try to contain the gifted third-year wideout.
“We just switched it up on him, sometimes we doubled him, sometimes we single covered him,” Talib said. “We just tried to do a good job switching it up on him. I think we did a good job. Kept him off balance a little bit.”
The plan worked masterfully through the first half, as Jones entered halftime with just 5 yards on two catches. Things took an abrupt turn late in the fourth quarter when the Falcons successfully recovered an onside kick, and later when they stopped the Patriots on a failed fourth-down play (Tom Brady fumbled the snap).
On the first play of the ensuing drive, the Falcons, down by seven with 1:50 to play, looked long to Jones down the left sideline, connecting on the aforementioned 49-yard completion.
They were in business, it seemed, with a fresh set of downs and the ball inside the Patriots' red zone.
And yet, Talib said the secondary remained confident it was going to come through with the stop despite the sudden momentum swing.
“We practice it all the time,” he said. “We practice every situation. Bill [does] a good job putting us in every situation, so we’ve been in it in practice before, we did it in practice before, so we felt we could win the game.”
In the end, Talib and his secondary got the last laugh, as three plays later, White failed to come down with the ball in the end zone, Talib draped over him in coverage.
“The refs let us play,” he said of the win. “They did some pushing, we did some pulling, man. Came out with the victory.”
The Patriots head home 4-0 with a road trip to Cincinnati looming. That means another stiff test in the form of receiver A.J. Green.
When the team turns the page to the Bengals, rest assured it will be relying on Talib to help slow down Green next Sunday afternoon.