|National Football League|
Patriots host Falcons in Super rematch
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The T-shirts can be seen all over New England.
Shirt and sweet: NE 3, ATL 28.
That was the score in the third quarter of last season's Super Bowl -- before the New England Patriots pulled off the greatest comeback in the history of the game and left the Atlanta Falcons and their fans stunned with a 34-28 result that produced the fifth championship of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era.
On Sunday night, the 2017 versions of the teams meet at Gillette Stadium.
"We've been given really highly strict rules that we are not allowed to talk about that game, so you're not really going to get any information from anyone about that, so I'm just looking forward to this week," New England's Rob Gronkowski said Wednesday. "They look good on film. They're a fast team, a physical team, and it's going to be a tough game coming this Sunday night."
Atlanta center Alex Mack said Wednesday, "I think you'd look at the Super Bowl just because that's the last time you looked at the opponent and it's valuable because it's their scheme versus our scheme. You can learn from what we did well, what they did well.
"Also, it's a new year and you've got to look at the newest tape. I will definitely watch the Super Bowl again, and I will watch their latest games just to see who's on their team now, how are they playing, what are they doing. What works? What doesn't work?"
Both teams have had their problems leading up to the rematch.
The Patriots (4-2) had to rally from 14 points down to beat the New York Jets in New Jersey last week. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and his Falcons were dropping their second straight to fall to 3-2, losing both at home, both against the AFC East teams.
Atlanta was outscored a combined 36-7 in the second half by the Buffalo Bills and the Dolphins, including 20-0 by Miami last week.
The Falcons changed offensive coordinators since last season, but the early results under Steve Sarkisian haven't been great.
"I think that it's a very impressive group," New England coach Bill Belichick told the Atlanta media on a conference call Wednesday. "They have a lot of talent. They're strong at every position. The offensive line is good. The quarterback is good. The running backs are good. Tight ends, receivers -- they have a lot of explosive players and they're very well-coached.
"They do a great job there. They're a big challenge to stop. We're going to have to do a lot of things well to be competitive this week."
Looking at the other side of the ball, the Patriots struggled to keep Brady upright -- until last week. The Jets didn't get to the quarterback, and the Falcons come into this game tied for 21st in the league with 12 sacks.
The Super Bowl win was New England's fifth straight victory over the Falcons, all since the last Atlanta win in 1998.
What works for the Patriots is Brady having Gronkowski at his disposal. While it's true New England went 12-0 (including playoffs) without the star tight end last season, the Patriots are a better team with Gronkowski on the field -- especially after losing key receiver Julian Edelman for the season with a knee injury.
"He's a big focal point in our offense," Brady told the Atlanta media via conference call. "I mean, I think when he gets going, it's great for everybody, so it's been great having him in there this year. He's worked really hard, and he's a great player. I love playing with him. We've got a great rapport, and hopefully we can put together a good game plan this week."
It was back at the start of camp that Edelman called speculation of a 19-0 Patriots run "stupid" before he was lost during the preseason. His team had to come from behind to beat the Jets and reclaim its deeded spot atop the AFC East.
"I feel like they've still got the same kind of guys, you know, guys that are fast and quicker like (Brandin) Cooks, and a big target like Gronk," Falcons linebacker Deion Jones said. "I feel like they use them pretty well."
Gronkowski caught six passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets, and Cooks had six receptions for 93 yards.
Patriots cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (concussion) and Eric Rowe (groin), who both missed last week's game, did not practice on Wednesday.
Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant is still dealing with a back issue.
Updated October 19, 2017