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Patriots send Falcons into a tailspin they might not be able to pull out of

Instead of blowing a 25-point lead, the Falcons got shut out until two-thirds of the way through the fourth quarter.

The Falcons had a chance to get a little bit of redemption from the humiliating Super Bowl LI loss to the Patriots. Instead, they just created opportunities for a whole new genre of jokes about the team after losing to New England 23-7.

The first quarter saw both teams go scoreless, but the Patriots started rolling in the second quarter. New England took a 17-0 lead into the half. Blocked field goals, dropped passes, and costly penalties kept the Falcons from getting on the board at all until the fourth quarter.

Fog started rolling into the stadium in the second quarter, and it got thicker and heavier as the game went on. It made it a challenge for both Tom Brady and Matt Ryan to connect on deep passes. With Atlanta playing from behind, the fog was a particular problem for the Falcons.

Here are three winners and three losers from the Falcons’ loss to the Patriots.

Winner: Patriots special teams

Atlanta couldn’t get into the end zone, but the Falcons had a couple of field goal attempts. Matt Bryant is generally reliable. He hadn’t missed a single kick all season until last week. But his first one was blocked by Cassius Marsh. It’s a great play by Marsh.

Loser: Falcons’ other missed field goal

It really is unusual to see Bryant miss. But he banked his second field goal attempt off the upright.

Atlanta really couldn’t afford to leave points on the field against the Patriots.

Loser: Everyone who had to play through the fog

It was so foggy in Gillette stadium that NBC had to change its camera angles so viewers at home could actually see the game. Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian had been calling plays from the booth, and the angle may have made it hard for him to assess what was happening on the field.

It’s not an excuse for the Falcons’ ineffective offense, but it may be a partial explanation.

Winner: Look at this dang Julio Jones touchdown

This loss has to sting for Falcons fans. But at least you have this guy on your team:

That was Jones’ first touchdown of the season, and it was a beauty.

Loser: What the heck happened to the Falcons offense?

Last year, the Falcons offense looked unstoppable. This season, it’s a shadow of the team that led the league in scoring and went to the Super Bowl last year.

So what’s changed? Well, some of it is the play calling, like this ill-advised decision on fourth down from the 1-yard line:

Some of it can be attributed to drops and costly penalties. But the Falcons had all of their starters healthy against the Patriots. There’s no excuse for the Falcons, with talent like Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Matt Ryan on offense, to look so consistently flat.

Winner: Patriots defense finally showed up

The Patriots came into this game dead last in the league for passing yards allowed per game with 324.8. They held Ryan to just 233 yards and a touchdown on Sunday night. It was a big rebound for a unit that’s struggled all season, and it helped lock up the win for New England.

Patriots copy a play from the Chiefs