Falcons vs. Patriots
When: 1 p.m. today
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady smiled as he slipped through a narrow opening in the crowd of reporters waiting at his locker.
The celebrity quarterback is more comfortable in that setting than at a podium where he’s separated from his questioners at his weekly Wednesday media sessions. But he speaks from the podium at those gatherings after wins.
His locker room chats are reserved for losses.
“We had a miserable week, so I figure misery loves company,” Brady said.
He’ll be in the same spot next Wednesday if his New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons keep playing the way they have.
Today, the Falcons (2-0) go into their first meeting with the Patriots in four years after beating the Carolina Panthers 28-20 behind Matt Ryan’s three touchdown passes.
New England (1-1) and Brady try to rebound from a 16-9 loss to the New York Jets. And in their previous game, the Patriots needed two touchdown passes from Brady to Benjamin Watson in the final 2:06 to overtake the Buffalo Bills 25-24.
Not a great start for the three-time Super Bowl champs seen by many as a strong contender for a fourth, especially with Brady back after a season-ending left knee injury in last year’s opener.
But frustration hasn’t set in.
“If you get frustrated, you’re going to get even more frustrated,” running back Kevin Faulk said. “You’ve got to focus on being positive and keep moving forward. You can’t take a step back.”
Brady was hampered last Sunday by the absence of wide receiver Wes Welker with a knee injury. Welker had 12 catches in the opener and 223 in his two full seasons with the Patriots and returned to practice Thursday on a limited basis.
He was replaced last Sunday by 15-year veteran Joey Galloway, in his first season with New England.
“If the expectations are that it would be like we’ve been playing together for 10 years, that’s not the reality,” Brady said. “You have to go out and go through the process and make the reads and make the throws, and you’ve got to understand what I’m thinking.”
Ryan, a star at Boston College, and his new receiver clicked from the start. Of course, Tony Gonzalez has more catches than any tight end in NFL history, all in 12 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He wanted out and was traded to Atlanta.
“Not only is he really good on Sundays, he’s great during the week,” Ryan said. “He knows how to prepare and he works really hard and I think that permeates down through the locker room.”
Gonzalez leads the Falcons with 12 receptions and caught one touchdown in each of his first two games. Ryan, last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, has completed 68.3 percent of his passes with one interception.
That’s better than Brady’s 62 percent mark with two interceptions and two touchdowns.
“They are so poised out there on the field. They don’t get rattled that much. That makes them great quarterbacks,” Gonzalez said. “They are perfectionists.”
Brady has been far from perfect this season. Some of his passes went to the right spot, but the receiver wasn’t there. Others went to the wrong place.
“There are some positive things that I took out of the last game, in terms of my mechanics,” he said. “It’s still not where I’m 100 percent comfortable where the mechanics are at, but that’s why I’m still working at it.”
He’s been pressured a lot and forced to hurry throws. Now he faces a defense with five sacks in two games.
But Brady said the offense has corrected some mistakes it made against the Jets. And the Falcons know they must contend with one of the smartest quarterbacks in the game.
“There would be times I would play against him I would try to disguise a coverage and he would know where I was going,” Atlanta strong safety Erik Coleman said. “It’s extremely frustrating. He’s one of those brainiacs.”
The Patriots’ defense has been solid despite the loss of six veteran starters from last year’s team that went 11-5. It has allowed an average of 265 yards in its two games.
“They’ve got some really good physical guys in the front four,” Ryan said, “some guys who can make some plays in the secondary, so it’s going to be tough, but I feel like we’ve got a great game plan.”
The Falcons have a productive, balanced offense with Ryan, Gonzalez, running back Michael Turner and wide receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. And Ryan is a better quarterback than the first two the Patriots faced, Buffalo’s Trent Edwards and New York rookie Mark Sanchez.
Ryan also may get a boost from — or be distracted by — fans who followed him at Boston College. But the Patriots’ defense will be his main concern.
“Matt is such an even-keeled young man,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Because more and more defenses are getting more complex with their disguise packages, I think those are two things that Matt wanted to improve on. And through the first two games, I think he’s done a very good job.”
If Ryan does his job well enough today in just his 19th NFL game, Brady — two-time Super Bowl MVP and 2007 NFL MVP — could be talking at his locker again next Wednesday.
“Losing around here is not fun for any of us,” Brady said. “We set a pretty high standard.”