ATLANTA — Tom Brady is still getting used to his new receivers, but it did not matter Sunday night.
Brady passed for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including one to Enfield native Matt Mulligan, leading the New England Patriots to a 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.
Kenbrell Thompkins caught six passes for 106 yards, and Julian Edelman had seven receptions for 107 yards as the duo outplayed the Falcons’ more heralded wide receivers for much of the night. Thompkins caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Brady to put the Patriots up by two touchdowns with 10 minutes to play.
“(Thompkins) has done great since he’s been here,” said Brady, who completed 20 of 31 passes. “He’s really been an impressive young player. His attitude and his willingness to work and do what it takes have been great. It’s really rare for a young player to step in with the kind of confidence that he has.”
The Patriots are 4-0 for the first time since 2007, when they won all 16 regular-season games and reached the Super Bowl before losing to the New York Giants.
The Falcons (1-3) couldn’t get going until it was too late. With Julio Jones drawing constant double coverage, Matt Ryan hooked up with tight end Tony Gonzalez 12 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Ryan completed 34 of 54 passes for 421 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Jones wound up with six catches for 108 yards.
“I thought we competed well against their receivers,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “In the end, they made a few big plays in the fourth quarter. Obviously, we had a lot of trouble with the tight end. That’s a good skill team offensively. They have good receivers, tight end and good quarterback. It’s hard to get them all stopped.”
LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown gave the Patriots a 20-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots converted a third-and-19 from their own 12-yard line one play before Blount cut back through the middle of the Falcons’ defense and raced for New England’s first rushing touchdown of the season.
New England built the lead to 30-13 before Gonzalez’s second touchdown catch brought Atlanta within seven points with less than five minutes to go. The Falcons recovered an onside kick, but they settled for a 25-yard Matt Bryant field goal.
Roddy White and Jones were held in check by Aqib Talib and the Patriots’ secondary until late in the fourth quarter. Talib recorded his fourth interception of the season and batted away a pass to White in the end zone with 30 seconds to play.
Ryan hooked up with Gonzalez seven times in the first half. Their last connection of the half was a 21-yard touchdown pass in the final minute that sent the game into halftime tied 10-10.
Both offenses struggled inside the red zone during the season’s first three games, and that again was a storyline in the first half.
The Falcons marched down the field on their opening drive but stalled at the Patriots’ 6-yard line. Atlanta settled for a 23-yard Bryant field goal.
On the Falcons’ second trip inside the Patriots 20-yard line, Atlanta turned the ball over on downs. Ryan overthrew an open White on fourth-and-2 from the New England 7. The Falcons would regret not taking the chip-shot field goal as the game played out.
“As a team and a coaching staff, we have to look at the mistakes that we’ve made in these first four games and try to move on and get them corrected,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.
The Patriots ranked last in the league in red-zone efficiency entering the game, but they came away with a touchdown on their first trip inside the Atlanta 20. On third-and-goal, Brady found tight end Mulligan for a 1-yard touchdown, giving New England at 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Atlanta, which won 14 games last season and took a big lead into the second half of the NFC Championship Game, now finds itself in a hole in the NFC South, trailing the New Orleans Saints (3-0) by 2 1/2 games. New Orleans plays host to the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
“Obviously, it’s not where we want to be,” Ryan said. “Twelve more games to go, though. A lot can happen in that time.”
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Mulligan, who signed with Miami as an undrafted free agent in 2008, is a veteran of four NFL seasons, including three (2009-2011) with the New York Jets.
He attended Penobscot Valley High School in Howland, which does not have a football team. There, he was a standout in soccer, basketball and tennis.
He started his football career at Husson University in Bangor, but transferred to the University of Maine, where he worked his way into the starting lineup at tight end.
NOTES: Brady threw a touchdown pass for the 52nd consecutive game, the second-longest streak in NFL history. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a 54-game streak from October 2009 to November 2012. … Brady needs two more touchdown passes to surpass Fran Tarkenton for fourth most in NFL history. … New England TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) was inactive. … Falcons T Sam Baker started after missing last week’s game with a left knee injury, but he went down in the second quarter, holding the same knee. … The Patriots ran the ball on 10 consecutive plays on their first-quarter scoring drive. … Atlanta CB Asante Samuel (thigh) and RB Steven Jackson (thigh) were inactive. … New England DT Vince Wilfork injured his right ankle on the game’s first drive and was carted back to the locker room.