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Brady throws 2 TDs, Pats hold off Falcons 30-23

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PAUL NEWBERRY | September 30, 2013 01:03 AM EST | AP

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ATLANTA — That's more like it, Tom Brady.

After struggling for three weeks to get in sync with his new receivers, Brady threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns in his best outing of the season for the unbeaten New England Patriots, who held off a furious Atlanta comeback to beat the Falcons 30-23 on Sunday night.

New England improved to 4-0 for the first time since its near-perfect season in 2007.

"We slugged it out," Brady said. "We came to Atlanta, which is a tough place to play and they've got a very good team. It's nice to win and be 4-0."

The Patriots built a 30-13 lead before the Falcons rallied. Atlanta had a chance to tie it up in the final minute, but Aqib Talib knocked away Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass for Roddy White in the end zone with 36 seconds remaining.

"We've got to do a better job of finishing out the game," New England coach Bill Belichick said, "but we did a good job of putting ourselves in that position with a 17-point lead with 6 minutes to go in the game."

The Patriots again played without star tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Danny Amendola, both left at home with injuries.

But the Brady-led offense finally looked like itself after struggling a bit the first three games. New England seemed in control when LeGarrette Blount scored on a 47-yard run, and Brady threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.

Thompkins, an undrafted free agent, finished with six catches for 127 yards – nearly as much as the first three games of his career.

"He's an impressive young player," Brady said. "It's really rare to see that with a young player, to step in with confidence like that he has."

Julian Edelman chipped in with 118 yards on seven receptions.

"We're missing quite a few guys," Brady said, "so hopefully when we get them back, we'll be more efficient."

Atlanta (1-3) dropped two games below .500 for the first time since 2007 despite a career night from Tony Gonzalez. He had 12 catches for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"You get what you earn in the NFL," coach Mike Smith said. "We've earned a 1-3 record through the first quarter of the season. That's what we are."

New England led just 13-10 before a wild final period. Blount stunned the Georgia Dome crowd with his burst through a gaping hole, cutting outside and dragging defenders into the end zone.

After Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal brought the Falcons to 20-13, Brady guided the Patriots on an 80-yard drive that took only five plays and barely 2 minutes.

Edelman hauled in a 16-yard pass, followed by 44-yard reception that set up the touchdown throw to Thompkins in the left corner of the end zone, sending many of the Atlanta fans heading to the exits with nearly 10 minutes left.

They nearly missed an epic comeback after Stephen Gostkowski's third field goal pushed the Patriots to their 17-point lead.

Gonzalez hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass, the Falcons recovered an onside kick, then drove for another field goal by Bryant.

New England recovered a second onside kick, only to fumble a snap trying to convert on fourth down, turning it back over to the Falcons.

Ryan completed a 49-yard pass to Julio Jones to put Atlanta in position to force overtime before a mostly empty stadium.

The drive fell short, the Falcons bitten again by their season-long struggles in the red zone.

Atlanta scored only one touchdown on six trips inside the 20. That included settling for a field goal on their first possession, when they had first-and-goal at the 6, and Smith's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the 7. That failed when Ryan threw it behind White in the flats.

"We're just not executing how we need to in the red zone," Smith said. "We're moving the ball well between the 20s. But we're not ending with touchdowns. You've got to score touchdowns in this league. It's an offensive league."

New England got good production from its running game, especially on its first touchdown drive. Brady threw only twice on the 12-play, 75-yard possession, including a 1-yard touchdown pass to third-string tight end Matthew Mulligan.

NOTES: Ryan completed 34 of 54 for 421 yards. ... The Falcons had won 14 in a row after losses. This is their first two-game losing streak since 2009. ... Atlanta, which faces the New York Jets in Week 5, has never lost three in a row under Smith. ... The Patriots rushed for 132 yards. Blount led with 64 yards on nine carries, while Ridley chipped in with 53 yards on 11 carries. ... In addition to breaking up Atlanta's final pass, Talib also had an interception in the fourth quarter – his fourth of the season.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org