Patriots' defense finally delivers performance we've been waiting for

David Butler II | USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, the New England Patriots played complementary football.

A struggling Patriots’ defensive unit easily put on their best performance so far this season in the team’s 23-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday Night Football.

Even without two of their top three cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, the Patriots’ defense played with high intensity and emotion for a full four quarters – holding the Falcons to just two-of-nine on third down and one-of-three on fourth down, including an impressive fourth-quarter goal line stand.

They also held Atlanta quarterback, Matt Ryan, to 233 yards – marking the first time this season they’ve held an opposing quarterback to under 300 yards passing.

Yes, we’re talking about the same defensive unit that ranked dead last in the NFL through the first six weeks. This complete turnaround gave us a group that was able to command and dominate the league’s No. 5 offense last night.

“We just started communicating better,” Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler said. “It started the first day of practice this week, so we had a good preparation. We knew [the Falcons] were going to come in here fired up after two straight losses, so we just had to match their intensity.”

New England safety Duron Harmon believes they have finally created a foundation that they can build upon.

“We’re excited because we finally see our hard work come into show,” Harmon said. “We still did some things that we know we need to learn from, but I just feel like the energy that we played with, the excitement, how fast and physical we played kind of covered up a lot of the mistakes that we made. We just got to build on that.”

This is exactly the type of defense that #PatriotsNation has been yearning for all season long. And with play like that from both sides of the ball, New England has officially reestablished itself as a top contender in the league.

Follow Megan on Twitter: @carnahanmegan