Just over a season and a half after the departure of quarterback Tom Brady, the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl hunt in the AFC.

They cemented their place among the conference’s jumble of front-runners Thursday night in Atlanta by extending their winning streak to five games and moving into a virtual tie for first place in the AFC East. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was mostly sharp and the defense was absolutely dominant as the Patriots beat the Falcons, 25-0.

“It’s always a goal each and every week is to hold teams to nothing,” said linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who had two of the Patriots’ four sacks and scored a touchdown after securing one of their four interceptions. “It’s hard to do in this league. Those guys get paid. They’re really, really good. They just had an off night. And we had a really good night.”

The Patriots improved to 5-0 on the road this season and 7-4 overall. They have won six of seven games since a 1-3 start. They trail the Buffalo Bills (6-3) by percentage points atop the AFC East.

“That’s what you do,” said standout pass rusher Matthew Judon, who had a sack Thursday to bring his season total to 10.5, third most in the NFL. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to close out teams. When you’re a good team, that’s what you do. And we’re trying to become a good team, become a great team. We have to continue to close out games. We have to start fast and finish fast.”

They are one Super Bowl triumph behind Brady since Brady’s exit for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. But Coach Bill Belichick has used this past offseason’s free agent spending spree and the fortuitous selection of Jones with the 15th overall choice in the NFL draft — without having to trade up even a single spot — to get the Patriots back to being, well, the Patriots. The AFC lacks a clear-cut favorite, and the Patriots are making their move.

“We’re catching our stride,” Judon said in his postgame news conference. “We had a lot of new pieces, pieces coming back. And now we’re just in a rhythm. I think we’re just all playing with a lot of confidence and we can communicate. We know where each other is going to be on the field and we know how each other plays now. We didn’t want to get off to a bad start. But right now we’re in a groove and we’re going to continue to prepare and work like our back is against the wall.”

Jones looks more comfortable by the week. He completed 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards Thursday. He had a 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the second quarter. Kicker Nick Folk provided four field goals, including one as time expired in the first half and a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter. The Patriots ran the ball well enough to make things relatively easy for their new offensive centerpiece.

“We had plenty of good plays,” Belichick said. “We didn’t get enough points because we had too many drive-stopping plays. You’ve got to avoid those plays in order to score in this league. We just didn’t do a good enough job of it tonight.”

The defense did the heavy lifting.

“I’m proud of the way our guys played on defense,” Belichick said. “The coaching staff did a good job. I thought the defensive coaches really worked hard this week [in] a short week of preparation.”

The Patriots stopped the Falcons on fourth and one from the New England 16-yard line in the final minute of the third quarter following Jones’s one glaring mistake, an interception by Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell.

The Falcons managed only 165 yards of total offense. Quarterback Matt Ryan was picked off by Patriots safety Devin McCourty and cornerback J.C. Jackson. When the outcome was decided and Ryan was done for the night, quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Feleipe Franks came on to throw the Falcons’ third and fourth interceptions. Van Noy returned an interception of Rosen 35 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s fun to play a game like that,” Van Noy said. “Those are the kind of games you dream about as a kid.”

Ryan was left limping after grabbing his foot following a first-half sack. That sack was part of an exasperating sequence for the Falcons. A 45-yard field goal by kicker Younghoe Koo immediately after the sack was negated by an illegal-formation penalty, then Koo missed from 50 yards.

The Falcons were shut out at home for the first time since 1988. They lost for the third time in four games and dropped to 4-6. They’ve been outscored 68-3 by the Dallas Cowboys and the Patriots in their past two games. At least they didn’t squander a 28-3 lead to the Patriots this time.

“The last two games haven’t been good enough,” Falcons Coach Arthur Smith said. “But it’s a long season. We’ve got seven games [left]. And we’re going to figure it out. ... There wasn’t a lot of things that we did well tonight offensively.”

The Patriots, meanwhile, are on a major roll. The trailed the Cleveland Browns 7-0 in the first quarter Sunday in Foxborough, Mass. Since then, they’ve scored 70 unanswered points against the Browns and Falcons.

“We’ve got to play like that every week,” Judon said. “We’ve got to believe that every week, and we’ve got to play like that every week. ... You all do the numbers. You all do all that stuff. But we have to play with confidence, extreme confidence, and we’ve got to go out there and prepare to not let anybody score.”

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