- Associated Press - Friday, August 20, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) - Wes Welker was back seven months after tearing up his left knee. Tom Brady wasted no time going to his favorite receiver.

On New England’s second offensive play, Brady zipped a 6-yard pass to Welker. On the next play, they hooked up on a 14-yard completion. A third straight pass toward Welker was broken up by the Falcons, but the message was clear.

The NFL’s most prolific pass-catcher over the past three years is back. Welker made his return in New England’s 28-10 preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night

“Getting out there catching balls and getting hit was good,” said Welker, who has 346 catches during that span but was injured in January during the regular-season finale. “It’s a step forward. I’m not sure I’m all there yet.”

Buffalo won 34-21 over Indianapolis in Toronto, in Thursday’s other preseason game.

For the Patriots (2-0) Brady threw for a touchdown and Fred Taylor ran for a score to cruise past a team that still has some work to do on defense.

Atlanta (1-1) has plenty of weapons on offense, but upgrading the defense is considered the key to challenging Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the NFC South.

The most glaring shortcoming for the Falcons was their inability to get off the field on third down. The Patriots were 11 of 17 in those situations, including a pair of third-and-7 conversions on their opening possession.

“That was our Achilles’ heel the previous season, and that’s something we’ve got to get fixed,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

But he wasn’t real happy with any phase of his team. The first-team offense twice stalled in New England territory and had to settle for field-goal attempts, and Matt Bryant missed one of those. A disputed roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the Patriots a second-chance touchdown.

“I know it’s only the preseason, but we didn’t play as well as we need to in all three phases,” Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

New England reached the end zone on two of its three possessions with the first-team offense. Taylor scored on a 28-yard run, and Brady passed 4 yards to Aaron Hernandez for a touchdown that finished off a 10-for-12, 85-yard performance.

The Patriots seemed to get the most benefit from traveling south early to hold a couple of joint practices with the Falcons.

“It was a good trip,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We played well as a team.”

Cornerback Dunta Robinson, Atlanta’s big free-agent acquisition, missed his second straight preseason game with an ailing hamstring. Two other potential defensive starters, cornerback Brian Wilson and tackle Peria Jerry, also sat out. All are expected to return for next week’s game at Miami.

“It will be nice to see a full complement of players out there,” Smith said.

Brady’s one miscue was a double-pump that allowed Kroy Biermann to deliver a jarring hit, knocking the ball loose. New England recovered, and the offense got another shot when Chevis Jackson was penalized for knocking down Stephen Gostkowski on a 41-yard field goal attempt that was wide right.

Jackson dove for the block and came up short of the kicker, who then fell over the Atlanta player while he was sprawled on the Georgia Dome turf. Smith screamed in protest that Gostkowski was acting, then watched Brady go back to work.

Three plays later, he fired a pass that got Falcons rookie linebacker Sean Weatherspoon all turned around, allowing Hernandez to make the catch in the back of the end zone while the first-round pick was looking the wrong way.

At least Weatherspoon didn’t look as bad as Thomas DeCoud, who came up to make a hit on Taylor and was instead sent flying by 296-pound teammate Jonathan Babineaux, trying to assist on the tackle. Taylor bounced outside and went untouched the rest of the way for New England’s first touchdown.

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense did some good things on his three possessions, driving twice into New England territory. Both resulted in field goal attempts, leaving the first-teamers still seeking their first TD of the preseason.

Ryan said he’s not concerned.

“We don’t game plan a lot for these games,” he said. “We’re just trying to improve on some different things, see what we like and don’t like and what we want to take into the regular season.”

Bryant kicked a 46-yard field goal that gave the Falcons a short-lived lead, but missed from 47.

Ryan was 8 of 13 for 76 yards before giving way to John Parker Wilson, who played all but the final possession. The third-stringer accounted for Atlanta’s lone TD on a late 19-yard pass to Troy Bergeron after most of the crowd had left.

New England backup Brian Hoyer directed a couple of scoring drives in the second half. Sammy Morris scored on a 20-yard run and Rob Gronkowski hauled in a 24-yard TD pass.

Bills 34, Colts 21

TORONTO (AP) _ C.J. Spiller started to deliver on his dynamic billing almost right away. It took four plays into Buffalo’s opening drive for the first-round draft pick as he scored on a 31-yard run.

It came in Spiller’s debut as starter in place of veterans Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch, who were both injured a week earlier.

The only disappointment was the small crowd of 39,583 _ more than 14,000 below capacity _ that turned out for the fourth of an eight-game, five-year series the Bills (1-1) are playing in Toronto.

Trent Edwards furthered his bid to reclaim the starting quarterback job he lost midway through last season by going 5 for 8 for 93 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans.

Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts (0-2) didn’t disappoint in what proved to be a wide-open and entertaining first half. After opening with a three-and-out, Manning engineered two scoring drives on the next four series, including a perfectly placed 21-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Jacob Tamme on a third-and-9. Joseph Addai also scored on a 17-yard run.

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