FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – An excited Daniel Graham seemed ready to punch someone at a Patriots team meeting. Instead, he targeted the Atlanta Falcons.

New England’s bruising tight end got Bill Belichick’s message Saturday night when the coach showed his players the 1985 boxing slugfest between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns.

It was an 8-minute, 1-second motivational film, a showcase of two determined fighters who started slugging in the first round and didn’t stop until a battered Hagler rallied and smacked Hearns to the canvas, winning by a technical knockout in the third.

“I thought Dan was going to start fighting right then,” tight end Christian Fauria said Monday, one day after the 31-28 win at Atlanta. “I was like, “listen, Dan, calm down, man. I know you’re getting fired up. Just relax.'”

The 257-pounder saved his intensity for Sunday when he scored a 45-yard touchdown in the first quarter on a screen pass after hurdling his own guard, Stephen Neal, then bouncing off safety Bryan Scott near the end zone. He finished with five catches for a career-high 119 yards.

Graham was his usual subdued self off the field Monday when he reviewed Belichick’s night at the movie.

“I took a lot from it,” he said. “He told us it was going to be a 15-round fight and it feels like it was right now, It was a hard game. It was a physical game, but we knew if we came out swinging first and we kept it on the whole game that we’d come out with a victory.”

Belichick wanted the Patriots (3-2) to get off to a strong start after they had trailed entering the second quarter in two of their previous games and let the opponents score first in the other two.

“I thought it was great,” Fauria said of Belichick’s ploy. “He always seems to make things make sense without acting like Forrest Gump.”

Doubts had grown that the Patriots could be contenders for a third straight Super Bowl win after they lost key players. They were coming off a 41-17 loss at home to San Diego and had to face Atlanta and Denver in consecutive road games.

Belichick decided that Xs and Os weren’t enough. So he used a film that could be rated R for all its blood and violence.

“I don’t think that really affected the outcome of the game,” he said. “I think what affected it was how the players performed and how they played under pressure.”

He simply wanted to emphasize how well the Falcons started games (a 28-3 margin in points in the first quarter) and that the Patriots couldn’t afford a slow start. But Hearns-Hagler “was a great fight,” Belichick said. “It was 160 punches in the first round.”

Sunday’s game was filled action and excitement, especially in the fourth quarter when Atlanta overcame a 28-13 deficit before losing on Adam Vinatieri’s 29-yard field goal with 17 seconds left.

When the game ended, the usually stone-faced Belichick was positively joyous – flinging his headset into the air, breaking into a huge smile and slapping hands with linebacker Monty Beisel.

The Patriots had beaten a team that reached the NFC championship game last year and had started 3-1 this year after many wondered if they could overcome the loss of key defensive players Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson. On Sunday, they played without All-Pro defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

Belichick even took time to enjoy, rather than just analyze, Graham’s touchdown when he saw it on tape. “Sit back, put your feet up on the desk,” he said. “It looked pretty good.”

Fauria understood Belichick’s excitement on the sidelines after the game, even though it was out of character.

“With the game coming down the way it did, I think you’re allowed to show some emotion, no matter how stoic and reserved you are,” Fauria said.

But did Belichick tell his players to enjoy the victory?

“No,” wide receiver Tim Dwight said. “He said, “let’s get ready for Denver.’ “

AP-ES-10-10-05 1810EDT

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