By: Bob George/BosSports.net
August 18, 2007

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FOXBOROUGH -- Nothing more exhilarating than a terrific August goal line stand, we always say.

Admittedly, the Patriots will be busy at work this week in trying to get better pass protection for The Franchise, and there are some guys who aren't doing an awful lot to save Bill Belichick from cutting them in the days to come. But for the most part, there was a lot to like Friday night at Gillette Stadium where the eventual big boys are involved, as the Patriots played the Tennessee Titans tough in the first half and led, 17-7 before the scrubs gave it up in the second half. So, even though the Titans won in the end, 27-24 and keep up with Tampa Bay in never having lost to the Patriots in the preseason, the first half was very entertaining and gave Patriot fans something to look at, a quality last week's Tampa Bay game totally lacked.

Tom Brady played a generally good, albeit at times flawed, first half. Most of the blame has to lie at the big feet of the offensive line, which allowed a lot of pressure on Brady and several big hits. Right off the bat, on their fifth offensive play of the night, Kyle Vanden Bosch came right up the middle and into Brady's face. Brady hurried a throw to the left intended for Donte Stallworth, but Cortland Finnegan leaped up and snared the pass at the Tennessee 49. He ran untouched down the right sideline for 51 yards and the Titans had an early 7-0 lead.

Another such play took place with 9:17 to go in the second quarter. Antwan Odom came in hard at Brady and forced another quick throw. Brady's hurried throw in the right flat was picked off by Lamont Thompson. Of greater concern was the smack in the face Brady took from Odom. Brady struggled to get to his feet as all of Patriot Nation held its collective breath. Surprisingly, Brady played one more series before yielding to reserves for the evening. But these two plays, both hurries that led to picks, underscored the need for emphasis on better blocking this week. With the Carolina Panthers and Julius Peppers waiting on deck, Dante Scarnecchia will have his hands full this week.

Take these picks away, and it was a decent night for the Patriot offense on a night where rain fell much of the game, and heavy at times. Brady finished 10 of 19 for 145 yards, with six of his ten tosses to Kevin Faulk out of the backfield. Against the top Titan defense, Brady and Faulk worked the screen pass as well as they did in Super Bowl XXXIX against Philadelphia, and Tennessee could do nothing with it. The first play from scrimmage for the Patriots was a nifty 15-yard toss to Stallworth on a slant in from the right, his only catch of the evening. And Wes Welker's only catch of the evening, a 28-yard touchdown catch to tie the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, was thanks to a great play fake by Brady and some nifty footwork in rolling to his left and finding Welker slipping free in the end zone.

While the Patriots continue to operate without two of their biggest offensive cogs, Laurence Maroney and Randy Moss (if LaDainian Tomlinson is already a scratch for the entire preseason, would it surprise you that Maroney might do the same?), Belichick has been trying to work in other players in basically vanilla schemes. One such player is Sammy Morris, who chugged his way to 23 tough yards on 7 carries. Morris and Faulk have thus far been shouldering the load at running back until Maroney is healthy enough to contribute to the fullest, with a little Heath Evans mixed in here and there.

Defensively, the Patriots pitched a shutout in the first half and played with midseason intensity. The fact that it was the Titans out there didn't hurt, but guys on defense were flying out there and firing to the ball on most every play. Once again Vince Young looked mostly like a deer in the headlights, as the Patriots blitzed him on most every play and never let him beat them with his patented scrambles, though it must be said that on a night absent of torrential rain, Young might have had two or three long gainers just for good measure.

Young was held to 5 of 17 passing for 102 yards. He was sacked four times and finished with a rating of 52.1. Of those 102 yards, one of them was a 44-yard completion to his former Texas teammate Bo Scaife, a lucky dumpoff late in the second quarter where Young came within an eyelash of being sacked at midfield. Young rushed four times for nine total yards.

The Scaife catch (a bang-bang dumpoff over the middle where Rodney Harrison was merely caught upfield and expecting a sack of Young) begat the most exciting sequence of the evening. With 58 seconds left in the first half, the Titans had the ball at the Patriot 3. It was 17-7 Patriots at the time, and one had to figure that the Titans would at least get a field goal prior to intermission.

On first down, Chris Henry ran off left tackle and was stuffed at the one by Tory James. On second down, Young was stuffed for no gain by Le Kevin Smith and Vince Wilfork. On third down, Young was rushed and overthrew Cooper Wallace in the end zone. It came down to fourth and goal at the one, with 27 seconds left in the half.

Young dropped back, then decided to run it in up the middle. He was hit at the one initially by Tedy Bruschi, then finished off by Mike Vrabel and Smith. The latter two bent Young backwards as they prevented him from breaking the plane of the goal. Gillette Stadium exploded in delirium, even though the game was preseason. But the intensity the defense showed was underscored in that goal line stand, and especially on that final fourth down play.

Once again, Richard Seymour did not play. And Ty Warren, who earlier this week signed a new five-year deal, saw limited action and did not start. With Smith and Jarvis Green playing at the ends against the top Titan offense, those men did a good job most all game long (Smith led the regulars with four tackles and had one of the sacks of Young). And everyone loved the sight of Junior Seau, who also sacked Young and showed everyone that he may have some gas in the tank left for this season.

The second half was only about guys playing for jobs or recognition. C.J. Jones ran back three nice kickoff returns. Third string quarterback Matt Gutierrez led the team on its final touchdown drive, capping it with a nice two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Other than that, the second half was mostly about Kerry Collins and his two touchdown drives which helped lead Tennessee to victory.

The Patriots had better hit the blocking sleds this week. Carolina will provide another grudge match for the Patriots, and reminders of that famous preseason game from 2004 will no doubt come up all week long. The third game is the "dress rehearsal" game, so expect a lot of regulars and a lot of hard hitting on both sides.

As long as the hard hits avoid Number 12, no one will mind too terribly much.


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