By: Bob George/BosSports.net
September 09, 2012

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Once again, the Patriots show everyone that you should not read too much into what does or doesn't happen in the preseason.

Just like the Jets showed everyone that their preseason touchdown drought was much ado about nothing, the Patriots took it to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at LP Field in Nashville and dominated a team they should have dominated on paper. Led by Stevan Ridley's 125 rushing yards and a defense which produced a touchdown, the Patriots began the 2012 season with a convincing 34-13 win over the Titans and made Patriot Nation feel better after seeing an August rife with offensive line issues and only one win in four games.

Ridley established himself as the new featured Patriot rusher, taking over for the departed BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He averaged six yards per carry and excelled in both inside runs as well as outside runs. Of particular interest were two of the last three offensive possessions for the Patriots, as Ridley accounted for a huge chunk of yards on both drives. In the third quarter, he led the Patriots on a 48-yard scoring drive, accounting for 32 of the 48 yards, and finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. On the next drive, he had 39 all-purpose yards as the Patriots drove 76 yards to a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that pretty much sealed the deal at 31-13.

Tom Brady shook off a jarring sack by Kamerion Wimbley in the second quarter to complete 23 of 31 passes for 236 yards and a 117.1 passer rating. Other than overthrowing a wide open Brandon Lloyd on the first drive of the game on a fake reverse to Wes Welker, Brady was his usual efficient self. Lloyd had some acrobatic catches in what was a very good Patriot debut for the former Denver wideout. Lloyd finished with five catches, while Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had six catches each.

Using primarily a hurry-up offense, Brady was able to keep the Tennessee defense on its heels all game long. He had much more time to throw than he did at any time during the preseason, and was able to step up in the pocket and make good throws. He still has a bad habit of overthrowing the deep ball, but overall he never really had to hurry that much during the game, helped greatly by Ridley's terrific game in taking the pressure off of having to pass to win.

On the other side of the ball, the defense keyed on stopping former rushing champion Chris Johnson, and that strategy worked perfectly. Johnson finished with only four yards on eleven carries and was booed often by the home crowd. Johnson never got much of anything going at all, and the entire Titans running game averaged only 1.3 yards per carry.

If the Patriots have anything to work on, it is in pass defense. Jake Locker had near identical numbers to Brady (23 of 32 passing for 229 yards and a touchdown). He did throw a pick in the second quarter, a deep ball to Nate Washington in the end zone which Kyle Arrington tipped and Tavon Wilson caught for a touchback, which brought his passer rating down to 89.2. Unable to run the ball, Johnson led the Titans with six catches, while wideouts Kendall Wright and Damian Williams had some flashes of brilliance with some nice leaping grabs. Tight end Jared Cook led the Titans with 64 yards receiving.

Bill Belichick may want to examine the pass coverage in the film room this week. Locker, who left the game with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter, combined with Matt Hasselbeck to outgain Brady in total passing yards, 272-236. Coverage at times was soft zone, but the 29-yard third quarter touchdown to Washington was regrettable, with Locker barely avoiding a sack by Chandler Jones and Devin McCourty handing Washington off to Steve Gregory in coverage with Gregory unable to pick him up at the five-yard line.

What Belichick will like, however, was the play of his defensive front seven. The top two draftees produced the first defensive touchdown of the year.

Facing third down and 13 at his own seven-yard line, Locker dropped back and was strip-sacked by Jones at the one. The loose ball rolled to the six-yard line and was scooped up by Donte Hightower, who ran in for the touchdown to make it 14-3 Patriots at the time. Jones provided good pressure all game long on Locker, Jermaine Cunningham had a sack of Locker on a burst up the middle, and Hightower had some stops on defense. But the touchdown produced by the two rookies will really make Belichick smile, even if he won't publicly admit to such.

A major storyline this week is the fact that the NFL officials are still locked out, and replacement officials had to be used for at least Week One. The officials had their imprint on one play in the game, but overall they did well, other than a missed pass interference call on McCourty in the end zone on the first drive of the game for Tennessee which limited them to only a Rob Bironas chip shot field goal.

On two occasions, there were receptions which looked like they could be either catch-and-fumble or incomplete passes. One was by McCourty in the third quarter on a near interception, the other was on a scary play where Washington was clobbered by both Wilson and Jerod Mayo. The ball was jarred loose and Patrick Chung picked up the ball and started running, no whistles blown. Chung rumbled 49 yards to the Tennessee 26 before being stopped by Locker.

In both cases, the plays were allowed to complete, and the new rule on the booth reviewing turnover plays were invoked. And in both cases, the plays were reversed and called incomplete passes. Give the officials credit for letting both plays run and not blowing the whistle prematurely. Unfortunately, the second play came at a high price for Tennessee, as Locker hurt his shoulder in making the tackle on Chung and did not return to the game. Washington was also hurt when he was clobbered by Mayo and Wilson, but that hit would have happened anyway, whistle or no whistle.

The Patriots will come home next week to open their home schedule against the Arizona Cardinals. The secondary can continue to work on tighter and better coverage as Arizona is not a high powered attack outside of Larry Fitzgerald. But the Patriots did send a message to the AFC that they are ready to defend their conference championship, and there is lots of new blood out there to take over and make big plays this season.

And in the case of this Sunday, they made plenty of Titanic plays.


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