In the highly anticipated first game of the 2012 season the Patriots defeated the Titans 34-13 in Tennessee. After trailing 3-0, the Patriots scored 21 unanswered points and never looked back. The team got contributions from virtually the entire roster on both sides of the ball. Next week will be the home opener as the Arizona Cardinals will travel to Foxboro to take on the Patriots with kickoff set for 1 p.m.
Here are five observations from Sunday’s win:
Big day for the rookies
The 2012 draft class certainly made their presence felt as Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson all had big games to lead the Patriots defense. Jones and Hightower combined to score the second Patriots touchdown as Jones stripped Titans quarterback Jake Locker of the ball inside the 10-yard line and Hightower scooped up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone giving the Patriots a 14-3 lead at the time. Both players finished with five tackles, while Jones added a sack. Wilson made a nice interception while falling into the end zone at the end of the first quarter, while adding four tackles. These three players will certainly provide a lift to the Patriots defense which was ranked second to last in total defense last year, and give fans some much needed excitement on the defensive side of the ball.
Balanced offensive attack
The Patriots’ offensive totaled 390 yards on Sunday, which was the result of a very balanced attack. In total the team ran 66 plays — 35 rushes, and 31 passes, with the extra rushes coming at the end of the game when they were running out the clock. Tom Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-31 passing. Making his first NFL start, running back Stevan Ridley ran for 125 yards on 21 carries. Brady also distributed the ball very nicely to all of his weapons at his disposal. Brandon Lloyd caught five passes for 69 yards, Rob Gronkowski caught six for 60 yards and a touchdown and Aaron Hernandez caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Having a balanced offensive attack is definitely one of the major keys to the Patriots’ success this year.
It should be noted that Wes Welker only had three receptions for 14 yards and was only targeted five times. It seemed Julien Edelman took some of the snaps that normally Welker would have been in on. We will have to wait until early tomorrow when the number of snaps for each player come out to know the exact details, but this could be a situation to monitor. Welker is the teams’ franchise player this season and it seems the Patriots don’t want to give Welker the money he thinks he should get (and deserves). Welker did not play much in the preseason at all due to a “personal issue”, which was later determined by the Boston Globe to be a death in the family. Stay tuned.
Front seven stands tall
One of the biggest questions coming into the season was how the front seven would play. With a few new additions, and being the youngest defense in Belichick’s tenure in New England, it was a bit of a concern going into the season. The group certainly rose to the occasion and played better than anyone could have imagined. They held Titans star running back Chris Johnson to only four rushing yards on 11 carries. It was a career-low for Johnson. Although Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love only finished with a combined three tackles they were all over the field Sunday afternoon, taking on double-teams which freed up space for the linebackers and defensive ends to make tackles. In addition to the rookies, Jermaine Cunningham had three tackles, and¬†Jerod Mayo was a beast totaling a team-high 13 tackles, while ¬†playing a very sound all around game. If this group can continue to play like this and get better each week, it will certainly be a fun, energetic group to watch this year.
Offensive line plays well
For a group that was criticized more than any other on the team going into the game, they certainly rose to the occasion and delivered a solid performance. Ryan Wendell started at center, with Logan Mankins at left guard and Nate Solder at left tackle. Dan Connolly was the right guard with Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle. Marcus Cannon rotated with Vollmer for most of the game until Connolly suffered a head injury and Cannon slid into right guard. For a unit with as many questions as they had coming in, they answered all of them by leading the way for Ridley’s 125 yards. Brady also got the time that he needed and was only sacked once, being hit four times. Brady did suffer a cut on his nose in the first quarter, and had a bandage on it for the rest of the game and his post game press conference, but reports were that it was not broken and was just a cut. While Brady and Ridley did some things to make them look good, the line still went out and did their job while not holding the offense back at any point. The group will still be a topic of discussion going into Week 2 as Connolly who has a history of concussions will be a situation to keep an eye on as if he is unable to play Cannon will move into the starting right guard spot and cuts into the already slim depth at the position. And no Brian Waters is probably not coming back, but if the line plays the way they did today they might not need him.
McDaniels more creative than O’Brien
After just one regular season game it is evident that Josh McDaniels is a little more creative than Bill O’Brien was in terms of play calling. While this isn’t a knock on O’Brien, McDaniels called a very good game with good balance and was creative with a number of different plays and looks. O’Brien’s plays were pretty simple, very rarely throwing a wrinkle at the opponent and not taking many shots down the field. McDaniels was very creative with the way he got Hernandez the ball, lining him up in a number of different positions. There were also a lot more misdirection and play action calls than in the past, which seemed to benefit Brady and his receivers. McDaniels has plenty of options on offense so it will be interesting to see how he gets them all involved and the creativity which comes with that. Next week it will be particularly interesting to see what is done with Welker, after a limited role this week.
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