September 09, 2007
New Look Patriot Offense Makes Boffo Debut
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Remember, this was against an Eric Mangini defense, a coach who knows Bill Belichick better than any other head coach in the league.
Good or bad as the Jets may be on paper, what you saw Sunday at Giants Stadium from Tom Brady and the Patriot offense had to make you stand up and take notice, with a little bit of loud cheering thrown in. Brady never so much as got a whiff of any defensive pressure all day, the running game was split up perfectly and provided the clock-killing it needed to, and Randy Moss made one of the most auspicious Patriot debuts in recent memory with one of his best ever games. It all added up to a 38-14 Patriot opening day win, and it certainly sent a message to the rest of the league, especially San Diego, that the Patriots are exactly as advertised with their bevy of new offensive talent.
Brady, Moss, Wes Welker, Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris played incredibly well, all of them. They played so well that they managed to relegate Ellis Hobbs to a mere footnote, as Hobbs opened the second half with an NFL-record 108 yard punt return for a touchdown. The offensive line shares in these major props as well, as Brady was better protected than all that gold at Fort Knox. Only a drop by Welker in the first quarter to stop a drive and a botched field goal snap by Matt Cassel prevented this from becoming a lot worse. The Patriots simply killed the Jets on offense, to the point where the Jets had simply no answer for what the Patriots threw at them.
The main focus of the Patriot success was Brady's ability to effectively deal with Jet blitzes all game long. Brady was able to check off at the line of scrimmage and hit receivers on quick slants and hitches, with Moss and Welker being the main beneficiaries and running quick, precise routes. Welker caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter on one such play, with Brady hitting Welker on a quick hitch in the left flat and Welker then deking out David Barrett on his way to the end zone. Welker had six catches in all for 61 yards.
Moss himself helped Brady out a great deal, and not only with his 51-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. His very first Patriot catch was another checkdown off of a blitz, as he was able to run a quick slant in from the right side for 18 yards. Late in the second quarter, Moss hauled in a 22-yard left sideline pass where Brady was able to lob a quick touch pass that Moss was able to haul in by outleaping Barrett.
Brady's numbers, as well as Moss's, were astronomical. Brady finished 22 of 28 passing for 297 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating was 146.6, his best since his first two years in the league. Moss had nine catches for 183 yards and a 20.3 average per catch, fulfilling everyone's dreams they have had since the Patriots sent a second round pick to Oakland for the mercurial receiver. Moss showed right away that he most certainly could be the 2007 version of Corey Dillon.
The 51-yard catch in the third quarter shows off a side of Moss that continues to confound most all football observers. On their first offensive possession of the third quarter, facing second down and six at the Patriot 49, Brady dropped back, filed his nails and thought for a second about how his son is doing, then casually lobbed a deep ball down the middle. Moss was lined up on the right side and ran a deep post pattern. He slanted towards the middle of the field and had Barrett and Erik Coleman draped all over him. Moss, who seemed to be jogging instead of running, was at about the three-yard line when he veered more to the left and let the ball just settle into his hands with Barrett and Coleman watching helplessly. Moss kept jogging into the end zone with such little effort seemingly expended. His size allows him to use long, loping strides, and on plays like this, it is why it makes catches like these seem so effortless.
The Patriots came out of the chute with six run plays, five of them to Maroney. He and Morris were able to grind out 126 yards combined (a 4.1 average per carry). Morris had more tough yards and a better average, while Maroney topped 20 carries in a game for the first time in his career. Neither back had any long breakaway run (Maroney's longest gain was 11 yards, 13 for Morris), but both helped to chew up clock and make Brady's life even easier passing the ball.
To underscore this point, the Patriots were able to put together four drives of 70 yards or longer. The Patriots set the tone right away with an initial scoring drive of 91 yards on 12 plays. These four drives netted three touchdowns and a field goal. The Patriots only enjoyed a seven-minute edge in time of possession, but it seemed longer thanks to the Patriots being able to mount these long drives.
Defensively, the Patriots played well, at times outstanding, playing often times a bend-but-don't-break style. Chad Pennington also had a nice day, throwing 21 times and completing 16 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 130.5, an unusually high total for a losing quarterback. Pennington did what he does best, that being hitting a lot of short passes (his longest pass was for 17 yards), and the Patriots were only too happy to give Pennington all the short dumps he wanted, as long as the Patriots maintained control of the game.
But Pennington suffered through a painful afternoon. He was sacked four times and suffered an ankle sprain in the third quarter. He had to come out for one play in the third quarter, and the Jet crowd let out a huge cheer for Pennington's backup, Kellen Clemens. If the Jets had several reasons why they lost, Pennington wasn't one of them. He played valiantly in defeat and did re-enter the game before leaving for good towards the end.
And then there was Hobbs. Taking the opening kickoff of the second half, he took off eight yards deep in his own end zone, ran up the middle, made a cut left and took off to the house. The 108-yard kickoff return broke the old league record of 106 yards, last done in 1979 by Roy Green of the St. Louis Cardinals at Dallas. Al Carmichael of Green Bay in 1956 and Noland Smith of Kansas City in 1967 also had 106-yard kickoff returns. It made the score 21-7 Patriots at the time, and it seemed to relax the Patriots all throughout the second half.
So the Patriot opening act comes up aces. A complete domination over a division rival, against a head coach who represents a branch off the Belichick coaching tree, that's a nice way to begin a season of high expectations. If the Patriots can maintain this kind of offensive firepower at home next week against a Charger team bent on playoff revenge, then the real squawking can begin. Next week is a lot better barometer of what the Patriots have really got here.
And make no mistake, whatever you were dreaming when the Patriots acquired Moss, so far at least, it's for real.
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