Brady sets the bar high in a record setting opening week win
The Patriots capped off a stirring pre-game where they unfurled a fourth Super Bowl banner and won an impressive 28-21 opening day victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rain soaked Gillette Stadium.
Perhaps most impressive was the job of both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski; Brady didn’t have a stellar preseason but with no Gronk, Julian Edelman or Brandon LaFell throughout the entire preseason, one could overlook that.
Many wondered aloud if the distractions of the Deflategate farce and the resultant court case would affect his game on the field. Sorry NFL, he just needed a dose of having the big man back in the fold.
Brady was laser sharp on Thursday night once again carving up the Steelers defense and running his record to 8-2 against Pittsburgh. Brady finished 25-32 for 288 yards and four touchdown passes with zero interceptions. At one point he completed 19 passes in a row. An early overthrow of a wide open Danny Amendola on the Patriots first drive was one of the few mistakes on the night and would have resulted in another TD pass.
Brady was cool, calm and collected on Thursday night and looked to be in the same form as his Super Bowl performance. He appeared in the first half to be in a training camp 7-on-7 drill completing 15 of 17 for two touchdowns. His victory, the 161st as a member of the Patriots sets a new NFL record for wins by a quarterback with a single franchise beating Brett Favre’s record.
Gronkowski, after the game admitted to being a “bit rusty” after not playing at all during the preseason but looks to be in mid-season form. The big man was nearly unstoppable for the Steelers defense catching five passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns.
He also made a key recovery of a Dion Lewis fumble on the one yard line to conserve another Patriots scoring drive. He topped it off with a 52 yard rumble down the seam that belied the Steelers early week claim that they’d have an answer physically for the big man.
Here are some other observations:
Edelman once again outstanding: Julian Edelman, who also didn’t play at all during the preseason, was Brady’s most efficient target. Edelman picked right up where he left off during the Super Bowl catching 11 passes on 12 targets for 97 yards and looking like he was also nearly uncoverable underneath. He also added a key rush for nine yards and a first down.
Edelman is known as a slot receiver but he does much more than that, playing both in the slot and outside the numbers. He and Brady have an outstanding chemistry of always being on the same page and their first game together of 2015 was another stellar performance by both.
Run Defense Gashed: Coming into this game with no Maurkice Pouncey or Le’Veon Bell, it was thought the Patriots front seven would be able to handle the Pittsburgh running game. Not true, DeAngelo Williams had an outstanding game, carving the Patriots up time and again. Williams finished the night with an outstanding 21 carries for 127 yards, good for a 6.0 yard average.
The Patriots didn’t have an answer for Williams all game long as he broke tackle after tackle gaining a ton of yards after contact. Pittsburgh’s running game looks to be in great shape while Bell is serving his suspension.
Dion Lewis Is the Third Down Back Now: With Shane Vereen now a member of the New York Giants, one question this off-season was who was going to replace him as the Patriots third down back. Lewis has answered that question as he turned in another excellent performance for the team on Thursday night.
Lewis was not only the third down back but was in there for nearly all of the offensive snaps for the entire game. With Travaris Cadet inactive, James White didn’t see the field as Lewis continued his hot streak, combining an excellent burst and the ability to cut and move quickly. Lewis carried 14 times for 69 yards and added 4 catches out of the backfield for 51 more.
His only miscue was third down reception where he fumbled the ball on the Steelers two-yard line but Gronkowski was able to alertly recover the ball on the one. He also displayed a nice knack in the pass blocking game. With LaGarrette Blount returning next week, his carries may go down but he’ll get plenty of work in the passing game.
Headsets Go Awry: Much was made of the fact that the Steelers coaches headsets malfunctioned during the first half, with the coaches hearing the Patriots radio broadcast over their own conversations. But the issue was also felt by Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaches who after the game said they had the same problem.
The headsets were controlled by the NFL who blamed the issue on the power at the stadium compounded by the inclement weather. Once the NFL got those problems sorted out, the issues didn’t return….for either team during the second half.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was particularly livid after the game, although stopping short of calling the Patriots to blame for the mess, he was definitely hinting around at nefarious New England behavior…..Sour grapes Mike.
Both teams had to deal with it and Tomlin and Todd Haley need to look hard in the mirror at their own shortcomings on Thursday. Look no further than the first drive of the game, with the Steelers carving up New England with the running game and short passing game, Haley tried to get cute and called a double pass from Antonio Brown.
No one was open and Brown was sacked stalling the drive which resulted in a missed Josh Scobee field goal attempt, one of two misses on the day. Perhaps Tomlin didn’t care to hear Scott Zolak talk about show ponies and unicorns.
Roethlisberger Has Big Stats But No Production: Ben Roethlisberger was able to move the ball up and down the field nearly at will during the game on Thursday but wasn’t able to finish off drives. Time and again the Steelers would move down the field and stall before they could hit paydirt.
Roethlisberger finished 26 of 38 for 351 yards with just one touchdown and one interception. His touchdown pass to Antonio Brown came at garbage time with just two seconds left in the game. His pick came on a pass he’d love to have back, targeting Markus Wheaton on a deep ball down the left sideline into the end zone, Roethlisberger threw into double coverage and his deep ball, normally spot on, was well short with Duron Harmon coming over with safety help and picked it off.
It had to be a frustrating night for Big Ben and the Steelers offense who rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense but only had 14 points to show for it until there was just a couple of ticks left on the clock.
Defense Starts Slow: As Bill Belichick does every season, the defense kept it simple on Thursday night’s opener. The secondary and Malcolm Butler had its issues with Antonio Brown as does everyone else in the NFL but they were able to keep the Steelers out of the end zone for the most part.
Belichick adds layers to the defensive game plan with each passing week and on opening night; they kept things simple, preferring mostly man coverage on the powerful Pittsburgh offense. They blitzed very little but were effective when they did with Dont’a Hightower sacking Roethlisberger on an A-gap blitz.
While the run defense was gashed, we knew the Steelers were going to get their yardage in the air. But when the rubber hit the road they were able to slow them down enough to keep them out of the end zone.
Look for things to get more creative as the weeks progress, especially with the pass rush which wasn’t very effective for the most part in the opener.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Season 2015 NFL Season Antonio Brown Ben Roethlisberger Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Danny Amendola Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Markus Wheaton Mike Tomlin New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Pittsburgh Steelers Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Todd Haley Tom Brady