The New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 on Thursday night to kick off the 2015 NFL season.
Here’s how the Patriots graded out in week one. —
Offense: A –
I’ll admit, this was originally a “B+” grade, but was curved slightly considering the absences of running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Brandon LaFell and center Bryan Stork.
Considering all Tom Brady has been through since February, his performance was remarkable. He was a man on a mission and looked dialed in Thursday night. He went 25-for-32, for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Brady also completed a franchise record 19-straight completions during the contest.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski did not play a single pre-season snap, but that didn’t stop him from making a huge impact in the opener. Five catches, 94 yards and three touchdowns. Just another day at the office for Gronk, who’s on a truly historic pace statistically.
Julien Edelman picked up where he left off from last year, snagging 11 receptions for 97 yards. He was able to keep the chains moving and did plenty of talking in the process. When Brady, Gronkowski and Edelman are in sync, it will be tough for any defense to stop them.
Tailback Dion Lewis was a pleasant surprise in the game as well. While the 24-year-old flashed at times in training camp and pre-season, not sure how many people expected him to make an immediate impact. He made a case to be involved in the offense going forward.
When the team signed undrafted Georgia center David Andrews during the off-season, he wasn’t expected to make the team let alone start for the defending champions week one. Not only was Andrews solid in his debut, he was the only offensive lineman to play wire-to-wire. Very impressive performance.
As Bill Belichick defenses normally do to start the year, New England came out with a very vanilla approach against Pittsburgh. Statistically, the numbers aren’t good.
Pittsburgh had 464 total yards on the evening, finding plenty of success in the ground game with veteran running back DeAngelo Williams. The Steelers were able to create running lanes and New England’s front seven was not able to contain Williams or shed blockers to make a play by the line of scrimmage.
Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley and Rob Ninkovich had rough nights. Patriots defenders had problems setting the edge and often got washed out by Pittsburgh offensive lineman. While that was disappointing, I am willing to be Belichick was happy to let Williams run the ball over Ben Roethlisberger try and make plays downfield.
Another surprise was the Patriots plan to have second-year cornerback Malcolm Butler shadow Antonio Brown for a large majority of the evening. Brown, one of the league’s most talented receivers, was able to make some plays downfield despite tight coverage, finishing with 133 yards on 9 catches and a touchdown. While the numbers are not favorable, Butler was very competitive throughout the night. Brown is on of the toughest covers in the NFL.
On the positive side, Jabaal Sheard showed some burst off the edge and Dont’a Hightower, coming off injury, was able to play with few limitations.
Because defending Roethlisberger is so tricky — defenses have to create pressure without getting to far up field so he can slip outside the pocket and make plays down the field — we’ll go easy on the Patriots this week. But this front seven has much higher expectations and the unit will need to perform better as the season continues.
Special Teams: B+
Nothing incredibly great about the Patriots performance on special teams, but no real mistakes either. New England usually plays a clean game in that area and it was business as usual week one.
Stephen Gostkowski did not attempt any field goals, but was 4-for-4 in extra points. Good punt and kick coverage by the team, too, which gives them a solid grade on the evening.
The Patriots won the last game of the 2014 season and kicked off the 2015 season with a victory too. It was sloppy at times, plenty for Belichick and the coaching staff to evaluate going into week two, but plenty of bright spots as the team made their season debut.
As the Patriots turn the page, the Buffalo Bills are coming off a big win against the Indianapolis Colts. Should be an interesting week, as Rex Ryan loves to add fuel to the fire. Stay tuned.
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