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The New England Patriots began the 2011 preseason in blowout fashion last night, besting the Jacksonville Jaguars 47-12 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
Jacksonville jumped out to an early 6-0 lead halfway through the first quarter, but both the offense and defense clamped down en route to the Patriots’ decisive victory. New England outscored the Jaguars 40-6 over the final three quarters to combat the early deficit.
The Patriots’ defense was lambasted last season for the lack of third-down defense, but the team allowed Jacksonville to convert just three third-downs on 13 attempts. The Pats marched for 476 yards of offense, while the Jags had just 193 total yards. Rookie running back Stevan Ridley, a third-round pick from LSU, rushed for 64 yards on 16 carries and two scores. Ridley also scored via air, hauling in a Ryan Mallet redzone pass for the 16-yard touchdown and his third total TD of the night.
New England was efficient all night, scoring on all six redzone attempts while converting four fourth-down opportunties. The Jags were 0-3 inside the Patriots’ 20.
Tom Brady did not see any action, as third-year QB Brian Hoyer was given the starting nod and played until halftime. Hoyer went 15 for 21 for 171 yards and a score to assert his claim as Brady’s backup. Mallet looked impressive in relief, though, tossing for 164 yards and a touchdown on 12 of 19 passing.
Coach Bill Belichick relied mostly on his second teamers, with notables such as Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Chad Ochocinco, Wes Welker, Matt Light, Brandon Spikes, Albert Haynesworth,among others, to miss the opener. This gave plenty of reps to players such as Darryl Richard, who recorded two sacks, and Tracy White, who tied for the team lead with six tackles, in their extended playing time.
In their returns from 2010 season ending injuries, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and cornerback Leigh Bodden played well. Gostkowski drilled two field goals from 46 and 43 yards and went a perfect 5-5 on extra points, while Bodden played both slot-corner and outside in limited snaps.
Offensive rookies – Many will claim that Ridley was the offensive star of the night with his three touchdowns, but the Pats received contributions from many of their freshmen. Mallet looked calm and patient in the pocket, delivering some beautiful throws to his receivers. Tackle Nate Solder also impressed with some solid blindside protection, while also committing few mistakes.
WR Taylor Price - 2010 third-round pick Price was stellar, hauling in five balls for 105 yards and a score. Price made a spectacular second quarter grab in the end zone for New England’s first touchdown of the night, and had an impact on special teams with a big return that was nullified.
LB Dane Fletcher – An undrafted rookie from Montana State in 2010, Fletcher showed why he deserves a spot on Belichick’s squad. Fletcher recorded six tackles, including two for a loss, and was shown leading the huddle on defense throughout the game.
CB Darius Butler – Butler continued to look soft in pass coverage, as Jaguars’ QB Blaine Gabbert targeted the corner on several early plays. Butler registered five tackles, and often allowed his receiver space to make the catch.
TE Aaron Hernandez – While Hernandez’s night of six catches for 68 yards may look like a great opening night, the sophomore from Florida committed two fumbles. Hernandez put the ball on the turf on the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage, and later on the goal line to humble the young tight end.
Special teams – One of the few team flaws from the game was the play of the special teams. After the Price TD, long snapper Matt Katula botched the snap on the extra point attempt. On the subsequent kickoff, the special teams unit allowed an 84-yard return to Jaguars’ kick returner Deji Karim to give Jacksonville a short field, which they converted into a field goal. Jonathan Wilhite was flagged for an illegal block on Price’s big return later.