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The New England Patriots defeated the Tennessee Titans 34-13 on Sunday in sunny Nashville, Tennessee. In spite of a bloodied and possibly broken nose, Tom Brady performed as expected, completing 23 out of 31 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. While the offense performed well, the defense of the Patriots is what really stood out at the end of the day.
The Patriots kicked off their 2012-13 season by kicking it to the Titans. The opening drive seemed to be more of the same defensive woes from last season. The Titans twice converted on third down on their first drive, and even converted on fourth and inches. It seemed as though the coverage problems the Patriots struggled with all of last season were coming back in full force for the start of this season. However, the Patriots continued to live by the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that has defined the defense for the past decade. After marching down the field 70 yards, the Titans were only able to muster three points on a field goal from kicker Rob Bironas.
The Patriots first drive looked smooth but resulted in no points for the offense. In a possible sign of things to come, Brady ran a double play action and threw deep to a wide open Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd became crossed up and the ball just went over his fingertips, missing a sure touchdown. Brady then hit Wes Welker in the facemask with a pass, but once again there was no catch and the first offensive drive of the season resulted in a punt.
The Patriot defense shut down the Titans on the next drive to force a three and out. The offense took over and moved right down field in just over two minutes. The drive was capped off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez after Brady shuffled in the pocket to buy extra time.
The defense made their presence felt even more when the two first round draft picks combined for a key play in the game. Chandler Jones wrapped up Titans quarterback Jake Locker and forced a fumble. The ball bounced into the hands of Dont’a Hightower who returned the ball six yards into the end zone, giving the Patriots a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.
Later in the second quarter, Brady led the offense on an extended scoring drive, taking up just over five minutes on the clock. The Patriots utilized the no huddle offense to keep the Titans off balance, and to keep subs out of the game. The quick pace worked to their advantage as they ran for 35 yards on the drive, while passing for 25. The drive was finished off with a Rob Gronkowski touchdown. However, when Gronk went for his trademark spike, the ball slipped out of his hand, resulting in the first mis-spike of his career. The Patriots had a 21-3 lead as the game went to halftime.
The Patriots received the ball at half but the drive stalled forcing a punt. The Titans then marched down the field, going 80 yards all through the air. The drive finished with a touchdown pass to Nate Washington, making the score 21-10 in favor of the Patriots. The Titans would only add one more field goal to their total as the Patriots proved to be too much to handle in week one of the 2012-13 season.
– Despite all the doubts that surrounded the offensive line of the Patriots this preseason, they showed up to play on game day. The Titans sacked Brady only once, and he was hardly hurried throughout the entire game. Other than a few low throws to start the third quarter, Brady looked sharp and completely comfortable standing behind his offensive line. While it is obviously early in the season, the strong play of the offensive line was a great sign moving forward.
– After losing reliable running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the offseason to the Cincinnati Bengals, this marked the first start, and full workload, that Stevan Ridley has seen in his short time as a Patriot. He sure didn’t disappoint. Ridley ran the ball 21 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. He caught two passes for 27 yards, and didn’t fumble the ball. A good first week will do well in developing confidence, but now he needs to continue to improve to ensure the Patriots can have a balanced offensive attack.
– The defense came under much scrutiny last season for being ranked near the bottom of the league. However, those rankings are deceiving as they were mostly based on yards allowed. The Patriots have utilized the bend-but-don’t-break mentality for years. They will give up yards and solid drives to opposing offenses, and they will even give up the occasional touchdown. However, they will also hold offenses to field goals, three and outs, and force turnovers at crucial moments. We saw all these elements in today’s game. The defensive line pressured the quarterback to force bad decisions, and a turnover which resulted in a defensive touchdown. They gave up just one touchdown on a great play by Jake Locker. They also held Chris Johnson, a former 2,000 yard running back, to a career low of 4 yards on 11 carries. The defense showed a great amount of intensity as they swarmed to the ball carrier resulting in multiple gang tackles. The tackling has to be the biggest improvement on this defense. Everyone was squaring up to the offensive player and executing form tackles. The defense ended the day with a stat line of 13 points allowed, two sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery, a touchdown, and an interception. While it was far from perfect, this game showed the Patriots are ready for the 2012-13 season.