Yesterday our TVs were once again blessed with a sports team that tries, that cares, and that wins. It's been a long summer for sports fans in New England. Welcome back, Patriots.
Yesterday's 34-13 victory illustrated three major differences between the 2011 Patriots and the 2012 edition. We saw a wide receiver wearing #85 be a reliable target. We saw a defense capable of big plays and stops. And we saw an explosive running game.
Brandon Lloyd caught 5 passes for 69 yards. It took Chad Ochojohnson three games to catch 5 passes last year. Lloyd's 5 receptions are a third of what Ochojohnson had last year, and 69 yards is exactly 25% of Ochojonson's production in 2011 (276 yards). Lloyd made one mistake and it cost the Pats a touchdown, but his other catches demonstrated his skill as a receiver and his understanding of the Patriots' offense.
How many fantasy football people will be picking up the Patriots' DST this week? The Patriots had 2 sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble plus a recovery and touchdown. Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower are freaks. But they also stayed at home, did their job, and let the big plays come to them. The defense completely eliminated Tennessee's running game. Chris Johnson had 11 carries for 4 yards.
The Pats outrushed the Titans 162 to 20, and the main reason behind that was Stevan Ridley, who ran for 125 yards on 21 carries (6.0 yards per carry) and a touchdown. His first career 100 yard game. He was explosive once he got past the line of scrimmage. Five of his rushes were for 10+ yards, and four were 15+.
Having a playmaking running back is something we didn't see in 2011. Having defensive weapons making an impact is something we didn't see in 2011.
But there were some things that carried over from the previous season. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski being brilliant, for example. Both caught 6 passes, both caught a touchdown, but both didn't execute their trademark celebrations from last year. Hernandez didn't make it rain and Gronk fumbled his mega-spike.
Another carryover was a shaky secondary. The Titans did the Pats a favor every time they ran the ball or threw dink and dump passes. The defense is still vulnerable to 8-15 yard curls and other basic mid-range routes.
Hopefully an improved pass rush can help deflect attacks on this weakness. And on offense, perhaps an improved running game can chew up clock and eat up yardage so opponents won't have enough time to exploit the secondary.
In any case, I'm just glad it's football season, the Pats are 1-0, and sports are once again fun to watch. The Cardinals come to Gillette Stadium next Sunday.
AP Photo/Wade Payne