New England opened up the 2012 NFL Season with a 34-13 win over the Tennessee Titans, and they definitely did it while making a little noise down in the Music City.
We saw some big plays from a few different people during this one, and here are five thoughts after looking back at the win:
1) Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower had a strong debut - Since April Patriots fans have been looking forward to seeing what rookie defensive end Chandler Jones and fellow rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower could do after New England selected them in the 2012 NFL draft. The two got off to a great start and caught everyone's attention early in the second quarter after Jones sacked Titans quarterback Jake Locker and forced a fumble, which Hightower picked up and ran back into the endzone. This football team has been in need of playmakers on defense for a while now, and hopefully this is just a glimpse of things to come from the Patriots' rookies.
2) Stevan Ridley gives them a new dynamic in the offense - The 2nd year runningback had a strong rookie season where he averaged 5 yards per carry, and it was tough to imagine in a full time role that he could be as successful on a consistent basis. Ridley stepped up in a big way on Sunday, carrying 21 times for 125 yards and a touchdown - good for 6 yards per carry. He slashes into the hole quick and isn't afraid whatsoever of contact, which is always a concern when it comes to guys with his skillset. From what we've seen so far there's reason to believe the Patriots have a special player in their backfield, which could explain why they were confident enough to let BenJarvus Green-Ellis move on this past offseason.
3) Aaron Hernandez had a busy afternoon - Hernandez was targeted the second most out of any Patriots receiver on Sunday with 7 targets and 6 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown (Brandon Lloyd was targeted the most, with 8 targets, 5 receptions and 69 yards) and was moved around quite a bit during the game. He's definitely one of their more dynamic players, and after taking another look at where he was on the field, he was all over the place. He lined up in tight on 34 snaps, was split out wide on 22 snaps, and lined up in the backfield on 9 snaps. He's a big weapon in the offense and New England clearly plans on using him to create match-up issues, which is exactly what we saw on Sunday. Rob Gronkowski was the one with a breakout year last season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if this is the year we see big things from Hernandez.
4) Tom Brady is one tough football player - He may be considered a "pretty boy" by some people who criticize his fashion shoots for each of his endorsement deals and for being married to a super model, but that's just his off-field persona. On the field he's one tough player who isn't afraid of getting hit and despite each shot he may sustain, he'll get back up and keep on coming at you. He took a shin to the face following a sack early in the game which bloodied his nose, but he came back in with cotton up one nostril and a bandage across the bridge of his nose and played well. Overall he completed 23-of-31 (74%) for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and it was tough not to appreciate the effort because he didn't miss a beat following the injury.
5) The run defense looked solid - Last season Tennessee runningback Chris Johnson finished with 1,047 yards rushing and averaged 4 yards per carry. Coming into this game he was one of the bigger concerns for New England's defense but they ended up making him a complete non-factor. They held him to just 4 yards on 11 carries and he wasn't able to much of anything because they were absolutely everywhere. He was actually held to either no gain or a loss on 5 out of his 11 carries, and defensive captain Vince Wilfork looked absolutely incredible and played like he was 25-years old instead of 30. They also got strong efforts out of Kyle Love and Jermaine Cunningham, as well as Jerod Mayo, who was once again terrific and appears poised for another strong year. If this is a sign of things to come, it's hard not to believe this team will have a lot of success this season.
It may be just one game and one win, but it's exactly the type of game they needed to get the year started off on the right foot. We'll see how it carries over when they return for their home opener next week at Gillette Stadium.
NFL Stats & Info - http://www.nfl.com
- American Football
- Sports & Recreation
- New England
- Tennessee Titans
- Chandler Jones