NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 09: Nate Washington #85 of the Tennessee Titans loses the ball after being hit by Patrick Chung #25 and Jerod Mayo #51 of the New England Patriots during their season opener at LP Field on September 9, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Patriots showed good balance in Tennessee.
You could have compare the New England Patriots' makeup last year to a hippo and a toy poodle sharing a see-saw. On one side, you had this mammoth, overpowering offensive unit. On the other, you had a young and mediocre defense. David and Goliath, to some extent.
It's still early, but the gap between the two has seemingly shrunk (maybe it's even been erased).
New England showed a healthy balance on both sides of the football in its 34-13 victory against the Tennessee Titans in Sunday's season opener in Nashville, Tennessee. Start to finish, the offense put on its usual show and the defense kept pace.
Of course, Tom Brady is the offense. Brady didn't match his astronomical stats from last year's opener, but his 236 passing yards, two touchdowns and his 74 percent completion rating certainly got the job done. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez did their thing, with Gronk making six grabs for 60 yards and a score and Hernandez essentially doing the same (except he only had 59 receiving yards ... slacker). Brandon Lloyd debuted well, too, leading all receivers with 69 yards.
Perhaps even more encouraging than the passing game (which, based on last year's results, appeared to have a below average day in terms of total yardage) was the ground attack. Steven Ridley made sure that his fellow second year back Shane Vereen wouldn't get the chance to start in the foreseeable future, scampering for a career-high 125 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries. Two other backs saw time in the backfield, with Danny Woodhead picking up 20 yards on six carries and Brandon Bolden totaled 11 yards on five rushes. All told, the Pats had 162 rushing yards, accounting for 41 percent of the offense. Considering last year's Pats team averaged 110 yards on the ground (and the fact that Vereen still hasn't played), that's pretty encouraging.
Now, as long as No. 12 is under center, the Patriots won't be a run-first kind of team. But the ability to successfully run the football coupled with Brady being Brady helps to confuse the defense and give the Patriots another way to move the ball. Even more offense. That's a scary thought, isn't it?
Defensively, aside from the game's opening drive and a handful of others throughout the game, how could you not like what you saw? New England's defense picked off Titans quarterback Jake Locker (specifically, rookie safety Tavon Wilson), rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower combined for a strip sack and a touchdown and it held back Chris Johnson (this guy) to four rushing yards -- four! -- on 11 carries. Oh yeah, and it only gave up thirteen points.
Again, it's important to stress that it's really, really early. We're one game into the regular season, and the Patriots didn't exactly beat the Green Bay Packers here. There will be plenty more challenges and tests for this offense and defense, but if what we saw on Sunday becomes a trend, there's a darn good chance that New England will be playing a football game on February 3rd.