We all knew what to expect from the likes of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez during the Patriots' season opener against the Tennesee Titans at LP Field in Nashville on Sunday. It would be another 200-plus yard, multiple touchdown afternoon for the longtime New England signal caller in an impressive 34-13 victory. As opposed to giving you the rundown on Brady's performance, I'll give you a look at five lesser-known facts/observations from Sunday's season opening contest.
1) Have The Patriots Found Their True Number One Back?
Second-year runner Stevan Ridley's performance on Sunday was nothing short of exceptional. His 21 attempts for 125 yards with a 5.95 yards-per-carry average were good for career highs in every major statistical category. Not only were Ridley's numbers impressive, but he most certainly passed the eye test. One drive, late in the third quarter, in particular sticks out where the Titans knew the Patriots were going to run the ball, but still couldn't stop Ridley. His explosive speed and willingness to absorb contact make him the perfect hybrid running back for the New England offense. It's still early, but if Ridley can continue to churn out this type of production, Bill Belichick may have finally found his number one man out of the backfield.
2) Brandon Lloyd Makes Up For Shaky Start With Strong Performance
When Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd missed on what would have been a 60-plus yard touchdown play early in the game's opening quarter, football fans all across New England must have been overcome with nightmares of the last man to wear Lloyd's number 85 jersey for the Patriots, the always-enigmatic Chad Johnson -- or Chad Ochocinco, whatever name he's going by these days. Fortunately enough, Lloyd would bounce back strong, leading all receivers in the game with five catches for 69 yards. Moving forward, Lloyd doesn't exactly have to be a game-breaking pass-catcher in the Pats' offense to be an effective player. His job is to keep defenders honest and open up the middle of the field for Gronkowski, Hernandez and Wes Welker. If he continues to perform at this level, he'll have been a successful addition to this team.
3) Replacement Officials Better Than Expected, But Far From Perfect
On Tennessee's opening drive, second year quarterback Jake Locker nearly connected with rookie wide out Kendall Wright for what would have been a touchdown and a 7-0 Titans' lead. The pass would end up incomplete, but not without what looked like clear pass interference by Devin McCourty. After all, New England's third-year corner didn't even make an attempt to turn around and look for the ball. Later in the game, McCourty would be the controversial figure once again, after failing to reel in what looked to be an easy interception. When No. 32 went to the ground and lost control of the ball, the referee ruled the play an interception, but immediately blew his whistle, despite no Tennessee player ever coming into contact with McCourty. Certainly an interesting situation if I've ever seen one. Luckily, the refs overturned the call to an incomplete pass after a review in the replay booth.
4) Patriots Rush Defense Tremendously Impressive
Just three seasons ago, Titans' tailback Chris Johnson registered a 2,000-yard rushing season. A remarkable feat that few have ever been able to accomplish. However, none of that seemed to matter to the youthful and explosive Patriots' front seven. On each play, Johnson was bottled up for either a short gain or a loss, accumulating a grand total of four rushing yards on 11 attempts. Rush defense like that hasn't been seen in these parts in quite some time, and if it continues, could provide the Patriots with another invaluable dimension to their defense.
5) ... But Pass Defense Is Still A Work In Progress
Don't get me wrong, the pass defense certainly looks much improved when compared with its performance from all of last year. However, they did surrender almost 230 yards through the air to a man making his first ever start in the NFL, including a couple of lapses in coverage that led to game-changing plays. Nate Washington's 24-yard grab on a critical fourth-and-short help set up Tennessee's first score of the afternoon. Later, Washington would beat a pair of New England defensive backs for a 29-yard touchdown. Overall, Sunday was a step in the right direction for New England's secondary, but a lot of work remains to be done if the Pats are going to compete with the NFL's elite offensive squads.
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