Sunday, September 9, 2012

New England Fights off Feisty Tennessee for Week One Victory

Week one of the NFL season, and there really were a lot of pleasant surprises for the New England Patriots.  Sure just about anyone who’s ever seen a pigskin could have predicted the New England passing game would have a good day, but who would have thought it would be a 125-yard day for Stevan Ridley (the first 100-yard game of his NFL career).

And how about that “shaky” defense holding former rushing champion Chris Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries?

Though they probably could have played a little better, what with a few mistakes and a feisty Tennessee team that looked good to start the game and twice threatened to climb back into it, the Patriots did play fairly well on both sides of the ball in their 34-13 victory over the Titans.

The game began with 2nd-year starter Jake Locker leading Tennessee straight down the field on a drive that ended in a field goal and hacked 6:17 off the game clock, part of some of the play of a Titans team that looked poised to make a game of it early on.

But Brady & Co. went a quick 68 yards on their second offensive possession of the game, putting together a few big plays, including a 23-yard touchdown strike from Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez, to give the Pats a 7-3 lead they would never relinquish.

After their initial score, the Patriots got a little help from their defense and Locker’s mistakes.  A long downfield pass to the end zone that Locker intended for a not-exactly-open Nate Washington wound up in the hands of Tavon Wilson instead, ending a drive that had looked promising when Tennessee turned a third-and-six into a first-and-ten on a 19-yard strike from Locker to Jared Cook.

Then, with the score still 7-3 and the Titans pinned deep in their own end zone, Chandler Jones knocked the ball out of Locker’s hand and Dont’a Hightower ran it six yards into the end zone to put New England up 14-3.

Following a Tennessee punt, Tom Brady capped a 12-play, 5:17 drive with a 2-yard touchdown toss to Rob Gronkowski that put New England up 21-3 at the two-minute warning.

But Tennessee wasn’t quite done yet, marching 80 yards for a score on its first offensive possession of the second half to cut New England’s lead to 21-10.

Late in the third quarter, the Patriots got the ball on the Tennessee 48 after the Titans punted from their own 1 yard-line.  Stevan Ridley covered 34 of the 48 yards the Patriots needed to make the score 28-10, including a 1-yard touchdown run that ended the drive. 

The Titans made one final push on a drive that went from the late third quarter into the early fourth, cutting the lead again with a field goal that made the score 28-13.  But the ensuing drive by New England went for 12 plays, 5:02 and a field goal, making the score 31-13 with just 4:15 remaining and putting just about any chance of a Tennessee comeback out of reach.

New England definitely has some work to do if they want to make their sixth Super Bowl run of the Brady-Belichick era.  The Patriot receivers dropped a few passes that should have been caught, a handful of Brady’s passes were a little too low for their intended targets, and they let the scrappy Titans hang around a little bit longer than necessary.  But there’s no denying that this is a good Patriots team, one that might just be primed for yet another run at the NFL’s ultimate prize.  

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