Nashville, Tennessee may be the Music City, but it was the New England Patriots who orchestrated quite a performance on Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Tom Brady looked like an ageless front man of a rock and roll band eager to get on the road again after a much too long break. Off-season rust and youthful jitters were nowhere to be found on the field today amongst any player. This band from Foxboro has one final destination in mind for their five month football tour, New Orleans. They showed today that they just might have the talent and mettle to return to football’s biggest game.
Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez started their 2012 seasons on the right foot. The centerpieces of the passing attack caught 60 and 59 yards, respectively and each hauled in a touchdown. Newcomer Brandon Lloyd also looked like everything he was promised to be, catching five passes for sixty nine yards.
While touchdowns and first downs are the expectation for this Patriots passing attack, the running game turned a few heads as well. Running back Steven Ridley scored one touchdown and ran for 125 yards. The second-year RB looked more like the Titans all-star running back Chris Johnson than Johnson did himself. Johnson eked out four yards rushing for the day.
Holding a three-time Pro Bowl running back to the lowest output of his career is one of many accolades this Patriots defense hopes to rack up this season. This young squad (only two players above 30) looked like it will play its way into many more highlight videos.
Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower teamed up for one of the most exciting plays of the game. Midway through the second quarter Jones swiped the football from the hands of Titans QB Jake Locker. Fellow first round pick Hightower picked the ball up and ran it in for a 6-yard TD.
Rookie safety Tavon Wilson also added to the day’s rookie accomplishments. The fourth round pick snagged a ball that bounced out of Cornerback Kyle Arrington’s hands in the Tennessee end zone.
There was a scary moment at the beginning of the fourth quarter when two Titans players were injured on the same play. Wide receiver Nate Washington was shaken up by a hit from Patriots LB Jerod Mayo which caused him to drop the ball. Safety Patrick Chung scooped up the ball and proceeded to run down the field. It looked like a potential score until Locker got in his way. Locker stopped Mayo, but ended up injuring his right shoulder in the process.
Both Washington and Locker were able to leave the field under their own power, but neither returned to the game. Matt Hasselbeck took over for Locker and proceeded to lead the Titans to a field goal. However, that momentum was quashed by a stealthily quick Patriots offense who answered right back with a field goal of their own.
Youth seems to be the keyword for the Patriots 2012 season. It does not look like that will be a negative asset for this team. The team looked energized and in sync. Brady successfully executed the no-huddle offense multiple times during the game which caught the Titans off guard multiple times during the game.
There are still a number of concerns to be addressed before this team plans its flight to New Orleans. The offensive line did an adequate job protecting Brady, but allowed a particularly gruesome sack in the second quarter by Titans LB Kamerion Wimbley that caused Brady to get his nose bloodied. (There is still no word if veteran lineman Brian Waters will be reporting to the team.)
While the Titans passing game is not elite the pass defense should be concerned that Locker ended the day with only seven yards less passing than Brady. The Patriots do not face an elite quarterback until Peyton Manning and the Broncos come to Foxborough in week 5. However, the secondary will have its hands full when they face all-pro WR Larry Fitzgerald next week.
With the Red Sox season in full cacophony, the Celtics wheezing towards another season, and the Bruins silent as a lockout looms, Boston fans can rejoice that the sweet music of Tom Brady and company is back.