I'm delighted to say that today, the Patriots surprised me and may others, by dominating the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals, 38-24. It was a great start to the 2010 season...and provides grounds for optimism. But, a stiffer test awaits them next week, when they travel to New York to face the highly touted, loud-mouth Jets. Here are my grades:
A.) OFFENSE: This unit appeared to be in mid-season form, as its' play allowed the Patriots to jump out to a 17-0 lead...which expanded to 31-3 early in the 3rd quarter. After a Bengals' comeback sliced the lead to 31-17, a 14 play, 81 yard TD drive, which ate up 7:41 of the final 15 minutes of play, put the game on ice.
1.) QB: Tom Brady showed today why he is worthy of the huge, 4 year contract extension, that he received only days ago. The Terrific One completed 25 of just 35 passing attempts for 258 yards, and three TDs. The guy doesn't just perform, he leads.
2.) RBs: The RB by committee approach was in vogue again today, and produced fine results. Fred Taylor led the way with 71 yards on just 14 carries. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 3 carries for 23 yards, along with 4 receptions for 47 yards...including a beautiful 21 yard sideline reception on a drive sustaining 3rd down play, which set up a TD. As for what appeared to be an earlier drive killing drop by Faulk, a closer look at the play indicates that the Brady pass was thrown slightly behind him. Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis contributed 22 yards more, on 5 carries.
3.) OL: Mankins, Smankins!!! Minus Mankins, the remaining Big Uglies did an outstanding job of protecting Brady, and, overall, a good job opening up running room for the backs. When will the seemingly immature Logan grow up and realize that pride goeth before the fall...and that this foolish holdout of his is accomplishing nothing, except perhaps to ruin his career.
4.) TEs and WRs: The trio of Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez each contributed to the win in different ways. Crumpler mainly with his blocking, while Gronk took over the "Mike Vrabel" role, hauling in a one yard TD pass, which concluded the aforementioned game icing drive. Hernandez chipped in with a 45 yard catch and run reception...which could be a harbinger of bigger and better things, for both he and the team. As for the WRs, Wes Welker continued down the road of a miraculous recovery from his knee injury, with 8 catches for 65 yards, including two TD receptions. Despite his post-game, Manny Ramirez-like claim that "Pats fans don't want to see him do good", Randy Moss did good, hauling in 5 passes for 59 yards...while Brandon Tate added 4 catches for 36 yards.
B.) DEFENSE: Following an impressive first half, the "D" seemed to have problems with the Cincinnati no huddle offense...and allowed the Bengals to whittle a 31-3 lead down to 31-17, before the offense put the game out of reach with their 4th quarter, 81 yard TD drive.
1.) DL: Good job early in controlling the line of scrimmage, and freeing up the LBs to make plays. But, on passing plays, the DL was able to mount little pressure on Carson Palmer.
2.) LBs: Good job by the ILBs in shutting down the run, and in coverage, in the first half. There were difficulties in coverage by both the LBs and secondary in the second half. Jarod Mayo led the LBs with 12 tackles, 8 of them solos. Outstanding play by Gary Guyton in picking off a Palmer pass in the closing minutes of the first half, and returning it 59 yards for a TD. Some solid plays by Rob Ninkovich, including a fumble recovery. But, the OLB failed to apply pressure on Carson Palmer in the second half, when he was passing on practically every play:
3.) SECONDARY: After a fine first half, there were plenty of errors in the second stanza. Darius Butler in particular seemed to have his difficulties...and the secondary was embarrassed by Chad Ochocinco's 12 receptions for 159 yards. That said, rookie Devin McCourty continued to show promise. Though I question the abilities of the Patriot safeties in coverage, they all appear to hit hard and tackle well...led by Patrick Chung, who led the team in tackles with 16 (12 solos). The potential for fine play is there. But, right now, this group is still a work in progress:
C.) SPECIAL TEAMS: Good kick coverage...and, of course, there was the brilliant 97 yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate, for what turned out to be the game winning tally. Any time a TD can be scored by special teams is a huge plus. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski appears to still be having some trouble getting used to his new holder. He has not been as consistent one would like to see in an NFL kicker thus far:
D.) COACHING: Another outstanding job by BB and his staff. Great job of mixing defenses in the first half...as it appeared to befuddle Carson Palmer, and the Cincinnati brain-thrust. As stated above, the offense appeared to be in mid-season form. The kick coverage and kick return teams were great. The young secondary still needs work, but has the talent to improve. OLB and DE remain a serious concern:
E.) Play of the Game: Hard to pick just one...but I'll go with Gary Guyton's 59 yard pick-6;
F.) Player of the Game: Tom Brady.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=300912017