A great beginning!! Though the Pats' workman-like 34-13 win was far from perfect, it was a solid effort against a decent opponent, on the road. Lots of good to take from this win. Most notably, the play of the Pats' younger players, Stevan Ridley, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Jermaine Cunningham, Tavon Wilson, and Ras-I Dowling. Here are my grades:I. OFFENSE:
Turnover free, methodical, and workman-like covers this performance, in a nutshell.1.) QB:
Not one of the Terrific One's best efforts. Nonetheless, he showed grit, toughness, and was interception free. Tom finished with 23 completions in 31 attempts, for 236 yards, and two TDs. But, from the get go, his accuracy was off. Tom showed little confidence (and for good reason) in his OL's ability to protect him. He appeared to have happy feet, and frequently rushed his throws.
For example, on the Pats' initial drive, Brady missed a wide open Brandon Lloyd, for what should have been an easy 52 yard TD connection. In a play eerily similar to that memorable late 4th quarter miss to Wes Welker in the SB, Brady threw a high ball to the wrong shoulder of Lloyd. The errant throw forced Lloyd to twist his body and leap. As was the case with Welker in the SB, the end result was the pass slipping through his Lloyd's finger-tips, incomplete. Two plays later, Brady missed an open Welker on a crossing pattern...throwing the ball slightly behind him, and hitting Wes in his face-mask.
There was also that poorly thrown pass to Julian Edelman in the 3rd quarter on a flanker screen, on a 3rd and 11 play. Edelman appeared to have a minimum of 20 yards of clear sailing ahead, had there been a good throw. For the record, it appeared that Edelman was able to scoop up the poor Brady throw...but the refs ruled an incomplete pass. This, in my view, was the only real bad call, in an otherwise well officiated game.
Early in the 2nd quarter, Titans' DE Kameron Wimbley knifed passed the turnstile otherwise known as Note Solder, and jumped on Brady's back, sacking him. In the process, Wimbley, intentionally ot not, kicked Brady in the face, bloodying, or, perhaps, breaking Tom's nose. Thereafter, the play-calling noticably changed...as greater emphasis was placed on the running game, on short, quick passes, and on WR screens.
Tom's highlights were a well thrown 27 yard completion to Lloyd in the first quarter, and a perfectly thrown 2 yard corner/fade TD pass, to a well covered Gronk. That TD gave the Pats a commanding 21-3 lead, which they held at half-time:GRADE: B-;
This game may have served as a coming out party for RB Stevan Ridley. The 2nd year man out of LSU had a career game, finishing with 125 yards on 21 carries (that's a 6 yard per carry average, folks), and a TD. He also contributed in the passing game with two receptions, including a 20 yard play on a swing pass, in the 4th quarter. Ridley ran with power and determination throughout the game.
RBs Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden contributed 33 yards on 11 carries, mostly in a mop-up role:GRADE: A;
Something needs to be done to address the difficulties that LT Nate Solder is having in pass protection. Tom Brady's nose, and football life, may depend upon it. Solder's foot-work was awful...causing him to be off-balance. On a couple of occasions, he appeared to be desperately diving at the legs of on-rushing DL. Worse yet, this 6'8", 320 lb. mountain of a man appeared to be successfully bull-rushed by relatively smaller defenders.
That said, Solder and his fellow lumberjacks seemed to dominate on running plays. Logan Mankins in particular seemed to be opening some wide holes for "The Riddler" throughout.:GRADE: B-;
4.) TEs and WRs:
The Riddler on the ground.
WR Brandon Lloyd is the real deal, folks. Lloyd finished with 5 receptions for 69 yards. But for
the aforementioned Brady errant throw on a 52 yard play, Lloyd would have posted a 100 yard game. The Tiitans seemed to key on Wes Welker...limiting the Wild, Wild Wes to just 3 catches for 14 yards. GRADE: B+;
This group completely shut down the Titans' vaunted running game...limiting the Titans to a mere 20 yards, on 16 carries. Star RB Chris Johnson was taken completely out of the game, as the Pats held him to just 6 yards on 11 carries! Outstanding!!1.) DL:
Though the stat sheet shows that he only had one tackle, Vince Wilfolk was immense. He clogged up the running lanes inside, and was able to collapse the pass pocket on occasion. Rookie Chandler Jones had 5 tackles (3 solos), and a second quarter, game changing strip-sack inside the Tennessee 5 yard line, of Titans' QB, Jake Locker. Locker's fumble was scooped up by Dont'a Hightower, who would run it in 4 yards for a TD. This score put the Patriots in command, 14-3. Though the pass rush might have been better, it was clear that the boys up front were geared to stop the run first, as well as contain athletic QB Locker in the pocket:GRADE: A;
Outstanding performance by Jerod Mayo. The Mayonaise Man led the Pats in tackles with 13, including 9 solos. Mayo also delivered that vicious 4th quaarter hit on Titans' WR, Nate Washington...converting a 25 yard Tennessee gain into an incomplete pass. This was the play thaat Patrick Chung scooped the lose ball up, and ran 40 yards...before being tackled by QB Locker. Locker suffered a shoulder injury on the play, and would leave the game.
Dont'a Hightower had a home-coming to remember by scoring his first NFL TD, on his fumble return. He finished with 5 tackles, including four solos...and a tackle for loss (TFL). Jermaine Cunningham continued his inspired play with three tackles (2 solos), and a sack. Cunningham also drew a holding penalty...which negated a successful QB draw, on a 3rd and long conversion. Like Wilfolk, though he didn't register much in the stats sheets, Brandon Spikes seemed to be in the thick of things all day:GRADE: A;
Devin McCourty led this group in tackles with 7, including 5 solos. However, he was beaten in the first quarter by WR Nate Washington on a 4th and one play deep...setting up a Titans' FG. Aside from letting Washington escape for 20 yards after catch for the Titans' lone TD in the 3rd quarter, this crew did a solid job of tackling. Credit Ras-I Dowling for a key TFL inside the Tennessee 5, leading to the Pats obtaining excellent field position. Rookie Tavon Wilson also stepped up with four tackles (3 solos), two pass deflections, and a tip-drill interception.
That said, one must take into account that the Titans played this game without the services of their best WR, Kenny Britt...and that Jake Locker was the Titans' triggerman: GRADE: B; III. SPECIAL TEAMS:
Nothing spectacular, but solid. Good job by PK Stephen Gostkowski on kick-offs...most of which were too deep to return. This helped to keep a lid on dangerous Titans' return man, Darius Reynaud. When Reynaud was able to get a return, "The Gost" stopped him with a TD saving tackle. Fortunately, that 40 yard Tennessee return was called back due to a holding call. The Ghost was also 2/2 in the FG department.
Nice job of placement punting by Zoltan the Magnificent. Though the Pats have no legitimate breakaway threat on kickoff returns, Julian Edelman remains an effective punt returner:GRADE: B;
Great job by BB and Matt Patricia in devising a scheme to shut down RB Chris Johnson. Kudos also to BB and Josh McDaniels for switching gears to the run game and short passing game, to combat the Titans' break-neck approach to rush Tom Brady. But, work needs to be done with LT Nate Solder. Look for BB and Dante Scarnecchia to set aside time for extra tutoring sessions for the big man. Unless his pass protection dramatically improves, it's doubtful whether Tom Brady will remain in one piece this season:GRADE: A.
V. PLAY OF THE GAME:
Undoubtedly, the strip sack by Chandler Jones, and the subsequent fumble return for a TD by Dont'a Hightower stole the show.VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Though high marks go to Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfolk, and Jerod Mayo, the Game Ball goes to "The Riddler", Stevan Ridley. Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=320909010
. As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.