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NFL Week 1: A few thoughts

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  September 10, 2012 10:45 AM

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Bill Belichick has long believed in being multiple on offense, multiple on defense, difficult to defend and plan for. And yet, the Patriots generally have been vulnerable to the same kind of team in recent years, one that can overpower New England physically and control the pace of the game.

Maybe the Patriots are finally tired of it.

This was only Week 1, of course, but what the Patriots did to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday was to deliver a physical, thorough beating that was anything but subtle. The Patriots were rarely, if ever, spread out on offense. They played at a controlled, dominating pace. At times, the Patriots seemed to play faster on defense than they did on offense, which is to say that New England was more interested in dominating Tennessee physically than on the scoreboard.

Tennessee's average starting field position was its 18-yard line. The Titans averaged 1.3 yards per rush. New England running backs carried 31 times for 156 yards, an average of just over 5.0 yards per rush.

We all know where and how the Patriots have faltered in recent years. At the end of the 2007 season, the New York Giants dominated them up front. In 2009, the Baltimore Ravens did the same. Ditto for the New York Jets in 2010 and the Giants again last year, the Patriots ultimately succumbing to more balanced, tougher and more physical teams.

In the playoffs, after all, push inevitably comes to shove.

So why not start practicing it now?

* Peyton Manning's health and performance obviously could affect the balance of power in the AFC, but let's not make too much of his Week 1 performance yet. The last time Pittsburgh traveled to Denver, after all, Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards and a posted a rating of 125.6, even if Tebow did complete only 10 passes.

Was Manning one of the best stories of Week 1? Sure. Did he look efficient and accurate, even athletic at times? Yes. But even Manning made reference to having "limitations," following his performance, and the large majority of his throws - including a 71-yard touchdown hookup with Demaryius Thomas - were on very short throws.

But so far, so good.

* Anyone else feel like the New Orleans Saints could be in for a tough year?

* OK, I admit it. I was half-expecting Alex Smith to come out in Week 1 and resort to the quarterback he was before Jim Harbaugh took over the San Francisco 49ers, but that didn't happen. Unlike last year's NFC Championship Game, when San Francisco completed just three passes to wide receivers, Smith connected with Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham for 15 completions against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Like the Patriots, San Francisco ran, threw, and controlled the pace of the game from start to finish, albeit against far better competition. All of that only makes the Week 15 matchup between the Patriots and Niners all the more intriguing.

* If you haven't seen the mixup at the end of the Arizona-Seattle game, you can do so here. (http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000060267/article/refs-timeout-ruling-in-seahawkscards-game-wrong?module=HP11_headline_stack) NFL officials are likely to regard the weekend officiating as a success, but we all know how this is going to work: the deeper you get down the roster of replacement officials, the more cluelessness you are likely to see.

Here in New England, we can only assume the Patriots are likely to see better refereeing crews given their place in the league hierarchy. But woe to those teams like Arizona, Seattle, Minnesota and Jacksonville, where they are likely to get the worst of the worst.

* Robert Griffin III certainly looked like a polished, poised quarterback in his NFL debut. I am already starting to wonder if Griffin is a young Michael Vick with better accuracy and more understanding of an offense.

* After finishing 26th in the NFL in defensive passer rating last season, the Buffalo Bills went out and signed Mario Williams to a blockbuster contract. The Bills subsequently drew a Week 1 opponent, the New York Jets, who have major questions at quarterback after finishing last season with a team passer rating of 78.4.

So what happened? The Bills got lit up and the Jets looked like the only team in the AFC East with even a remote chance of challenging the Patriots. Let's remember that the AFC East this season is scheduled to play the NFC West and the AFC South, which means there are a lot of wins out there for New York, too.

Don't sleep on the Jets, folks.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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