Of the snaps Welker didn’t play, nine went to a third tight end or another running back. That’s going to happen in this new offense where the team finally has a legit X receiver in Lloyd. Sure looked like Welker got benched for Julian Edelman after Welker’s drop when he didn’t play a snap on the second series. But outside of that, it appeared the Patriots are trying to steal some rest for Welker (he slowed down last season), and give some well-earned snaps to Edelman. It bears watching.
Offensive line (rating: 3.5 out of 5)
A fairly good showing, even higher if you grade on a curve. Nate Solder (sack, two hurries, two poor runs) and Logan Mankins (three hurries, knockdown, poor run) were inconsistent, though they played very well in the run game at times. Center Ryan Wendell was the best lineman. Both right tackles, Sebastian Vollmer (34 snaps) and Marcus Cannon (38), were solid.
Defensive line (rating: 5 out of 5)
Just terrific, led by Jones (sack, hurry, knockdown, three stuffed runs), who looks like he’s in his fifth year. Cunningham (sack, two stuffs) was physical. Why wasn’t Rob Ninkovich more effective? The Patriots wanted to make Locker beat them from his pocket, not with his feet. It’s fine for Jones to be more aggressive in his rush; he’s coming from Locker’s blind side. It’s more important for Ninkovich to be controlled in front of Locker, because that’s where he wants to run.
Linebackers (rating: 4 out of 5)
Jerod Mayo (two passes defensed, one total stuff) and Dont’a Hightower (tackle for a loss, two hurries, fumble recovery/touchdown) are going to be some duo. That was some play by Hightower on the 3-yard tackle for a loss right before his fumble return for a touchdown. The Patriots were actually in a 3-4 (played a few snaps), with Hightower and Jones the outside linebackers. Hightower took on the pulling guard and fullback, then tackled Johnson with a few fingers.
Secondary (rating: 3 out of 5)
Against a more accurate quarterback with more weapons, this might have been trouble. The fourth-down play to Nate Washington against Kyle Arrington was just a good play. Devin McCourty (two breakups) absolutely should have been flagged for pass interference against Damian Williams in the end zone. Important pass tackle against Williams by Tavon Wilson 47 seconds before halftime. The 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook was just a good play against the right coverage. The Patriots were in Cover 3 so the seams are open. With experience, Wilson will react quicker. The 29-yard touchdown to Washington was on safety Steve Gregory. He can’t get a bad angle on Washington in two-deep coverage.
Special teams (rating: 3 out of 5)
Disappointing opening for Zoltan Mesko (33.5 net), who should be bidding for a Pro Bowl berth. Stephen Gostkowski continues to be great on kickoffs. Nate Ebner stood out with two tackles in his first game. Should be a constant threat.