Pats win 9th straight opener, 34-13 over Titans
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A botched spike after a touchdown catch and a possible broken nose for Tom Brady. Those glitches aside, the New England Patriots got off to their customary start to the season and even showed signs of having a ground game thanks to Stevan Ridley.
Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and Ridley ran for a career-high 125 and a TD as the defending AFC champion Patriots opened the season the way they usually do, with a victory, beating the Tennessee Titans 34-13 on Sunday for their league-high ninth straight season-opening win.
"You always want to start out with a win," said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had the ball slip on him when he tried to spike in celebration. "That's always a great way to start, and the Tennessee Titans are a good team. It was a good, hard-fought battle out there."
The Titans at least led in this game at 3-0 unlike the last time these teams met in October 2009 when the Patriots won in a 59-0 rout.
This time, Brady tossed a 23-yard TD pass to Aaron Hernandez in the first quarter to put the Patriots ahead to stay, and his 2-yard TD pass to Gronkowski late in the first half capped 21 straight points. The first TD pass was Brady's 301st in his career, passing John Elway for fifth in TD passes in NFL history. It also marked his 33rd straight game with a TD pass.
Brady said after the game he wasn't sure if his nose was broken, an injury he's never had before. His nose was freshly bandaged, and Brady said he needs "more scars." Plus, he was pretty happy with how New England's revised offensive line protected him with the exception of Kamerion Wimbley's sack in the second quarter.
"That was the only good one I really took, so I think the offensive line played really well," Brady said.
The Patriots tried to boost the defense through the draft, and early signs are they did just that. Top draft pick Chandler Jones sacked Jake Locker and knocked the ball loose, and fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower picked it up and ran it in for a 6-yard TD between Brady's touchdown passes. Rookie Tavon Wilson, a second-rounder, picked off a Locker pass too.
"That is why they are here," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.
The Titans had a "Code Blue" promotion for the opener and their 137th sellout. Even former Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt was on hand, raising the 12th Titan flag to help kick off a season in which the Titans expect so much after going 9-7 in coach Mike Munchak's first season.
Instead, they wound up keeping Locker on the sideline after he hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter on a play the replacement officials should have whistled as an incomplete pass rather than allowing Patriots safety Patrick Chung to pick up a loose ball and run for the end zone. Chris Johnson, coming off his worst season as a pro, finished with only 4 yards on 11 carries.
The Titans weren't happy at the failure of the replacement officials on three different passes into the end zone they thought deserved flags for pass interference, two of those non-calls forcing them to settle for field goals. Munchak said there always will be calls they believe are missed by officials.
"Disappointing?" Munchak said. "Definitely. Do you want to play better, especially at home? Yes we do. Were there parts that we looked like we were doing some good things? Yes, there's a lot of good things in this football game, but not enough."
Both Munchak and Locker expect the second-year quarterback to be ready for the Titans' visit to San Diego next week. Locker also won't shy away if he sees someone running at him with the ball.
"I'm not going to let a guy run into the end zone," Locker said.
The Titans had spent plenty of time prepping for the Patriots, who protected Brady with an offensive line featuring a new left tackle in Nate Solder, new center in Dan Connolly and right guard in Donald Thomas. He didn't have the game he had in 2009 when he threw five of his TDs in one quarter, but he didn't have to in a game where Tennessee wound up hitting him only four times.
Now the Patriots get ready for their home opener against Arizona. Coach Bill Belichick said if his Patriots can play like this, they'll be all right.
"It's nice to get off to a good start, but we have a long way to go," Belichick said.
NOTES: Brady became the fastest quarterback to 125 career wins, reaching that mark in his 160th start. ... The Patriots had a 100-yard rusher just once last season when BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 136 yards against the Jets on Oct. 9, 2011. ... Titans LB Colin McCarthy watched the second half with an injured right ankle in a walking boot but said he'll be OK. ... Titans WR Nate Washington, who caught a 29-yard TD pass from Locker, also was hurt on the same play as his quarterback. He said after the game he wasn't sure if he hurt his head but was headed to the training room to be checked out.