It should probably come as no surprise that Tom Brady's best drives of the week happened on the football field.
The Patriots quarterback, who had an eventful Thursday, suffering a car accident on the same day he signed a lucrative four-year contract extension, led the Patriots to a 24-0 first-half lead en route to a season-opening 38-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium.
It is the seventh straight season the Patriots have begun the season 1-0.
Brady completed 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns -- two to Wes Welker, who culminated a remarkable recovery from a major knee injury he suffered in the final week of the 2009 regular season with eight catches for 64 yards.
Welker's two touchdowns were sandwiched around a 32-yard field goal as the Patriots jumped to a 17-0 lead before the second quarter was half over.
The Patriots also got a boost from its offense and special teams. Linebacker Gary Guyton returned an interception 59 yards for a score to give the Patriots a 24-0 lead 5:38 of the second quarter.
The Bengals got on the scoreboard with Mike Nugent's 54-yard field goal with 1:14 left in the first half, cutting the margin to 21 at 24-3.
But any designs the Bengals may have had on a comeback were effectively ended on the opening kickoff of the second half, when Patriots second-year receiver Brandon Tate took it back 97 yards for a score and a 31-3 lead.
The Bengals, who went to a no-huddle offense for much of the second half after falling behind early, received impressive individual statistical performances from quarterback Carson Palmer (34-50, 345 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and receiver Chad Ochocinco (12 catches, 159 yards and a score).
Rob Gronkowski scored the Patriots' lone offensive touchdown in the second half with a one-yard TD reception, the first catch of the rookie tight end's career. Fellow rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez had a 45-yard catch and run on the Patriots' first possession, while Patrick Chung was a defensive standout with 12 tackles, nine solo.
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Final: Patriots 38, Bengals 24: And that's that. For the seventh straight season, the Patriots have won their season opener, jumping to a 24-0 lead and cruising to victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. We'll be back in a few to wrap it up . . .
13:00: Fred Taylor is doing most of the work chewing up the clock as the Patriots march into the red zone. Seems like this might be BenJarvus Green-Ellis's time given Taylor's age and injury history, but now's probably not the time to second guess.
11:03, Patriots 38, Bengals 24: Cedric Benson, who has been contained (15 carries, 43 yards) all day, punches one in from the 1 to give his fantasy owners something to cheer. The leap into the end zone ended a 14-play, 76-yard drive that took just 3:44 off the clock.
10:56:Ochocinco now has 11 catches for 143 yards as the Bengals drive deep into Patriots' territory. Darius Butler is having a tough time in single coverage.
8:18: Palmer hits Ochocinco for 25 yards, putting him over 100 yards for the day (116).
7:19, Patriots 38, Bengals 17: Aaron Hernandez had his moment early in the game with a 45-yard catch-and-run, and now his fellow touted rookie tight end gets his chance to take a great memory from his NFL debut. Rob Gronkowski, the second-round pick who impressed in the preseason with four TD receptions, gets his first one that counts, smoothly snaring a one-yarder over his shoulder in the end zone to cap a 14-play, 81-yard drive that ate 7:41 off the clock. The catch was Gronkowski's first of his NFL career, and if there was any doubt left in this game, that drive erased it.
End of third quarter, Patriots 31, Bengals 17: Some stats that stand out after the third quarter:
- Brady is 18 for 27 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Carson Palmer has the better fantasy football numbers - 24 of 35, 247 yards, 2 TDs and a pick -- but that's the result of falling behind 24-0.
- Patrick Chung now has 12 tackles -- nine solo. Jerod Mayo has nine (six solo).
- The Patriots are 6 of 9 on third down. The Bengals are 5 of 11.
14:38, Patriots 31, Bengals 17: Give Chad Ochocinco credit for knowing the score. After capping a 12-play, 73-yard drive with a 28-yard scoring pass from Palmer, he chose not to live up to his vow to snatch a musket from one of the Patriots' minutemen in the end zone should he score, instead celebrating the score conventionally with the Bengals still trailing by 14. The TD marks another milestone for Ochocinco; it was the 63d of his Bengals career, tying former receiver Carl Pickens for the franchise record. (That Carl Pickens is the Bengals' all-time TD leader tells you something about the Bengals' history.) After a slow start, Ochocinco is going to end up with some pretty impressive numbers at game's end; he has seven catches for 93 yards and a TD.
11:12: T.O. becomes the third receiver in NFL history to go over 15,000 yards in his career. The others are Jerry Rice and . . . Isaac Bruce. Bet you didn't guess the latter. Randy Moss is sixth on the list, entering today's game with 14,465 yards.
9:47: More proof of the Patriots' offensive dominance/efficiency today: Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko did not get a chance to boot the ball until just now. The first punt of his NFL career traveled 43 yards to the Bengals 21.
7:06, Patriots 31, Bengals 10: Cincinnati finds its way to the end zone with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that culminates with a one-yard TD pass from Palmer to rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham. On the drive, Ochocinco became the 33d player in NFL history to go over 10,000 receiving yards.
14:48, Patriots 31, Bengals 3: Brandon Tate takes the opening kickoff 97 yards for the score. Just how Marvin Lewis drew it up to start the half. The touchdown was the first of Tate's NFL career.
Halftime: A few notable numbers at the break:
- Brady is 15 of 24 for 178 yards and two scores. He has not been sacked and has plenty of time to throw for the most part, encouraging signs given the concerns over the absence of guard Logan Mankins.
- The Patriots are averaging seven yards per carry (10 carries, 70 yards). Fred Taylor leads the ground game with six carries for 44 yards (7.3 average).
- Randy Moss has four receptions for 50 yards, while Wes Welker has four for 18 yards and two scores. That 4.5 yard average? Clearly, he's lost a step. (We kid, we kid. It's been a sensational return for No. 83.)
- Patrick Chung has eight solo tackles and one assist.
- Terrell Owens has five receptions for 30 yards, while Chad Ochocinco has two for 23. Couldn't ask for much more out of the Patriots' young defensive backs.
:01: Gostkowski misses wide right on a what-the-heck 55-yarder, leaving one second on the clock. T.O. takes this as his opportunity to join Ochocinco in the locker room. Jordan Shipley, possibly the only remaining Bengals receiver near the field, hauls in a 51-yard Hail Mary a couple yards shy of the end zone. At the half, it's 24-3, Patriots, and it feels like the margin is greater, if that makes sense. We'll be back with some halftime stats shortly.
14:32: Chad Ochocinco jogs off the field while a Randy Moss non-catch is being reviewed. The Bengals receiver gets a warm and friendly ovation from Patriots fans in the south end zone as he passes by. (The Moss call stood, by the way. No catch.)
13:46, Patriots 24, Bengals 3: Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent was nailing 52-yarders during the pregame, and he just added another six feet to his range here, concluding a 12-play, 37-yard drive with a 54-yarder to get the Bengals on the board. On the third-down play preceding the field goal, Palmer targeted T.O. deep down the right side, but Devin McCourty was in perfect position and T.O. had no play. Pretty impressive debut by the Patriots' first-round pick thus far.
11:44: Patrick Chung shows his range with an impressive open-field tackle on Benson after a 10-yard gain. Looked like Benson might break it, and remember, it's a bit of a surprise when the Bengals run at this point. Chung's probably been the most animated Patriot in trying to fire up the crowd, constantly waving his arms and imploring fans to cheer before the snap.
9:22, Patriots 24, Bengals 0: Dare we say the rout is on? We dare. Gary Guyton jumps in front of rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham, picks off Palmer's pass, and No. 59 sprints 59 yards down the left sideline, soaring the last yard over the goal line. With more than five minutes left in the first half, there sure doesn't seem to be much drama left in this one.
7:02: After failing to haul in a short pass in the flat,Terrell Owens has as many drops today as he does reality shows. That would be two.
6:02, Patriots 17, Bengals 0: The ruling on the field stands. Wes Welker, in his first game since suffering a major knee injury in January in the regular season finale, now has two TD receptions, half of his total last season, when he had four in 15 games. Really can't emphasize enough how remarkable this story is, given that it was assumed just a few months ago that he'd begin the season on the PUP list. The lesson, as always, is don't underestimate Wes Welker.
6:02, Patriots 16, Bengals 0: . . . for the moment, anyway. On third down, Welker catches a four-yard over the middle, and it's initially ruled a touchdown. The replay here in the press box looks inconclusive, but we'll see what the fellas in stripes have to say about it. As Belichick likes to say, "There's no camera on the goal line," so perhaps the ruling on the field will stand.
5:28: Brady to Faulk, 21 yards to the Bengals 4. Just a gorgeous play, Brady rolling left, avoiding the late rush, and finding Faulk, who tiptoed along the sideline as he caught the ball. Impeccable timing by two players who, after watching this play, you'd suspect had been teammates for years even if you didn't know better.
4:16: Brady to Moss, 32 yards. Looked like Moss was going to take it to the house, but Bengals linebacker Ray Maualuga shoved him out of bounds from behind.
2:41: Brady tries another deep connection down the left side with Moss on second and 6 from their own 24, but Moss has to slow up slightly for the pass, which is busted up by Johnathan Joseph. Brandon Tate -- whom we're convinced will be a significant factor this year with his roadrunner speed -- picks up the first down on third and 6, getting to the Cincy 44.
:10, second quarter: The Patriots offense fails to take advantage of Ninkovich's one-man effort, going three-and-out, with Gostkowski punching a 47-yarder wide left. Still 10-0, Patriots.
End of the first quarter, Patriots 10, Bengals 0: Rob Ninkovich, in a play reminiscent of something the previous Patriot to wear the No. 50 jersey might have done, drills Bengals running back Cedric Benson, forces a fumble, then makes the recovery himself. The Patriots start with golden field position at the Cincinnati 28.
12:31, Patriots 10, Bengals 0: Thus far, the Bengals have shown no inclination to slow the Patriots' offense. This scoring drive of 11 plays and 56 yards concluded with a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Goskowski. It was a bit of a lost opportunity for the Patriots -- a rare drop by Kevin Faulk on third down led to "settling" for the field goal.
13:38: Sammy Morris keeps the Patriots' second drive going, hammering ahead for two yards on third and 1 at the Patriots 39. On the next play, Brady takes his first shot deep with Randy Moss, but overthrows him by five yards or so. A play later, on third and 5, Moss gets his first catch of the season as the target on the bubble screen that used to be such a effective part of their offense during the Charlie Weis years, and picks up the first down.
5:42: We should note that both Hernandez and fellow rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski started for the Patriots, in place of Alge Crumpler and RB Fred Taylor, who were listed as starters on the depth chart.
5:13, first quarter, Patriots 7, Bengals 0: Well, that's pretty much a textbook example of how a team hopes its first drive of the season will go. The Patriots march 72 yards in just five plays, with Brady finding Welker for a 9-yard score. We probably don't need to mention that he's seven months removed from major knee surgery.
3:33: Aaron Hernandez is now averaging 45 yards per catch in his NFL career. Catching a short pass down the left sideline, he weaves through a couple of Bengals defenders, cuts back across the field, and is finally dragged down near the Cincy 15. This kid can really run.
2:45: Wes Welker is officially back. Brady finds him for five yards. The crowd acknowledges.
2:22, first quarter: Relatively encouraging first series for the Patriots. The Bengals, starting at their 15, took a shot at rookie cornerback Devin McCourty on the very first play, but he broke up Carson Palmer's pass, intended for Terrell Owens, near the 50. After one Owens catch and one first down, Cincinnati was forced to punt after Tully Banta-Cain and Myron Pryor combine on the third-down sack.
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Greetings from Gillette Stadium, where we ready for some football . . . and at last, about to watch some.
The Patriots and Bengals are moments away from kicking off their 2010 seasons, with the black-jerseyed Bengals hitting the field just now to a smattering of boos. The Patriots will wear their white jerseys.
The most noteworthy pregame football news thus far is concerning the Patriots inactives. Receiver Julian Edelman, who was listed as questionable on the injury report with a foot injury, is out. Edelman worked out with Patriots trainers on the field and was a game-time decision. Also, Laurence Maroney, also listed as questionable with a thigh injury, also will not play.
Couple of lineup changes for the Bengals. Rookie receiver Jordan Shipley and tight end Reggie Kelly were in the starting lineup.
Other inactives and pregame notes can be found here, but stay right here for your in-game updates.
Tom Brady is visible in the tunnel, the place is buzzing, and we're almost ready to go . . .