Patriots Look Sharp in Season Opener
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 13:09
A bloody nose wasn’t enough to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots on Sunday. The defending AFC champions cruised to a 34-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Opening Day.
Even after Brady took a knee to the face following a sack in the second quarter by Kamerion Wimbley, he managed to ﬁnish the day 23 of 31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, leading New England to their ninth straight season-opening victory. Stevan Ridley was tremendous in his ﬁrst game as the starting running back, rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. In his Patriots’ debut, Brandon Lloyd showed Chad Ochocinco how it’s done, hauling in ﬁve receptions for 69 yards.
First-round draft picks, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower also had big debuts for a Patriots’ defense that looked stellar, especially in the front seven. The defense held Titans’ running back Chris Johnson to just four yards on the ground and the entire Titans team to just 20 rushing yards.
Jones and Hightower combined for the defensive highlight of the day in the second quarter. After Jones stripped Titans’ quarterback Jake Locker, Hightower scooped up the football and ran it in for a score from six yards out.
Rob Bironas had a 28-yard ﬁeld goal to get the Titans on the board on the ﬁrst possession of the game, but the Patriots responded late in the ﬁrst quarter.
After a ﬁve play, 67-yard drive that included a 28-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 60 yards) and a 17-yard rush from Ridley, Brady found Aaron Hernandez (6 catches, 59 yards) over the middle for a 23-yard touchdown pass that gave New England the lead and their ﬁrst score of the season. The touchdown pass was the 301st of Brady’s career, surpassing John Elway for ﬁfth on the all-time list.
On the ensuing drive, second-round pick Tavon Wilson made his impact by picking off Locker in the end zone, resulting in a touchback. The Patriots punted after the interception, but capitalized on another Titans’ turnover, just three plays later.
With the Titans at their own seven-yard line, Locker stepped back in the pocket before he was sacked and stripped by Jones at the one. Hightower picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone for his ﬁrst career touchdown, which put the Patriots up 14-3.
Later in the second quarter, the Patriots offense really got going with one of their signature hurry-up drives. Brady and company started at their own 33 and ended up in the end zone just over ﬁve minutes later when the two-time MVP found Rob Gronkowski for a two-yard touchdown reception, that stretched New England’s lead to 21-3.
Brady was 4 of 5 on the drive for 27 yards, hitting four different receivers with a series of short passes, in addition to a 15-yard run by Ridley to start off the drive.
The Patriots, in what has become tradition, started the second half with the ball but could not get past midﬁeld. When the Titans took over, it took them just 90 seconds and four plays to go 80 yards and cut the Patriots’ lead to 21-10. Locker completed passes of 36, 16, and 29 yards on the drive, the latter a touchdown to Nate Washington.
The two teams then traded scoreless possessions before the Patriots ﬁnally got the offense moving again, late in the third. Stevan Ridley carried the ball four times for 35 yards on the drive, including a one-yard touchdown run that put New England back up by 18, at 28-10.
The next drive was perhaps the most important of the game. The Titans started the fourth quarter with the ball on their own 43-yard line, looking to get back in the game. On the third play of the drive, Locker found Washington over the middle of the ﬁeld, for what was originally called a 23-yard reception.
However, Washington was crushed by Jerod Mayo and lost control of the ball, dropping to the turf. Washington lay motionless while Patrick Chung picked up the ball and returned it to 49 yards to the Tennessee 26. When all was said and done, the play was reviewed, overturned and called an incomplete pass.
In the middle of it all, Locker, trying to tackle Chung, appeared to injure his shoulder and was forced to leave the game in favor of former Boston College quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. Washington eventually left the ﬁeld under his own power.
Hasselbeck led the Titans down the ﬁeld to the New England one-yard line. Tennessee was unable to score, however, and forced to kick a ﬁeld goal, that made it 28-13.