Rapid Reaction: The refs are back in town

The NFL referee lockout is over, and week 4 of the season is under way. The returning officials received cheers from the Baltimore crowd as they took the field for the Browns/Ravens game last night. Here is the latest news and reaction to the return of the regular referees.

Check out the story I created on Storify.

 

 

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Under the Spotlight: Patriots QB Tom Brady

Courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is now three games into his 13th season in the NFL. The Patriots are off to their worst start with him as the starter, but what does that say about how his own play? Many analysts say that Brady is in decline, which is difficult to say after he led them to the Super Bowl last year and passed for the second most yards in a single NFL season. Decline is not the right word to describe Brady’s play. The correct word is inconsistency.

Brady played well enough in Week 1 to help romp the Tennessee Titans. He threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns on the day and had an overall QB rating of 117.1. Not much to see there.

In Week 2, things got dicey as the offense sputtered all game long against the Arizona Cardinals. Brady struggled to get anything going until the fourth quarter but often found himself pressured by the Cardinal defense. One thing did become noticeable in this game. Brady took too much time in the pocket and took sacks he didn’t have to take. His mobility, although has never been too impressive, has gone down and has failed to help him make the little moves he once had to avoid sacks. He almost looks frazzled in the pocket at times and maybe even afraid of getting hit. Of course, the offensive line is not what it used to be, especially with Brian Waters not on the field. That being said, the word for Brady’s play in week 2 is inconsistency, not necessarily a sign of decline.

Week 3 is proof enough that Brady still has a lot left in the tank. He put up 335 yards in the air against a stingy Ravens defense and at times, cut through them with precision passing and brilliant play calling. Brady marched down the field with two minutes left in the first half and rifled a pass to Julian Edelman with just two seconds left on the clock. Brady was at his absolute finest during that drive and gave the momentum back to the Patriots before halftime. With a 30-21 lead in the fourth quarter, the offense certainly had its opportunities to put the game away but failed to do so, as the Ravens forced the Patriots to punt twice. Ultimately the defense would lose the game for New England, but it has to be noted that the offense sputtered at the most crucial point in the game. Brady certainly played well enough for the Patriots to win the game, but in the end his play proved to be inconsistent.

The 1-2 record for the Patriots is undoubtedly a concern for the Patriots just three games into the season. What people need to understand is that Brady and New England’s offense is too talented and too lethal to be this inconsistent for the whole season. There have been glimpses of how good this offense can truly be. With Brady at the helm, expect the Patriots offense to get rolling for good, starting with the Buffalo Bills this weekend.

Patriots defense falters in loss to Ravens

With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the young Patriots defense collapsed under the pressure of a big moment. Joe Flacco and the Ravens took over on offense down by nine and with less than eight minutes on the clock. In less than three and a half minutes, Torrey Smith caught his second touchdown of the game to cap off a 92 yard drive down the throat of the New England defense.

Just moments later, the Ravens had the ball back with only two minutes to play and a field goal away from victory. Again, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick turned to his defense for a stop to seal the game. In one minute, Flacco led the Ravens to the New England 7-yard line while targeting tight end Dennis Pitta and  wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin along the way. An obvious third down pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty setup the Ravens for a 27-yard field goal attempt.

Baltimore’s rookie kicker Justin Tucker trotted onto the field hoping to give the Ravens revenge for last year’s AFC Championship loss against the Patriots. At first it appeared the ball went directly over the right crossbar, but the replacement referees raised their hands signaling for a good field goal. The Ravens ran on the field in relief, sending the Patriots to a losing record for the first time since 2003.

With revenge in mind, and as indicated in Ray Lewis’ pre-game speech to his team, the Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore late Sunday night. The New England defense looked no better than last years as Ray Rice and the Ravens offense powered for 503 total yards. Rice alone netted 150 ground and receiving yards. Flacco contributed with a whopping 382 pass yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Torrey Smith turned in the performance of the game after hearing of his brother’s death early Sunday morning. He caught two touchdowns and had 127 total receiving yards.

Although the game came down to the last play, momentum shifted constantly throughout the evening. The Patriots got off to a quick 13-0 in the first quarter as the defense looked sharp to start off the game. Safety Steve Gregory intercepted a shaky Joe Flacco that would lead to a 2-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Brandon Bolden.

Momentum favored the Patriots until the Ravens finally achieved a first down on a penalty at the beginning of the second quarter. The drive would lead to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith to put the Ravens on the scoreboard. Momentum shifted as the Ravens would cap another drive off with another Flacco touchdown pass, this time to Pitta.

Tom Brady almost immediately turned the momentum back in the Patriots favor as he orchestrated the two-minute offense brilliantly before halftime. After spreading the ball out to Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Danny Woodhead, Brady’s touchdown pass to Julian Edelman put the Patriots up 20-14 at the half.

The Ravens and the Patriots traded touchdowns to begin the second half before the Patriots took a nine point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Momentum would shift one more time in favor of the Ravens and ultimately led to the breakdown of the Patriots young defense. When it counted most, the experience and toughness of the Ravens defense put pressure on Brady as they stopped two England drives in the fourth quarter. They put the ball in Flacco’s hands, and he took advantage.

The replacement officials took heat from both Belichick and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh periodically throughout the game and even after the game ended. The officials flagged Harbaugh for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for coming too far onto the field. Belichick on the other hand might be in a little more trouble. He appeared to reach for and make contact with an official as he ran onto the field to dispute the field goal call after the game ended. He will almost certainly be hearing from the league for his actions.

On a high note for the Patriots, Welker caught eight balls for 142 yards. Likewise, Brand Lloyd had a strong performance, catching nine balls for 108 yards.

The real concern for the Patriots, however, is to  the defense. The line failed to rattle Flacco, only sacking him once and rarely putting any pressure on him at all. Cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington each missed interception opportunities and were beat constantly all game long by Smith, Boldin and Jones. After a strong first two games, the Patriots defense took a major step backwards against the Baltimore Ravens tonight. Yes, they are young, but only time will tell if they are for real or not.

Patriots @ Ravens: Five things to watch for

After losing in heart-breaking fashion to the Patriots in last years AFC Championship game, the Ravens will be looking for revenge. The Patriots head to Baltimore this weekend to take on the Ravens in arguably the NFL’s game of week. Both teams are coming off difficult losses in Week 2 and are looking to get back on the right track. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 4-0 in his regular season career against the Ravens but has done so with only a 77.9 QB rating. Sunday’s game in Baltimore could be his toughest test against Ray Lewis and company to date.

Here are five things to watch for on Sunday night:

1. Patriots offensive line vs. Ravens defensive line

Brady was sacked four times last weekend against the Cardinals as the offensive line struggled to protect him all game. With Dan Connolly questionable for Week 3, will the Patriots be able to give him enough time against the Ravens ferocious defense? Baltimore coach John Harbaugh knows that Brady is not the same quarterback when he faces pressure in the pocket. Look for Baltimore’s defensive line to bring pressure regardless. Will the the Patriots have an answer if the offensive line cannot protect Brady effectively?

2. The Rejuvenated Patriots defense

The New England defense has been the biggest improvement from last season thus far. Rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are proving to be big time playmakers in their first two games. The defense as a whole has only allowed 284 and 245 yards of total offense in the first two weeks of this young season. That being said, the Patriots will face their biggest defensive challenge against Ray Rice and the Ravens on Sunday. Let’s see if the young defense can step up in possibly its biggest game of the season.

3. Joe Flacco

Which Joe Flacco is going to show up this week? Flacco looked like a true elite quarterback in Week 1 against the Bengals throwing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He struggled in Week 2 against a good Philadelphia defense completing just 52.4% of his passes with a 66.8 QB rating. The key with Flacco on Sunday night will be decision making and turnovers. The Patriots are a team that thrive on winning the turnover battle. If Flacco can make good decisions and keep the turnovers to a minimum, the Ravens will have a great shot at beating the Patriots.

4. Ravens pride

The Baltimore Ravens are an extremely prideful football team and don’t like it when their pride is damaged. The Ravens are an angry football team and will be seeking revenge for last year’s AFC Championship game. The Ravens are going to show up and have a great game. Count on it. Will the Patriots have an answer?

5. Replacement officials

Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis were extremely vocal about the officials after last weeks game against the Eagles, and rightly so. The officials have been horrendous in just the first two weeks of the NFL season. This game could come down to the last two minutes, as it often does with the Patriots and Ravens. No one wants the officials to be a deciding factor, but it is something to watch out for Sunday night.

State of Boston Sports 9.19.12

Courtesy of KINKISHARYO on flickr

I’m going to try something new and do a series of posts that touch on all four major Boston sports teams. Personally, I always need to know what’s going on with the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics. These posts will include news but also a lot of my own opinion on the individual teams. I hope you enjoy!

Boston Red Sox

Where do I even begin?  It truly saddens me to see what has become of this organization. To think that it could fall from grace so quickly after to World Series titles seems unimaginable. I didn’t think the situation could actually get worse after the historic collapse last September, but it has. Let’s look at the facts.

The Red Sox are currently tied for dead last in the AL East with a record of 68-81. Last night their lineup consisted players like: Pedro Ciriaco, James Loney, Ryan Lavarnway, Scott Podsednik, and Jose Iglesias. The average baseball fan might be asking; who are these guys? Iglesias is hitting .061 (2-33) in 14 Major League games this season. Lavarnway hasn’t been much better, hitting .170 (18-106) in 33 games this season. Is this really the future that the great Theo Epstein left us with? This is a team that started the season with a $173 million payroll and is one game away from having its first losing season in 15 years.

The only good news with the Red Sox is that it can’t get any worse than this right? Only time shall tell.

New England Patriots

I’d like to move on from last weekend’s debacle against the Arizona Cardinals and focus on the positives here. Let’s start with the defense.

I cannot remember the last time I actually enjoyed watching the Patriots defense more than its offense. Rookies like Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Tavon Wilson are an absolute thrill to watch. Jones especially has caught my attention even though he’s only played two games. Last weekend he had a series where he absolutely destroyed Cardinals tackle D’Anthony Batiste. He got by him three times on one set of downs in the second quarter to stop a run, cause a holding penalty and force Kevin Kolb to throw it away. He is a force and gives Patriots fans hope that this rejuvenated defense is for real.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the reasons why not to be too concerned about the Patriots loss to the Cardinals. The combination of the two almost never seem to fail in having a strong game after a loss. I see no reason to doubt them now with the talent they have on the field this season.  Furthermore, there are 20 teams in the NFL with a 1-1 record, including the entire AFC East. So Pats fans, keep calm and look forward to what should be an exciting Sunday night game against Ray Lewis and the Ravens.

Boston Bruins

The NHL lockout is killing the hopes of Bruins fans right now. I would be devastated if there is no season this year because I consider myself a newcomer to the sport of hockey. Going to Boston University almost forced me to get into hockey, but I fell in love with it immediately. I attended numerous Bruins games my first three years at BU, including this game I will never forget.

In real news though, Forward Milan Lucic is the latest Bruin to sign a contract extension, unfortunately just before the lockout began. The Bruins also locked up Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand to new contracts in the offseason. Here’s to hoping the Bruins have a season this year.

Boston Celtics

Although the Celtics are not my number one priority, I am excited for what the upcoming NBA season brings. The reason why I like the Celtics so much right now is because they are the anti-Red Sox. Despite losing to the Heat in the Conference Finals last season, I could not have been more proud of that team. They played with so much grit and so much heart just to make it that far, and KG is a true warrior. He in a sense is the anti-Beckett. Despite being in his 17th NBA season last year, I could still find no athlete in sports that has more will to win than Garnett. He is the most true professional athlete that I have seen compete in my lifetime.

That being said, get ready for this Celtics season, and let’s hope they can once again prove the haters and doubters wrong. At the very least, it will be interesting to see what the Big Ticket and The Truth have left in the tank.

 

Patriots upset in bizarre home opener, Hernandez injured

Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski trotted onto the field to attempt a 42-yard game winning field goal. Fans ran back into the stadium after thinking the game was surely over just minutes ago. After such a dismal and gloomy game, the Patriots miraculously found themselves on the verge of stealing victory from the Arizona Cardinals. Gostkowski lined up  the kick having already executed four field goals on the day. He missed.

The blown opportunity put the finishing touches on Tom Brady’s first ever loss in a home opener.

Cardinals backup running back Ryan Williams gave Brady and the Patriots one final hope after fumbling the ball with just over one minute left to play. Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble, and the New England offense took over already in field goal range. A 30-yard Danny Woodhead touchdown run was wiped out due to a questionable holding call on Rob Gronkowski. Brady and the offense proceeded to move the ball to the 24 to set Gostkowski up for the game winner but to no avail.

The Cardinals, having outplayed the Patriots all game, finally sealed the victory on the missed field goal. Quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for 141 yards and a touchdown as he confidently led his team to a 20-18 win in Foxboro.

For the Patriots, the biggest loss of the day is not visible in the standings. Tight end Aaron Hernandez left the game in the first quarter after being assisted off the field and down the stairs by two trainers. The injury came while blocking for Julian Edelman. His ankle appeared to get trapped under the weight of Edelman being brought down on a tackle. Hernandez was listed as questionable to return and was seen using crutches after the game.

The Patriots offense faltered the rest of the day without the abilities of their versatile tight end. The offensive line struggled mightily to protect Brady as he was sacked four times on the day. Fresh off his first 100-yard game against Tennessee, running back Stevan Ridley ran for 71 yards on 18 carries. Most of his efforts came in the first three quarters before the Patriots turned to the passing game after going down 20-9. Brady threw for 316 yards and led a nice 82-yard touchdown drive before failing to convert on the two-point conversion.

Despite the late effort by Brady and the offense, the 11-point deficit was too much for the Patriots to overcome. The Cardinals set the tone for the day after opening up the game with a six minute, 13 play drive that led to a Jay Feely field goal. Brady’s first pass of the game was tipped and intercepted by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Hernandez injury only added to the mood in Foxboro as the Patriots went down 6-0 after another Feely field goal.

Nothing seemed to be going the Patriots way all game. The sour feeling continued midway through the third quarter when Zoltan Mesko had his punt blocked. This setup the Cardinals for an easy two-yard touchdown pass by Kolb. Everything continued to go Arizona’s way on the very next drive. Kolb miraculously escaped a sack and found tight end Todd Heap along the sidelines for a 28-yard gain. The Cardinals gained an extra 15 yards after the Patriots were flagged for two personal foul penalties. The mood in Gillette seemed to permeate throughout the stadium as the Patriots could do nothing right.

The referees did not help the mood as they appeared clueless on a number of plays. Twice they even disagreed on whether a ball was caught or not. One ref ruled incomplete, while his teammate signaled for a completion. Despite the confusion, the referees made poor calls for both teams and did not decide the outcome of the game. The Patriots inability to do anything consistent on offense led to their demise.

The only bright side for New England was rookie defensive end Chandler Jones. He proved to be a force on the defensive side of the ball, single handedly causing the Cardinals problems. He man-handled Arizona tackle D’Anthony Batiste, getting by him three straight times to stop a run, cause a holding penalty, and force Kolb to throw the ball away on third down. The Cardinals adjusted as Jones was seen double teamed often for the rest of the game.

Wide receiver Wes Welker caught his 558th catch passing Troy Brown on the Patriots all time reception list. Despite this feat, Edelman appeared to be a larger part of the New England offense.

With only two games in the books, it is unclear which Patriots team is for real. Will they be the balanced, well-coached juggernaut from week one, or did this Patriots team show its true colors today against the Arizona Cardinals? Next week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens will be the measuring stick.

Weaver and Price for Cy Young, Angels and Rays fight for wild card

Photos courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr

Jered Weaver and David Price are in a dead heat for the 2012 AL Cy Young award. Fans may forget that Weaver finished second for the award in 2011 after being overshadowed by Justin Verlander’s astonishing season. This year is different. This year could be Weaver’s year.

Weaver’s 1.00 WHIP is the best in all of baseball, along with his .800 winning percentage. He is the ace of an underachieving Angels team and has been the only true consistent pitcher for them all season long. Although he hasn’t been quite as good as last year, he also doesn’t have to worry about Verlander stealing his thunder again. However, he does have to worry about a young lefty pitching the lights out in Florida.

The only true threat to Weaver’s run for Cy Young is David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Price’s 17-5 record is very similar to Weaver’s 17-4, and he does have a slightly better ERA of 2.54. Price too finished in second place for the award back 2010, falling short to Mariners phenom King Felix.

With the season coming to an end for each Cy Young candidate, the race will come down to their last few starts. What is even more exciting is that each of their starts truly matter. The Angels and Rays are both in a battle for the new second wild card spot this season with only about 20 games left to play. If either team is going to make the playoffs, the Angels and Rays need their two aces at their absolute best down the stretch.

Now this is what a Cy Young race is supposed to come down to, two pitchers battling it out in the most dire games of the season in late September. Price or Weaver, Rays or Angels, who will it be? This is why we watch.

Patriots week one report card nearly a 4.0

Did anyone really expect the Patriots to lose week one to the Titans? Not to say that it wasn’t a solid win overall, but it’s no surprise that it came fairly easy for Tom Brady and company. Second-year running back Stevan Ridley sparked the offensive attack as rookies Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones teamed up on the defensive side of the ball to force a fumble returned for a touchdown. The rest of the Patriots defense held tough as well, holding Chris Johnson to only four yards rushing on 11 carries. It is only week one of the NFL season, but this game does give hope to Patriots fans that the defense may have improved enough to make yet another Super Bowl run.

Quarterback 

A-

Tom Brady played as well as one would expect in a ninth straight season opening win. Sunday marked his 33rd consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass, throwing for two against Tennessee. Although it was only week one, Brady already looked poised for another great season.

Running Backs

A+

Run Ridley, run! Boy did Stevan Ridley run all over the Titans defense in week one. He looked like a five-year veteran as he ran for his first 100-yard rush game. Even when the Titans threatened a comeback, Ridley helped jump-start the Patriots offense in the second half on a key drive where he ran for 35 yards and a touchdown. He gives the Patriots hope that they just might have a run game this season. The only question is, can he duplicate this performance next week against the Cardinals?

Wide Receivers

B-

Patriots wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman had only 9 catches and 90 receiving yards combined of Brady’s 236. That being said, the wide receivers were not targeted a lot as the Patriots ran the ball more than they threw it on Sunday. Lloyd did have an opportunity to start the scoring off for the Patriots on their first drive but misjudged a long pass from Brady that led to an incompletion. Lloyd did go on to run great routes proving his pure athleticism and ability to be a deep threat. He led all receivers on the day with 69 receiving yards.

Tight Ends

A

Patriots tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez received the majority of Brady’s passes as they continue to be the Patriots biggest offensive threat. Combined they caught 12 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Together they might be the most troublesome matchup that any NFL defense will face this season.

Offensive Line

A-

Considering the many questions surrounding the Patriots offensive line coming into this season, they played extremely well. Brady was only sacked once and hit only three times all game. Nate Solder made the only mistake, allowing Kamerion Wimbley by him to hit Brady hard. Despite the one mistake, the line allowed for Ridley to run wild against the Titans defense as Patriots running backs combined for 162 yards on the ground. Let’s put it this way, if the offensive line plays this well for Brady all season long, opposing defenses should be more than a little nervous.

Defensive Line

A

What more could you ask of a young defensive line against one of the top running backs in the NFL? Pro-bowl back Chris Johnson was frustrated enough to nearly throw his helmet on the sidelines as he was stuffed all day long by a suffocating Patriots run defense. He ran for four yards on 11 carries. Ouch! Rookie Chandler Jones helped come up with the biggest play of the game forcing Jake Locker to fumble the ball close to his own end zone. The only times Locker looked comfortable were the beginning drives of each half.

Linebackers

A

Veteran linebacker Jerod Mayo led the defense with nine tackles and four assists. Rookie Dont’a Hightower was in the right place at the right time in the second quarter. He picked up Jones’ forced fumble on Locker and ran it in for a touchdown that turned out to be the play of the game. It will certainly be interesting to see what Hightower and Jones can combined to do for the rest of their rookie season.

Defensive Backs

C+

The first mediocre grade of the week goes to the Patriots defensive backs. Despite the one interception by rookie Tavon Wilson, the defensive backs did not play all that well. When Locker felt comfortable and had time to throw, the Titans marched down the field at ease at the beginning of the game and the second half. It almost looked like a horrifying flashback of last years defense. Again, it is only one game, but this might be the one area that makes all Patriots fans nervous.

Special Teams

B+

Overall, the Patriots special teams unit had a solid week. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made two field goals and even contributed a nice tackle on a Titans kick return. The only downside was when Julian Edelman refused to call a fair catch on a punt return. Fortunately for him, the Titans defender got too close and a penalty was called after Edelman could not catch the ball cleanly.

Coaching

A-

As usual, coach Bill Belichick prepared the team for another season opening win. It’s to no surprise the Patriots didn’t have any turnovers and looked almost flawless on both sides of the ball. The defense was prepared to stop Chris Johnson and confuse Locker enough to force him to turn the ball over.

Overall Grade: A

If the Patriots can play this well on the road to start the season, who knows what’s in store for the Arizona Cardinals in Foxboro for week two?

Ridley sparks Patriots’ rout of Titans

New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley ran coolly through the Tennessee Titans’ defense Sunday afternoon. The second-year back posted more total yards on offense than Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker combined. He appeared to do so at ease as the Titans’ defense could find no answer for him.

Ridley sparked a key third quarter drive just when the Titans seemed to have a comeback in mind. He had two 15-yard runs on the drive as he continued to allude the Tennessee defense. He capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run. The score put the Patriots up 28-10 at the time, and they did not look back.

As Ridley took off for 125 yards on the ground, the Patriots’ defense stood strong in the red zone. The defense forced two turnovers  against Titans new starting quarterback Jake Locker, one which was a fumble returned for a touchdown by Patriots newcomer and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Locker injured his left shoulder trying to make a tackle on a Patrick Chung interception at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The call was eventually overturned, but it sidelined the young quarterback out for the rest of the game.

The Patriots had not lost a season opener in eight years. Ridley made sure they would keep that streak alive as the Patriots marched on to victory 34-13 Sunday afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee. The Patriots out-gained the Titans 390-284 in total yards and won the turnover battle as they typically do against their opponents.

The game had somewhat of an unsettling start for the Patriots after the Titans easily marched down the field and took a 3-0 lead on a Rob Bironas field goal. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, the Patriot’ big offseason free agent signing, then misjudged a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady. The Patriots were forced to punt with the defense and star wide receiver already in some question.

With a little hiccup to start the season, the Patriots quickly remembered that they don’t lose season openers.

The new look defense quickly rebounded and refused to let Titans star running back Chris Johnson do anything offensively at all for the rest of the game. The defensive line suffocated the Titans anytime they tried to run the ball, and Johnson was held to a measly four total yards in 11 tries on the ground.

Once the Patriots got the ball back for their second drive, the Tennessee defense quickly crumbled and never again found an answer for the high-powered Patriots offense.

Patriots tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez continued to prove that they are well worth the contracts they each received during the offseason. They had almost identical games as they each caught six passes and each had one touchdown grab. The two tight ends combined for 119 of Brady’s 236 total passing yards.

The only lick the Titans could put on Brady came in the second quarter after he was sacked by Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. The New England quarterback took a foot to the face causing a bloody nose. He was forced  to wear a band aid for the rest of the game, but that was the last time the Tennessee defense put any real pressure on Brady.

Although they faced an inexperienced quarterback in Locker, the young New England defense already looks much improved from last season. Despite going to the Super Bowl last year, the Patriots’ defense was historically bad. Last year they allowed a dreadful 411 yards per game on defense, making today’s 284 total yards significantly better.

Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones made an immediate impact after sacking and a forcing the fumble that was returned for a touchdown by fellow first round draft pick Hightower. Veteran linebacker Jerod Mayo and cornerback Devin McCourty had nine and five tackles respectively as the Tennessee offense had no response to the New England defense.

The defending AFC Champion Patriots were supposed to win this game against the Titans. However, this game does answer an important question about the Patriots’ defense early on. This New England defense is improved with proof that it has already had a better game than all of last season, at least statistically speaking.

Ridley proved this afternoon that he can carry the bulk of the Patriots’ running game this season even with the loss of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He proved that this high-powered New England offense can be strong on the ground. More importantly for the Arizona Cardinals, he proved that they have one more thing to worry about against the Patriots next weekend.

NFL Predictions 2012/2013

The simple thought of Eli Manning again hoisting the Super Bowl MVP Trophy while Tom Brady sat silently by his locker is enough to make me gag. I would go so far as to say the mere sight hurt as much as Aaron Boone’s 2003 ALCS home run off Tim Wakefield. The result of Super Bowl XLVI again sent complete shock and bewilderment through Patriot nation. I didn’t think I’d ever recover… until now.

The start of a new NFL season brings new hope for Patriots fans. A new season brings hope that Tom Brady’s legacy can be complete with a fourth Super Bowl. It brings hope that a fourth Super Bowl title in six tries will make everyone forget about Eli Manning’s New York Giants. And finally, it brings New England fans hope that Tom Brady will still win his fourth title and be cemented as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

Tom Brady (Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison – flickr)

With the Giants already losing to the Cowboys in game one, here are my predictions for the 2012/2012 NFL season.

Starting with the Division standings:

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots
  2. Buffalo Bills
  3. New York Jets
  4. Miami Dolphins

AFC North

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers
  2. Baltimore Ravens
  3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Cleveland Browns

AFC South

  1. Houston Texans
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Tennessee Titans
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars

AFC West

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Oakland Raiders

AFC Wild Card winners: Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers

NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys
  2. Philadelphia Eagles
  3. New York Giants
  4. Washington Redskins

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers
  2. Chicago Bears
  3. Detroit Lions
  4. Minnesota Vikings

NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Carolina Panthers
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFC West

  1. San Francisco 49ers
  2. Seattle Seahawks
  3. St. Louis Rams
  4. Arizona Cardinals

NFC Wild Card winners: Philadelphia Eagles, Chicago Bears

AFC Championship Game: New England Patriots over Denver Broncos (20-17)

NFC Championship Game: Green Bay Packers over Philadelphia Eagles (34-24)

Super Bowl XLVII: New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers (31-28)

The New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers are the two best teams going into the 2012/2013 season. Brady and Aaron Rodgers are masters at the most important position in the NFL. They know how to win, and more importantly, they make everyone around them that much better.

Expectations for the Patriots are as high as ever. It’s Super Bowl or bust again for Brady and coach Belichick. Will this be the season they complete their legacy as the greatest head coach/quarterback duo in NFL history? Pats fans hope so, even if the rest of the NFL doesn’t.

On that note, I leave you with Grantland’s Honest NFL Logos.  Enjoy opening weekend everyone.