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No need to panic for Brady, Patriots

Just under 11 years ago, the New England Patriots sat at 3-3 with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback and Bill Belichick in his second season as head coach. Brady had just taken over the starting position after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and Belichick had yet to have success as head coach. All Patriots fans know how that season ended, with the Patriots going 8-2 the rest of the way and winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Today, much has changed over the years, with the exception of Belichick and Brady. Arguably one of the greatest head coach/quarterback combos of all time is still at the helm of the most successful NFL franchise of this millennium. Like 11 years ago, the two did not panic. Don’t expect them to now.

The present-day Patriots sit at 3-3 once again as they search for answers to the inconsistent start. Though a .500 record may not sit well with the coaches, players and the fans, it is good enough for New England to be tied atop the AFC East. All four teams may have the same record, but a win against the New York Jets this weekend would push the Patriots ahead of their division rival. Out of all 16 AFC teams, only two of them are currently above .500, the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans. With so much parity in the division and the conference, the Patriots may be sitting pretty with a .500 record at an opportune time to put everything together and catch fire like they’ve done in the past.

This time around, the Patriots have a favorable schedule to work with the remainder of the season. Of the remaining 10 games, only two of them are against teams that have a winning record. Those two games against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers will be played at home where Brady is 70-13 in his career with the Patriots. New England also has five remaining games against its divisional opponents, and with each team tied atop the AFC East, these games will be vital. The question is not what have the Patriots done in their first six games of the 2012 season, but rather, what can they do in the remaining 10? Like in 2001, an 8-2 record the rest of the way is not just feasible but highly possibly.

It is highly possibly that a team with the best offense in the NFL can finish so strongly. The Patriots not only lead the league in points scored but also in yards per game. Brady himself leads the league in total passing yards with 1,845 that is combined with a strong run game. The emergence of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden has done wonders to what is now one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. New England is fourth in the league with 917 total rush yards and second with 10 rushing touchdowns through the first six weeks of the season. With Brady still competing at the level of an elite quarterback, combined with a tough ground game, the Patriots are operating at a highly efficient level. Having tight end Aaron Hernandez back in the lineup will only add to the versatility of the offense as the season moves forward.

Although the defense has looked suspect in the last few games, it did get off to a strong start and has come up big in key moments. Defensive End Chandler Jones already has five sacks and three forced fumbles in just his first six NFL games. His play thus far has also earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. The defense overall is young and has plenty of room to grow, but it did force important turnovers at the end of week 5’s game against the Denver Broncos. Rob Ninkovich caused his second fumble in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots recovered to all but seal the game. It’s been in moments like these and in rookies like Jones and Dont’a Hightower that New England’s defense has improved since last year, a season in which the Patriots played in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots have won in convincing fashion three times this year against the Titans, Bills and Broncos. They have lost their three games by a combined total of four points. The Patriots could just as well be undefeated as they are 3-3 had several plays gone their way in those three losses, but that’s football.

This Patriots team has to be dying to prove itself after its mediocre start. Belichick and Brady are at the helm, and they’ve been here before. As in 2001, they did not panic and have not panicked ever since. When others think panic or trouble, all Brady and Belichick do is win football games. Don’t expect that to stop anytime soon.

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Patriots run all over Broncos in win

The New England Patriots ground attack shredded through the Broncos defense as Stevan Ridley rumbled to a career best of 151 rush yards. Danny Woodhead came up with the biggest run of the game when he rushed for 19 yards on a 3rd and 17 play during a key third quarter drive. Quarterback Tom Brady led the drive from there and eventually took it into the end zone himself on a one-yard touchdown run.

Running back Brandon Bolden added 54 rush yards of his own to the Patriots 251 total yards on the ground. Shane Vereen contributed with a one-yard touchdown run to cap off an 80-yard second quarter drive, while Woodhead also posted 47 yards rush yards on only 7 carries.

The Broncos found no answer to the Patriots high-powered rushing attack as New England defeated Denver 31-21 Sunday evening in Foxboro. Brady is now 9-4 against quarterback Peyton Manning, defeating him for the first time in a Denver uniform.

Brady and the offense marched methodically down the field in the first half against a helpless Bronco defense. After a punt to start the game, the Patriots went on three straight 80-plus-yard scoring drives. Manning came back with a touchdown down drive of his own, making the score 7-7 at the beginning of the second quarter.

The Patriots answered.

Brady took over with the ball on his own 20-yard-line and faced a third and ten. He quickly hit Wes Welker with a pass for a first down. Woohead kept the drive going with a first down run of his own. The Patriots entered the hurry up offense, and the Denver defense quickly folded. Ridley ran the ball for a first down, which was quickly followed up by a 15-yard strike to receiver Brandon Lloyd and a 12-yard catch by Rob Gronkowski. Two more quick first downs setup the Patriots on the one-yard-line. Vereen capped the six-minute, 80 yard drive off with a one-yard touchdown run, putting the Patriots ahead for good.

New England finished the second quarter off with a 93-yard drive and a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

The Patriots continued to pound away at the Broncos defense with a near replica six-minute, 80-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter. Ridley reached 100 yards as Brady and the offense maneuvered their way down the field once more.

Manning would not go quietly, however, as he willed the Broncos back into the game despite being down 31-7 late in the third quarter. He exploited the Patriots weakness in Devin McCourty at cornerback, finding receiver Demaryius Thomas for 9 catches and 188 yards. Manning cut through the Patriots defense and brought the Broncos within striking distance after a touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley with eight minutes left to play. A hush fell over Gillette Stadium as the Patriots found themselves only up by ten.

The Patriots lead was too much for Manning and the Broncos to overcome late in the fourth quarter. Rob Ninkovich came up with his second forced fumble of the game when he stripped Willis McGahee on the Patriots own 10-yard-line. Jermaine Cunningham recovered the ball and Bolden ran for one more first down before the Patriots knelt the ball to run out the clock.

New England finished the game with a team record of 35 first downs, 18 of which came on the ground. It only makes sense that the Patriots offense held the ball for nearly 36 minutes compared to the Broncos 24 minutes.

Welker too set a record of his own with nine catches in the first half alone. He finished with 13 grabs for 103 yards and a touchdown. After a slow start to the season and many questions about his role in the Patriots offense, Welker now has 469 receiving yards in just the last four games and is New England’s leading receiver.

Manning led his team through the air with 345 passing yards and three touchdowns. He brought the Broncos back and gave them a chance late in the fourth. McGahee ran for 51 yards but never truly got going on the ground. In the end, Brady had something  Manning didn’t.

In a game where Brady and Manning excelled at the quarterback position as they usually do, the Patriots run game answered the call. On the day the Brady-Manning rivalry was renewed once more, the Patriots running backs led the charge. Ridley, Bolden, and Woodhead scorched the Broncos defense as Manning could only watch on the sidelines.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has the New England offense operating at a highly efficient level. More importantly, he may have given quarterback Tom Brady a key weapon in a lethal run game.

First quarter breakdown: Patriots roller coaster start

Courtesy of AJU_photography on Flickr

It’s difficult to say that a season can be like a roller coaster after only four games, but that’s exactly what the 2012 Patriots have felt like. The team got off to a promising start with a win against the Titans but quickly dipped back down after a game full of twists and unexpected turns against the Cardinals. The downward spiral continued in Week 3 against the Ravens as the Patriots lost on a controversial game-winning field goal in which coach Bill Belichick sprinted onto the field to grab a replacement referee. The roller coaster continued to speed downhill as the Patriots found themselves down 21-7 in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills. Finally, it quickly shot upward when the Patriots offense finally woke up and put 45 points on the board in the second half to steamroll the Bills 52-28.

After all that, the Patriots sit at 2-2 and tied atop the AFC East with the Bills and the Jets. The Pats could be 4-0, but inconsistency has led them to this roller coaster of a start in the 2012 season. Let’s break down the strengths and weaknesses thus far.

Strengths

1. The Run Game – Over the course of the first four games, the Patriots have managed to run the ball for 576 yards, good for 8th overall in the NFL. Stevan Ridley alone has 339 of those rushing yards and averages 4.6 yards per attempt. Ridley and Brandon Bolden each had 100-yard games last Sunday against the Bills, making them the first two players to accomplish such a feat in 32 years for the Patriots.

2. Tom Brady – Yes, Brady has been inconsistent at times, but overall he is the reason the Patriots could be 4-0. Brady executed a comeback against the Cardinals that should have led to a game-winning field goal, but didn’t. Brady tore up a stingy Ravens defense but to no avail. He’s only thorwn one interception in the four games and continues to be the leader this team needs.

3. The Defense – Through the first two games, the defense looked much improved and kept the Patriots in the game against the Cardinals. It only allowed 284 and 242 total yards of offense in those first two games. Rookies Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson have all stuck out and have made big plays of their own early on in the season.

Weaknesses

1. The Coaching – Sitting at 2-2, the Patriots have played in four games that probably should have been won. Although it’s the players who don’t execute, Offensive Coordination Josh McDaniels has made some questionable play calls that have caused the Patriots offense to sputter at times. Belichick himself made a questionable move by not trying to advance the Patriots into better field goal range against the Cardinals. This led to a missed Stephen Gostkowski field goal. It’s not to say that he made the wrong call but certainly questionable

2. The Offensive Line (at times) – Although it has played better in recent games, the O-line struggled to protected Brady, most noticeably in Week 2 against the Cardinals. Although it hasn’t been atrocious, Brady is used to a strong offensive line that can allow him to sit back in the pocket and pick apart defenses.

3. The Defense – Yes, the Patriots defense has not only been a strength through the first four games but also a weakness. After a strong start, the Patriots defense allowed 503 and 438 total yards consecutively against the Ravens and Bills. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington look equally lost at the cornerback positions, and at times, the line has failed to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. That being said, only time will tell whether the Patriots defense is truly a strength or a weakness.

Projections

Looking ahead, the Patriots do not have a very difficult schedule. Of the remaining 12 games, eight should result in a W. The four remaining games that could prove to be a challenge are against the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, and San  Francisco 49ers. The Patriots are too talented of a football team to play inconsistently the rest of the way. A 10-2 record in the remaining 12 games is not a stretch. This would put the Patriots at 12-4 to finish the season, easily putting them at the top of the AFC East and possibly at the number one or number two seed in the conference.

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 @ 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.

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.