By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff
Like perhaps many of you, I really didn’t have any idea of what to expect from the Patriots yesterday. Many in the media had definite opinions – most of them negative. I was wary and hopeful at the same time.
When the Bengals won the toss and elected to receive the ball first, we got our first chance to see the young defense in its first real action of the season. Rookie Devin McCourty was challenged right away, and responded by knocking the ball away from Terrell Owens on a long pass down the sidelines. While McCourty did give up a catch on the next play, the defense held and even ended the drive by getting pressure on Carson Palmer and sacking him.
That sequence gave us an encouraging glimpse of the answers to some of the biggest questions about the defense coming into the season. Could the young corners cover, and could the front seven get a pass rush? Getting positive results on the first drive allowed me to breathe just a little easier.
The offense was incredibly impressive early on…especially the play calling. Too often last season the game plan seemed to be “Welker and Moss, and don’t take a loss.” Yesterday we saw formations not seen in these parts since the Charlie Weis era, with two tight ends and a receiver split wide, clearing an easy path to the end zone for Wes Welker.
Having a linebacker return an interception for a TD, and a kickoff returned for a TD were also both things we haven’t seen in these parts for a while. Very encouraging. With the Patriots up 31-3, they did go into more of a “prevent” style defense, designed to keep the Bengals from getting a quick-strike score. In that regard, they were successful, the Bengals did score three second-half touchdowns, but they worked for them.
The Patriots inability to finish off games was a big problem last season, but a seven-minute TD drive led by Tom Brady effectively ended the game, even though the Bengals did score again.
All in all, this was a very encouraging start to the season. A few scattered thoughts and observations:
- 16 tackles (12 solo, 4 assisted) for Pat Chung? The guy was tremendous. Even when he was beaten a bit in coverage, he still made sure tackles, and hit hard all day long. Sure reminded me of a young Rodney Harrison back there.
- Myron Pryor gets very good push on the line when he is in there.
- We’ve been talking about the rookie tight ends, and giving Brady those big red zone targets. We saw the potential in Rob Gronkowski’s TD catch. Brady hasn’t had that since the days of Christian Fauria.
- We got our first look at Jermaine Cunningham, albeit on a very limited basis. He at least looked the part of the outside linebacker. He’s not small.
- Darius Butler gave up some catches, but he also made some good plays. He had his hands full with OchoCinco, but I think he’s going to get better. The skills are there.
This week will be spent getting ready to the New York Jets. I wonder if Rex Ryan is going to leave a voicemail message for the season ticket holders like he did last year.