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Brady changes script for opener

09.12.10 at 4:11 pm ET
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Tom Brady had a solid outing in the Patriots' opener. (AP)

Tom Brady had a solid outing in the Patriots' opener. (AP)

As season openers go, this is how Tom Brady likes it.

The last two years haven’t exactly followed the Brady Script. There was, of course, Bernard Pollard in 2008. And even though Brady threw a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes to Ben Watson to lead the Pats to a comeback win over the Bills last season, there were more than a few whispers that Brady looked, well, not a whole lot like the guy who won three Super Bowls and tossed 50 TDs in 2007. Words like “timid” and “afraid” and “doubt” were tossed around regarding Brady the next day.

Injury and doubt, however, were replaced on Sunday by command and closer.

Brady wasn’t brilliant in the Patriots 38-24 win over the Bengals — he missed Randy Moss on a couple of deep passes and very nearly got Kevin Faulk beheaded with a lousy second-quarter toss — but he was very, very good. He completed 25-of-34 passes for 258 yards and 3 TDs. For the 52nd time in his career he posted a passer rating of over 100, finishing at 124.4.

He was in command from the first snap, completing all three passes for 59 yards in the opening drive, culminating with a nine-yard out to Welker for the TD catch (and raise your hand if when watching Welker on the ground in Houston on Jan 3 you had him scoring the first Sunday NFL TD of the 2010 season).

That was part of a first half that saw Brady throw the ball often (24 times) and hit five different receivers for at least one reception (Welker, Randy Moss, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Tate and Faulk). In that half the Patriots converted 6-of-8 on third-down conversions and Brady submitted one for the highlight reel, averting a near-sack and hitting Faulk on the sideline for a 21-yard catch at the Cincinnati four-yard line. One of those “only Brady” kind of plays, really. Three plays later Welker had TD catch No. 2 and it was almost Gino time (still waiting for the Foxboro equivalent) at 24-3.

And after Brandon Tate opened the second half with a 97-yard kickoff return to give the Pats a 31-3 lead it seemed safe to assume that Brady wouldn’t be much more than a backup singer in the final 24 minutes. But after the Bengals showed a little heart and cut the lead to 31-17, Brady led the Pats on what may have been the most important drive of the game. Last year, the knock on the Pats — and Brady — was the inability to finish teams off (Colts, Dolphins, Texans). This wasn’t the case on Sunday, and Brady was a major reason why. He completed all six passes on the drive, as he was an absolute study in calm and cool. And when his final pass of the drive was completed to Rob Gronkowski for a one-yard score, the Pats had a 38-17 lead with 8:15 left in the game and the game was iced.

Look, the defense was good when it mattered and the special teams made plays and it sure is swell that Welker is back and who needs Mankins when the O-Line plays like this and all that stuff, but for the Pats to play their final game of the season in Dallas they need Tom Brady to be quarterback we saw all preseason and on Sunday.

Healthy, confident and in total command.

A nice change for an opener.

Quick hits: Patriots 38, Bengals 24

09.12.10 at 4:09 pm ET
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The Patriots had plenty to celebrate in their season-opening win Sunday. (AP)

The Patriots had plenty to celebrate in their season-opening win Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — The Patriots got their season off on the right foot Sunday with a 38-24 win over the Bengals at Gillette Stadium.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE PATRIOTS

On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots only shot themselves in the foot — their first punt didn’t come until almost the five-minute mark of the third quarter. Quarterback Tom Brady opened the season by going 25-for-35 for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, in his first game back after ripping up his knee in last year’s regular-season finale against the Texans in Houston, Wes Welker caught a pair of touchdown passes and ended up with 64 receiving yards on the afternoon, while Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown pass and linebacker Gary Guyton ran an interception back 59 yards for a touchdown. Meanwhile, Fred Taylor got the bulk of the carries for the Patriots and ended up with 71 rushing yards.

The Patriots played excellent complimentary football throughout much of the game. The New England defense was able to keep the Cincinnati offense in check, while the offense took advantage of its opportunities, taking a 24-3 halftime lead and milking the clock through extended stretches of the second half, including a drive at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth that went 14 plays, took 81 yards and consumed an impressive 7:41. That forced the Bengals to become a one-dimensional team in the second half, throwing the ball in an attempt to get back into the game.

The New England youngsters (rookies and second-year players) had a tremendous impact in the opener.  Gronkowski had a one-yard touchdown catch, while fellow rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez highlighted an early scoring drive with a 45-yard catch of his own. In addition, second-year kick returner Brandon Tate had a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown, while second-year safety Pat Chung was into double-digit tackles by the start of the fourth quarter. And cornerback Devin McCourty had a pair of standout plays, breaking up a pass for Terrell Owens on the first series of scrimmage and delivering a nasty second-half hit to the hip of Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer, knocking him out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Chad Ochocinco and  Owens were still able to put up nice numbers, but it McCourty and second-year defensive back Darius Butler who really did a nice job taking a celebrated receiving duo out of their game.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE PATRIOTS

Not much here, other than the defensive breakdowns in the second half that allowed the Bengals to hang around, specifically a pair of third-quarter drives by the Bengals that made the game a lot closer than it needed to be.

First, there was a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard pass from Palmer pass to rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham. Cincinnati followed that with another 12-play drive, this one going for 73 yards and taking 4:51 and ending with a 28-yard pass play from Palmer to Ochocinco. (He steered clear of the muskets after the touchdown.) That made it 31-17 late with a little less than a minute to go in the third quarter. New England was able to answer with a spirit-sapping drive of their own late in the third and into the fourth quarter, but the sight of the Patriots allowing back-to-back extended scoring drives couldn’t have been encouraging, especially for a team that suffered so many defensive letdowns in the second half last season.

While the Patriots were able to get a stellar performance out of their special teams unit, there was a missed 47-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. In addition, a pair of missed pass attempts to Kevin Faulk inside the Cincinnati 30-yard line prevented the 24-3 halftime lead from being even greater. And while Moss did finish with five catches for 59 yards, the weekly attempts at a deep connection between Brady and Moss didn’t work again. The two tried a pair of deep balls — one was overthrown and another underthrown.

Read More: Quick Hits,

Halftime analysis from Patriots-Bengals

09.12.10 at 2:34 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As the Patriots and Bengals head to halftime with New England holding a 24-3 lead, here are a few quick notes:

It was a great first half for the Patriots, who were able to move the ball with little trouble — if it wasn’t for two missed connections between Tom Brady and Kevin Faulk and a missed 47-yard field-goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski, it could be even more of a blowout than it already is. After New England shot to a 24-3 lead — thanks to a pair of TD passes from Brady to Wes Welker and a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Gary Guyton — Cincinnati got on the board with a 54-yard field goal by Mike Nugent with 1:14 left in the half.

Defensively, the Patriots were able to display great pressure on Bengals’ quarterback Carson Palmer. On Cincinnati’s first offensive series, Vince Wilfork just caved in the pocket, which allowed Tully Banta-Cain and Myron Pryor to share a sack. On the second series, it was Gerard “Big Money” Warren who was able to get good heat on Palmer, which forced a quick throw by the quarterback that ended up landing incomplete. Overall, the Bengals did not cross into New England territory until midway through the second quarter. The defensive highlights came when Rob Ninkovich was able to force a fumble and retain possession, while the 59-yard return for a touchdown by Guyton made it 24-0 with 5:38 left in the second quarter. In addition, Darius Butler delivered a big hit on Terrell Owens on a third-down pass attempt for Owens that ends up forcing a punt. In addition, rookie Devin McCourty had a nice pass-breakup on Owens on the first series, as well as a pass in the end zone at the end of the first half.

The Patriots were clearly looking to take some pressure off their young and untested defense, and the easiest way to do that was to get up on the Bengals early and make them a one-dimensional team. The New England offense certainly did its part early, putting up scores on its first two drives of the game (the first time the Patriots scored on each of their first two drives in a season opener since the 2005 opener at Gillette against Oakland) and controlling the tempo and time of possession. The shining moment for the New England passing game came midway through the second on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 4:01 and featured a 20-yard pass to Tate, a 32-yard pass to Moss and a 21-yarder to Faulk where the veteran running back tip-toed along the sidelines to stay inbounds. It culminated with a four-yard strike to Welker to make it 17-0 in the second quarter.

While others have had gaudier first-half stats, the big offensive story is the return of Welker. Eight months after he tore up his left knee on the turf at Houston’s Reliant Field, Welker was back on the field. He finished the first half with four receptions, 18 receiving yards and two touchdowns. In all, it was a remarkable performance for Welker, who took the ball from his first touchdown to the sidelines with him.

The Bengals are having serious troubles matching up with the New England’s tight ends. On the Patriots’ first drive, Brady was able to find Aaron Hernandez for a 45-yard reception (his first catch as a pro) where Cincinnati’s coverage broke down completely. On every play during New England’s opening five-play drive, they had multiple tight ends in the game. Things weren’t as tight-end heavy on the second drive — which ended with a 32-yard field goal by Gostkowski — but the matchup problems were still there. (On one play, Brady missed a wide-open Rob Gronkowski, who was rumbling down the middle of the field untouched.) Midway through the second half, Brady would miss a touchdown pass to Hernandez when the rookie would drop the ball in the end zone, but would find Welker for his second touchdown of the day to make it 17-0 with 8:58 left in the first half.

•Brady has taken a few shots downfield for Randy Moss (both fell incomplete, with one pass underthrown and another one overthrown), but the nicest connection between the two if them in the first half came when Brady delivered a short pass to Moss, and the wide receiver made an excellent slip move on Johnathan Joseph, losing the cornerback and picking up some great yards after the catch, turning a short gain into the aforementioned 32-yard reception.

Read More: Bengals, halftime analysis, Patriots,

Patriots Gameday inactives for Bengals

09.12.10 at 11:46 am ET
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FOXBORO — Julian Edelman [foot], Laurence Maroney [thigh] and Terrence Wheatley [foot] are among the gameday inactives for the Patriots as they play their season opener Sunday against Cincinnati.

Other inactives for the Patriots Sunday are Taylor Price, Dane Fletcher, Steve Maneri, Brandon Deaderick and Nick Kaczur.

For the Bengals, Dan LeFevour [3rd QB], RB Brian Leonard, CB Brandon Ghee, C Reggie Stephens, LB Roddrick Muckelroy, WR Andre Caldwell, DT Pat Sims and DE Carlos Dunlap are all inactive.

Read More: Bengals, inactives, Julian Edelman, Laurence Maroney

Welcome to Gillette: Patriots-Bengals

09.12.10 at 10:49 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots look for their ninth straight win in a home opener as they welcome the “Real World” Bengals to Gillette Stadium.

Coverboy Tom and the Patriots take aim on Cincy.

Coverboy Tom and the Patriots take aim on Cincy.

This will be the first game for Tom Brady since surviving an ugly car wreck on Thursday morning and agreeing to a four-year, $72 million contract extension hours later.

Naturally, he was the biggest story this week in Foxboro as the Patriots look to get their 2010 season off on the right foot. So, it’s no surprise he is the coverboy of the first regular season Patriots GAMEDAY program.

Some other notes to keep in mind for today’s first game of the season:

- The Patriots have won the last four meetings with Cincinnati in Foxboro, beginning with a 27-21 win on Oct. 16, 1988 when the Pats handed 6-0 Cincinnati their first loss of the season. The last time the Bengals won in Foxboro was on Dec. 7, 1986 when James Brooks ran through the Patriots for a then-team record 264 all-purpose yards in a 31-7 Bengals win.

- Aside from the season-ending injuries to Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, those Patriots who are dressing are relatively healthy. Terrence Wheatley has a sore foot and likely won’t see action today. Julian Edelman is also a scratch with a bum foot. Running back Laurence Maroney won’t be seeing any action as he is out with a bad thigh.

- Tom Brady is 3-0 against the Bengals as a starter but was on the team the last time the Bengals beat New England. It was also the last time the two teams met in the season opener. The year was 2001 and the starting QB was Drew Bledsoe. The Bengals won that day, 23-17, on a hideous grass surface at Paul Brown Stadium, Sept. 9, 2001. When the Patriots returned to action following 9/11 on Sept. 23, Bledsoe suffered a life-threatening rib injury on a hit from Mo Lewis of the Jets. The next week, Brady got his first NFL start against San Diego and a legend and a Super Bowl season were born.

- Terrell Owens needs just 49 yards to join Jerry Rice and Isaac Bruce as the only players with 15,000 receiving yards.

- Chad Ochocinco needs just 48 yards to become 33rd player to reach 10,000 receiving yards.

- Owens and Ochocinco have a combined 23 years of NFL experience. Darius Butler and Devin McCourty have a combine one.

Read More: Bengals, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, nfl

Kicking off the new season with some pessimism

09.12.10 at 10:11 am ET
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Getting ready for some football? Well, so are the guys at the WEEI’s NFL Sunday Show. The problem is that the two players among the group — Christian Fauria and Troy Brown – don’t sound too excited about the Pats’ prospects. Click here for a listen.

Brady, Kraft talk about new contract

09.11.10 at 3:29 pm ET
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On Saturday afternoon, the Patriots recently released a statement that included quotes from owner Robert Kraft and quarterback Tom Brady on Brady’s four-year extension. Here’s the complete text of the release:

Yesterday, the Patriots submitted the paperwork for the four-year contract extension that was recently signed by Tom Brady. The extension extends through the 2014 NFL season. Today, both Robert Kraft and Tom Brady issued statements regarding the extension.

Statement from New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft on the four-year contract extension that was signed by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: “We have been very fortunate to have Tom Brady as the quarterback of the New England Patriots for the past decade. I am glad that this contract extension will allow his tenure to continue well into the next decade. Tom has been a terrific representative for the Patriots and a great leader for this franchise. Since he first arrived, no player has worked harder and been more driven to succeed than Tom. His core values have kept him grounded, despite his many successes, and he remains a consummate professional, both on and off the field. It is much easier to reward a player for his professional accomplishments when you have such respect for him personally and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom and for everything he has accomplished in his life. There is no one that I would rather have leading this team and I am happy to reward him with this contract extension.”

Statement from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: “I have never been comfortable talking about my contract and certainly didn’t want discussions of my contract negotiations to serve as a distraction to any of my teammates as we have been preparing for the Cincinnati Bengals and the start of the 2010 season. However, I do want to express my appreciation to Mr. Kraft and Jonathan Kraft for extending my opportunity to play for the New England Patriots. I am grateful for all that the Kraft family has done for me, both personally and professionally, and for all they have done for my family. Not only have I had the good fortune of playing for just one franchise, I have also played for the greatest head coach and with some of the best teammates a player could ever ask for. My teammates, both past and present, are the main reason why we have accomplished so much over the years. I love playing in New England and appreciate all the support that our fans give us. I look forward to tomorrow’s game and the start of another exciting season.”

Read More: Robert Kraft, Tom Brady,
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