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Snap Judgments: Patriots roll over Titans, capture ninth consecutive opener

09.09.12 at 4:06 pm ET
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Tom Brady led the Patriots to a 34-13 win. (AP)

The Patriots spotted the Titans a 3-0 lead, and then ran off 21 straight first-half points to take command, eventually pulling away down the stretch to win their ninth consecutive opener, 34-13.

Offensively, despite getting knocked around a bit in the early going, quarterback Tom Brady was sharp finishing 23-for-31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Stevan Ridley, who finished with 125 yards on 21 carries, was the first Patriots’ running back to rush for at least 100 yards in the season opener since Curtis Martin did it in 1995. (Martin had 102 yards against Cleveland.)

Defensively, New England’s rookies had a good day, with Dont’a Hightower picking up a fumble — one that came off a strip sack from fellow first-rounder Chandler Jones — and Tavon Wilson adding a pick for good measure.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Not many problems with the offense: The two young tight ends picked up where they left off last season, with Rob Gronkowski bulling his way for six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown and his running mate Aaron Hernandez adding six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. (Hernandez continues to be used as a chess piece. He was lined up all over the field once again, including one play where he took a direct snap from center.) Meanwhile, Ridley had the best performance of his NFL career, finishing with just under five yards per carry and looking dominant at times.

In the passing game, there was no reason to worry about Brady and Brandon Lloyd not having enough time together on the field in the regular season. There was one missed connection early that would have led to a touchdown (more on that one later), but after that, it was all good for the newcomer, who led the Patriots with 69 yards on five catches. While he had other connections with Brady, his best grab of the day came early in the second when he was able to tiptoe along the Tennessee sideline to haul in a 27-yarder in the second quarter.

The two first-rounders combined on New England’s second score of the day. Midway through the second quarter, Jones beat Titans left tackle Michael Roos for a strip sack of Locker, and Hightower scooped up the fumble and rumbled into the end zone for the touchdown. It was part of a really nice quarter for the rookies, as defensive back Wilson also had a pick of Locker in the Tennessee end zone, coming down with the ball after it bounced off Kyle Arrington‘s helmet. As a group, the Jones/Hightower/Wilson combo teamed for 15 tackles, one sack and a touchdown.

The Patriots were able to stop the Titans twice in the red zone, holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns, with one coming in the first quarter and the second coming in the fourth. They were also up to the challenge of stopping Chris Johnson, who was limited to four yards on 11 carries and was the target of some boos by the Tennessee faithful. One of the reasons Johnson found it tough going was because of the stout presence of New England’s defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Drops on opening drive: On the Patriots’ first drive of the afternoon, there were two missed connections between Brady and his receivers. On the first play, Lloyd appeared to stop running on a deep route down the center of the field. Lloyd got his hands on the ball but couldn’t hang on. On the next play — a third down — Brady hit Welker in the face on a crossing pattern. The Patriots were forced to punt.

It was a bad start for second-year cornerback Ras-I Dowling. He yielded a third-down conversion by Locker right out of the gate, and then was flagged for the Patriots’ first penalty of the season, a nine-yard pass interference call that led to a Tennessee first down. (Dowling ended up playing a pretty good game, with his best moment coming in the third quarter when he nearly picked up a safety with a tackle on Kendall Wright on the Tennessee goal line.)

Brady took his shots. Brady took a big hit in the second quarter after being sacked by Tennessee defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. Brady was checked out on the bench by the Patriots’ medical staff, but returned on New England’s next offensive series. (For what it’s worth, the quarterback certainly didn’t appear to be any worse for wear — he finished the first half 10-for-13 for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Two of the incompletions were straight drops.)

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