Second Tune-up Not Stellar
Defense Looks Great, Offense Not So Much
I've had a real tough couple weeks at work so, unfortunately, I've had little time for the finer things in life, like pro football.
But I've not been completely unfortunate. I was able to attend Friday night's game, and, most fortunately, we came into a pair of clubhouse seats. Of all the niceties afforded owners of these seats, the key advantage Friday was indoor viewing. I've been to games with lots of nasty weather, but torrential rain really ruins the experience.
Forget about the seats. Let's talk about the game.
Make no mistake, this was a preseason game. And a good thing, too. There was some good. There was some bad. There was some ugly.
The ugly included Tom Brady's two interceptions, two sacks and 55.7 passer rating. The bad included a 2.6 yards per carry average for the starting offense. Both Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk had 7 rushes each. Morris picked up 23 yards and Faulk just 15.
But Faulk was brilliant as usual on screen passes, and I think the only reason the Patriots stopped running it was because it was a preseason game and they had other things to do. Faulk ended up with 89 yards on 6 receptions, including three straight screens like New England ran against the New York Jets in the playoffs last January.
Back to the bad: Faulk was the only receiver Brady hit more than once. His other targets were Wes Welker (28-yard touchdown), Donte' Stallworth (15 yards), Jabar Gaffney (8 yards) and Morris (5 yards). The pass to Welker was one of Brady's few shining moments. Brady sidestepped the rush, while Matt Light did a good job staying on his block, and Brady fired to Welker who was just shaking his defender loose when Brady was sliding to his left.
Brady took a couple hard shots , one which resulted in an interception returned for a touchdown. Some might say you can't let him take those shots in the preseason, but this is football. He has to get prepared for the real thing, he has a full slate of new receivers he needs to practice timing, and there's only one way to do it -- rain, snow, sleet, hail or otherwise.
If the offense -- without second-year running back Laurence Maroney and bad boy Pro Bowl newcomer Randy Moss -- was less than stellar, the starting defense was solid. The Patriots gave Tennessee nowhere to run, and the Titans gained just 24 yards on 12 carries in the first half. Chris Henry averaged just 1.9 yards per carry, and mobile quarterback Vince Young had just 2.3 yards per carry.
The pass defense gave up a few big plays, but they gave up few plays at all. The Titans averaged a very high 20.4 yards per reception, but there were only 5 of those. Young ended up a paltry 5 of 17, and Patriots d-backs defensed several passes, including one each by Eugene Wilson and Randall Gay.
This was tremendously encouraging, being that the Patriots secondary is considered among many, including yours truly, to be the team's primary weak spot.
One member of that secondary definitely did not look weak, despite a couple serious injuries in recent years. Rodney Harrison defensed two passes and unmercifully leveled Young. It wasn't even from the blind side. So the "old man" still has it.
Otherwise, Le Kevin Smith showcased himself well with 4 solo tackles, including an 8-yard sack and one additional QB hit. Harrison and Ellis Hobbs had 3 solo tackles each, and Vince Wilfork had 2 solo and 1 assist.
There was one more player who did something poorly but also did something spectacular. Stephen Gostkowski missed a 33-yard field goal wide left (At least according to the gamebook. From my vantage point, it looked wide right, if anything, but he couldn't have been by much.) But Gostkowski did another little bit to step out from the shadow of his predecessor, pasting Tennessee rookie Michael Griffin on a kickoff return to save a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Keith Bulluck, who said "every time we play those guys, it's going to be payback" (y'know, you'd think he'd be playing in Cincinnati or Oakland with that kind of attitude), had an entirely unremarkable one solo tackle and two assists.
In the end, the Patriots lost, and they played far from perfectly, but we saw good stuff from the defensive secondary, and no one was injured. I'm sure the coaches saw plenty they'll address this week. This weekend is the true regular season tune-up.