I woke up this morning extremely excited for today's game. I turned on my television to ESPN, and the first thing I saw on SportsCenter was the story titled "Patriots Demise." And during the national pregame shows, it seemed that just about every "expert" was picking against the Patriots.
Funny how quickly the scope of things can change. With the Patriots 38-24 blowout win over the Bengals (and don't get me wrong, despite the score differential being only 14 points, this game wasn't even close), the Patriots have suddenly been thrust back into the national spotlight.
Defensively, the Patriots came out aggressively, sending using blitzes and using a variety of different sub-packages, and it paid big dividends. They got a good job getting to Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer, stopping the ground game, and flying around the ball. It all paid off when Gary Guyton intercepted a Carson Palmer pass intended for Jermaine Gresham and returned it 59 yards to the house. The only points the Patriots defense surrendered in the first half came on a 53 yard field goal by Mike Nugent. While the defense let up a lot of passing yards in the second half, I think this was due to a more conservative approach on the coaching end, as well as some bad breaks.
Particularly playing well on defense were the young defensive backs, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, and Darius Butler. McCourty looked like he really belonged, and Patrick Chung racked up 16 total tackles, and seemingly was always around the ball. Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Mike Wright, Rob Ninkovich, Jonathan Wilhite, and Tully Banta-Cain also all had solid games.
On offense, the Patriots came out particularly strong. Their opening drive, Brady marched the team down the field in just five plays, a drive highlighted by a 45 yard catch and run by rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. Wes Welker, in his first official game back since tearing his ACL and MCL last January, capped the drive off with a nine yard touchdown off of a screen pass.
The Patriots continued to move the ball effectively throughout the half, scoring on a total of three long drives (72, 56, and 85). While the team focused on the passing game, they also looked to the run at times. Fred Taylor had a good game, carrying the ball for 71 yards on 14 carries. Kevin Faulk got the ball on a few draws and looked good, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis rotated in and out and looked solid.
While Brady looked like he was in mid-season form, you've got to give a lot of credit to the offensive line. Brady was rarely under pressure, and the backs consistently had big holes to run through. Right now, the Logan Mankins situation isn't looking so bad. And by the way, left tackle Matt Light shut down Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom. Light may be aging, but there's no question that he's still an upper-echelon NFL left tackle.
The Patriots ended up taking a commanding 24-3 lead heading into half time. The second half started just as explosively as the first, with Brandon Tate taking back the opening kickoff 97 yards for the touchdown, to widen the score to 31-3.
While the Bengals tried to play a fair game of catch-up, this one never really got close. Tom Brady and the offense ended all hopes of a miracle Bengals comeback by leading a 14 play, 81 yard drive that chewed up more than half a quarter and ended with a beautiful one yard lob to the back of the end zone that was caught by rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Overall, it was just a fantastic way to begin the season. The Patriots stepped up in all three phases of the game, and played a great all around game. While it's just one game, there's no denying that this group really impressed. So for one week, lets drink the kool-aid and just enjoy it. Next week is sure to be one of the most hyped matches of the season, as the Patriots will head to the New Meadowlands to play Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.