It was business as usual for the New England Patriots in Week 1. The defending AFC East champions won their season-opener for a notable ninth time in a row when easily dismissing the Tennessee Titans 34-13 as 4 1/2-point road favorites in the NFL odds. Up this week for the ever-efficient Pats’ is a home matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, who are coming off a 20-16 win vs. the Seattle Seahawks as one-point home underdogs.
A point of emphasis for the Patriots’ this off-season was shoring up its defense and if Week 1 is any indication, mission accomplished. New England used its first three draft picks on defensive players and all of them produced to expectations vs. the Titans. The Pat’s two first-rounder’s—defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower–combined to score New England’s second touchdown in a nice flash of talent in the second quarter. Jones’ used a speed rush to get around his defender and strip Titans’ quarterback Jake Locker of the ball near the goal line. An opportunistic Hightower scooped up the loose ball, made a subtle juke and shuffled off six yards to paydirt.
The revamped Patriots defense, which is expected to be particularly strong against the run this year, held the Titans’ to 284 toal yards with just 20 of those coming on the ground. Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson could only manage a meager four yards rushing on 11 carries against the Pats’.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots’ received notable performances from some areas that were deemed questionable entering the season, most notably the offensive line and running back. The Patriots’ revamped front five, which features new starters at left tackle, center and right guard, passed their initial exam by allowing just one sack and opening up some nice holes for the running game. Stevan Ridley, an inexperienced second-year running back out of LSU who will be asked to lead the rushing attack this year, also responded positively with 125 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
Initial reports are the Patriots came out of Week 1 relatively injury-free and should be close to full-strength vs. Arizona. As for the Cardinals, starting quarterback John Skelton was injured in their win vs. Seattle and had to be replaced by Kevin Kolb, who subsequently led the Cardinals to its winning touchdown drive.