Is it too early to retract my previous statement that the Patriots' defense is loaded with playmaking ability and dominant potential?
Maybe, but after last night's 36-35 preseason loss to the Rams, it sure doesn't feel like it.
Still, there's a flip side to every coin, and even losing to one of the worst teams in football has its positives.
I give you this week's Good, Bad, and Ugly!
I suppose Brady's excellence goes without saying, but after 2008 and parts of last season, it's best not to take anything for granted—including No. 12. (Note to Patriots front office: Quit messin' around and sign the man!)
In three quarters of play he finished 18-of-22 for 273 yards and three TDs, including a backyard football-style 65-yard bomb to Randy Moss that hit him perfectly in stride.
Brady was peppering the field with frozen ropes on intermediate routes, and in vintage fashion he connected with seven different receivers.
Perhaps his most impressive throw came on a blitz up the middle in which he hit the deck to protect himself. Instantly realizing Sammy Morris picked it up, he leaped to his feet and delivered a strike on the sideline to Alge Crumpler, who made an even more impressive catch.
He even deftly avoided a repeat of the Bernard Pollard incident by leaping (I use the term loosely) back as a defensive lineman fell at his knees. He was sacked moments later, but in a much more comforting manner.
At the tight end position, New England hasn't had a legitimate force since Ben Coates. The former All-Pro and my favorite player ever behind the aforementioned Brady doesn't look he'll have his number retired any time soon.
Yessir, there's a new 87 in town! In Nuke LaLoosh fashion, Gronk has announced his presence with authority.
It began on draft day with an impassioned huddle after hearing his name called. Chants of "GRONK! GRONK! GRONK!" filled the room, and visions of the same huddle forming in the end zone filled the heads of Patriots fans—a vision that came to fruition twice tonight.
The 6'6", 264-lb. man-child has taken that enthusiasm and testosterone onto the field and proven to be an unstoppable force.
He's the same kind of unguardable matchup nightmare that Coates was, except he's even bigger. He uses his massive frame to shield defenders and engulf the football, overpower defensive backs, and fight through traffic across the middle.
In a previous article I called him a freight train with hands. The biggest difference is he doesn't derail after a collision. He absorbs contact and keeps chuggin' along.
There was no better example tonight than his first touchdown, in which he caught the ball at the eight-yard line and was immediately met by linebacker James Laurinaitis.
With the former Ohio State standout firmly clenching his ankle, Gronkowski managed to keep his balance and proceeded to drag the helpless linebacker another four yards with a series of one-legged hops before plunging into the end zone.
Imagine an old-world pillager who'd been shackled to a ball and chain and then made to run a potato sack race, and somehow still won. That was Gronk.
His second score was more conventional. He simply towered over the defenders as Brady threw high, and he reached up and grabbed it. Impossible to defend—just like Gronk's "wild thing" haircut.
The speedy second-year wideout from UNC has game-breaking ability as a return man, as evidenced by his electric 97-yard return for a touchdown. He returned three kickoffs on the night for a 54.7 yard average.
He could end up a major reason why Wes Welker enjoys a miracle comeback. With Tate healthy, Welker won't need to return kicks.
Tate also had a couple of receptions, neither of which stood out. But he's shown great body control and soft hands in previous games. If Moss leaves via free agency, Tate looks poised to step up.
I'm hesitant to include any Patriots defensive backs among the "good," but McCourty made some nice plays tonight despite getting toasted on what would have been an easy touchdown were it not for an awful throw from Sam Bradford.
He showed surprising closing speed on a deep ball to Donnie Avery, one of the fastest receivers in the entire league.
Sadly, the play resulted in Avery being carted off the field after the type of knee twisting that often results in a torn ACL (classy move by Welker of recognizing that potential and offering words of encouragement as Avery was carted away).
Still, it was nice to see McCourty recover like that after initially being beat and make a stellar play on the ball. He also made some nice tackles on special teams. I've been pleasantly surprised to see how hard he hits.
Yeah, I know, he plays for the other team, but you gotta give the Devil his due. Bradford looked fantastic tonight.
He picked the New England secondary apart the way I pick out pizza toppings from a menu (when I called to place my order, the guy on the other end answered, "Thank you for calling Dom-...Papa Gino's, would you like pick up or delivery?").
As I enjoyed my pineapple and capricola, Bradford similarly feasted on an assortment of defensive backs.
Part of that was the Patriots' lethargic and uninspired play on defense, but Bradford also made the right decisions and great throws to capitalize. In his first pro start the former Heisman Trophy winner went 15-of-22 for 189 yards and two TDs. Thankfully he only played the first half; otherwise the game might have been out of reach by the end of the third quarter.
Quote of the day: "In a game with no defense, we played less."—Bill Belichick
This didn't look anything like the group I hailed just two days ago as young playmakers ready to burst onto the scene. Instead they looked apathetic.
I know the second of Bradford's touchdowns came against a zone defense that is vulnerable to the tight end as he crosses into the secondary, but what about the other dozen or so passes?
The Rams were the worst team in football last season, and they carved through the defensive backfield like a hot knife through butter. Laurent Robinson, Donnie Avery, and Michael Goodluckpronouncingthatlastname are not exactly All-Pros, yet they were open again and again. Even the St. Louis second team marched down the field at will to open the third quarter.
I expect better from a collection of first and second-round draft picks.
I watched Murrell closely tonight hoping to catch a glimpse of what it is Belichick sees in him. I couldn't find it.
He was a complete non-factor at the point of attack. He was routinely handled one on one. He failed to generate any pass rush coming off the edge, yet he was so single-minded in his pursuit that he failed on several occasions to even consider hitting a running back on his way by to disrupt a potential screen pass.
I will give him this much: He doesn't give up on plays. He's got a good motor, but that only gets you so far.
The pass rush as a whole was virtually nonexistent. They put zero pressure on either of the first two quarterbacks, and when they came close, all they managed to do was rough the passer.
The secondary looked bad, but what do you expect when the quarterback routinely has time to sit back and survey the field?
The only positive thing a Patriots running back did the entire game was that great blitz pickup by Sammy Morris.
The team combined for 28 yards on 11 carries for a measly 2.5-yard average. The longest run of the game was five yards, and no one player had more than 13 yards rushing.
I know this is going to be a pass-heavy offense, but Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis looked awful. I never thought I'd be looking forward to Laurence Maroney lining up in the backfield, but his dancing shoes are better than their cement ones.
Rams third string QB Keith Null's play was lackluster, but he caught my attention the moment I saw him looking up at the game clock. Even through the helmet, I could only think one thing.
He looks like the boy from Jumanji when he turns into a monkey.
The facial-hair chin strap that flows over the actual chin strap, the tuft of hair protruding from between his eyes, the squished-up little face, even the forlorn look in his eyes—Jumanji. Monkey boy.
I've scoured the web in search of a decent photo from the movie and a photo of Null from tonight's game but haven't had any luck. I'll have to settle for this side-by-side comparison.