New England Patriots: 10 Things We Learned from Win Over Cincinnati Bengals
The New England Patriots came out firing on all cylinders in their 38-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, jumping out to a 31-3 lead just 12 seconds into the third quarter of play.
It's hard to get off to a much better start to the NFL season than that. Well, unless you're the Houston Texans and you just beat the Colts for only the second time in franchise history.
With a lot of questions surrounding the Patriots headed into the 2010 season, the Patriots began answering them on Sunday.
10: The Defense Played With Aggression
Whether it's a symptom of Belichick taking the reigns of the defense or simply of the chip-on-the-shoulder attitude instilled by the high praise of the Jets, the demeaning words towards them, the injuries that have "depleted them, or simply the building of their new legacy, these Patriots look hungry on defense.
The Patriots defensive line was hit early by the sting of the injury bug, as Ty Warren was declared done for the season in the preseason. Yet the Bengals' rush attack couldn't get anything going against the likes of Vince Wilfork, Myron Pryor, and Mike Wright.
They were pushing the line of scrimmage with everything they had, playing with a lot of heart and aggressiveness. They refused to let the Bengals get any sort of momentum in the first half, holding them to three points.
It was easy to see that the confidence Belichick had in them to play with that aggression gave them enough swagger to make plays in the game.
They'll need more of it against even tougher competition like the Colts and Chargers, two high-powered offenses they'll face later in the year.
9: There Will Be Growing Pains For The Young Cornerbacks
Going up against two veteran talents, expectations were low for five-game starter Darius Butler and rookie Devin McCourty agaisnt "Batman and Robin". Carson Palmer looked to expose their inexperience early with a deep bomb to Terrell Owens, but the pass was well-defended and broken up by McCourty.
The two were exposed in the second half as the Bengals went pass-happy, and gave up 19 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown to the dynamic duo of T.O. and Chad Ochocinco.
Holding a talent-laden offense to a low enough score to get a win is what really counts for the defense in the long run. Yet, those two will have to play better if the Patriots can't score a lot of points on a given week.
8: Mankins' Absence Not Felt
Minutes before kickoff, a story broke that Mankins had met with the Patriots a couple of weeks ago to finally try to hammer out a deal. The Patriots asked the two-time Pro-Bowler to apologize to Robert Kraft, and the phone call reportedly went well according to ESPN. It was when the team asked Mankins to issue a public apology that the guard got offended, and the talks regressed.
Despite his previous success with the Pats, his absence wasn't truly felt in Sunday's game. Dan Connolly started in his place, as he had for the majority of the preseason. The interior pressure never got to Brady, despite being flushed out on a couple of occasions.
Mankins is used to playing offense, but may soon be on the defensive in his contract negotiations if New England's offensive line continues to play well.
7: Gary Guyton Proved He's No Slouch
Sometimes, when a linebacker makes an interception, it's because he's "invisible in coverage". Guyton ran with the speedster tight end Jermaine Gresham step-for-step on a crossing route, and jumped the play when Palmer made the throw.
He then turned up field and used his speed to carry him all the way to the end zone.
After Brandon Spikes won the starting job at inside linebacker in training camp, many wrote Guyton off. Not Belichick, who knew that all the inside linebackers are talented and planned to use them all.
6: Brandon Meriweather Is an Inspirational Leader
Meriweather was around the ball quite a bit on Sunday, tipping away a few passes and contributing on seven tackles. He had one particular play late in the game, where Ochocinco reeled in a pass near the sideline. Despite being ahead by 14 points, Meriweather ran at Ochocinco full tilt and blasted him out of bounds.
He got a friendly attaboy from Ochocinco, who quickly popped up with a smile on his face.
The level of intensity brought by Meriweather seems to impact the rest of the defense, who all played very aggressively against the Bengals.
5: Brandon Tate is a Monster in the Kick Return Game
Tate proved that he has explosive potential in the return game in the preseason, and followed up on that with a big kick-off return for a touchdown to open the second half of Sunday's game.
The 97-yard score put the Patriots up 31-3.
Some questioned Tate after two consecutive knee surgeries ended different seasons for him. Those fears were quickly hushed, and the future is bright for the Patriots' special teams unit.
4: Red Zone Play-Calling Still Needs Some Work
The Patriots had problems in the red zone on both sides of the ball in 2009, both in scoring points on offense and in stopping the opponent from scoring on defense. The Patriots were 3-for-5 in the red zone on offense for 60 percent conversion rate, which is better percentage-wise than last year, but they'll need to be even more consistent with the question marks on defense.
Meanwhile, the Patriots allowed the Bengals to score on both of their red zone possessions, both on long drives of 76 and 80 yards.
3: Rob Gronkowski Is The Real Deal
Gronkowski was the talk of the town in New England during training camp and the preseason. He looked like one of the most intriguing tight end prospects that has been seen in recent memory; not just in New England, but the league.
The Patriots put his scary combination of size and athleticism to use early with a one-yard touchdown strike on a beautiful fade route that had "The Big Gronkowski" turning mid-stride to catch the ball near his helmet.
Not only that, but he looked good as a blocker as well. He opened up holes in both the running and passing game, paving the way for Welker's first touchdown of the game which came on a screen pass for nine yards. Gronkowski is a strong, long-armed player who can hold defenders at a distance and can match linebackers pound-for-pound.
I've been saying it all preseason. Remember this name: Rob Gronkowski.
2: Wes Welker Is Still Wes Welker
Bread and butter. Those are the best three words I can find to describe Wes Welker's performance against the Bengals on Sunday. He has always been the man in the middle for New England, but questions popped up surrounding his left knee after he tore his ACL in last season's final game.
Those questions were quickly put to rest, as he pulled in one reception after another in the middle, collecting a series of first downs on his way to eight receptions for 64 yards.
Most impressive, though, are his two touchdown grabs. It took Welker until Week 9 to get his first touchdown in 2009, but he picked up the first score for the Patriots in Sunday's game.
1: Tom Brady Could Return to 2007 Form This Year
Brady went 25-for-35 for 258 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Bengals. That stat line pretty much says it all.
Many remarked that Brady would have to play very near the standard of his 2007 record-setting season for the Patriots to have a chance, and he did just that by opening up with a strong performance in Sunday's game.
Surprising Similarities To 2007...
Wes Welker touchdown grabs started off the Patriots offense in both 2007 and this year.
Brandon Tate's second-half-opening kick-off return for a touchdown bore a surprising resemblance to Ellis Hobbs' kick-off return to start the second half against the Jets in 2007.
Tom Brady threw for 3 touchdowns, the same number he threw for in 2007's opening game.
I'm not saying the Patriots will go 16-0 because of this, but Patriots fans have to be pleased with the strong start to the season.