EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 10, 2012

Patriots 34, Titans 13 Hector Longo's Two-Minute Drill

By Hector Longo
hlongo@eagletribune.com

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BIG SHOWS

1. Jerod Mayo – All the piling on I’ve done on this guy, and it turns out he was simply put in the wrong position by Bill Belichick. Clearly, he’s much more at home, outside on the weak side than in the middle. Finished with nine impactful solos, a brutalizing presence. Finally!

2. Stevan Ridley –

Ran hard, ran quick, ran explosive. Caught the football. Held the football. Busts out for 125 yards on 21 carries with a TD. And we all chuckled under our breath when he went in the second round of The Eagle-Tribune’s sports staff fantasy draft.

3. Chandler Jones – The rookie drew special attention all afternoon from the Titans. Three solos and lots of pressure.

4. Brandon Lloyd – Loved the way the newcomer ran hard routes all day, even when the football went elsewhere. Sweet, sweet work on the sideline. Finished with five grabs for 69 yards.

NO SHOWS

1. Ras-I Dowling – Set the early tone, getting burned for a third-down conversion then comitting a blatant pass interference for another first. Takes the bullet for a corner group that allowed receivers to roam free all night long.

2. Pat Chung – Still can’t cover anyone. Starting to take some Meriweather-esque angles to the football. Maybe, he’s hurt again. Just not sure he fits in this defense. They need playmakers, not riverboat gamblers.

3. Nate Solder – Got Tom Brady’s nose broken with an early turnstile whiff. All the pressure on Brady came from his spot, although Logan Mankins was beaten once as well. Decent enough in the run game, but he’s going to give the Pats’ QB the cold sweats tonight and maybe every night.

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (B-) … Yes, Stevan Ridley had giant holes to run through. But the fact that Tom Brady’s priceless nose got smooshed early should send tremors into your hopes for the season. A quality pass-rushing team is going to beat this offense up.

Running Backs (A) … Could you ask for much more from Stevan Ridley? Don’t forget his two catches for 27 yards. Not much else from Danny Woodhead (6-20) and Brandon Bolden (5-11) but it wasn’t needed today.

Receivers (B+) … Extremely workman-like performance, taking what the opposition gave. And they blocked the daylights out of Tennessee, too.

Quarterback (B+) … Just an awful throw to a wide-open Brandon Lloyd cost him a score. He showed guts after being bloodied but the inability to do more than dink and dunk because of pressure is an issue. Averaged a very pedestrian 7.6 yards per attempt, considering the terrible Titans secondary.

DEFENSE

Line (B+) … Can’t say enough about the stout play inside by Kyle Love. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz lauded Vince Wilfork all day, heaping praise everywhere, but it was Love who pushed the piles back much of the time. Chandler Jones kicked in the play of the game. Jermaine Cunningham added a sack. Just not a fan of Rob Ninkovich. Can’t see why he plays so many snaps.

Linebackers (A) … As good a game as Jerod Mayo has played. Dont’a Hightower celebrates his debut with a TD. Brandon Spikes wasn’t a factor, solely because Tennessee’s spread dictated the Pats playing a ton of nickel.

Defensive Backs (C-) … A decent NFL QB throws for 400 yards yesterday. Receivers were open and had several drops. They looked utterly confused in zone, with lots of room out there. Kyle Arrington had the spectacular play on the long pass that Tavon Wilson converted into a pick. That sames this group from the shame of a “D.”

SPECIAL TEAMS (B-)

… Zoltan Mesko tossed in a rare 28-yard punt, but other than that it was a quiet day on special teams. And that’s good. The Pats simply need to hold even here.

COACHING (B+) …

Bill Belichick’s staff brilliantly conveyed the message that the yellow flags for the most part to the officials’ beltlines. The Pats pushed off, held, grabbed and mangled Tennessee receivers, all that got ignored by the replacement stripes, who hit them with 20 yards of penalties on three infractions. Great job with the formations on offense, exploiting the Tennessee secondary’s horrid tackling, both on Stevan Ridley and in the passing game.

FANS OF THE LOCKOUT

The true New England football fan has to be begging for the replacement officials to remain on the job the entire season.

First of all, the newbies have certainly been told to swallow the whistles at all costs.

Secondly, you know these schmoes, who’ve been working the bushes their whole lives, see Bill Belichick on the sidelines and shudder like little girls.

Finally, they are just not good.

Yesterday, the Pats benefitted from all three points. Certainly, they have been coached to stretch the rules. Nate Solder’s only defense at left tackle was to hold on every down that he could. With the real officials, he would have been hit with three or four flags. But these all were overlooked.

The officials swallowed certain pass interference flags on Devin McCourty and Pat Chung in the end zone.

Good for the Patriots. Take every advantage you can. That’s the sign of a well-prepared, professional football team.

THE TURNING POINT

With 11:16 left in the second quarter and the Pats holding on to a 7-3 lead, Chandler Jones introduces himself to the NFL. The rookie easily turns the corner on Pro Bowl left tackle Michael Roos and levels Jake Locker with the strip-sack.

Fellow rookie Dont’a Hightower scoops up the loose change and dances six yards into the end zone for the 14-3 lead.

More than just a play, this is a statement.

Teams will move the football on this Pats defense through the air. But this front seven is going to make things happen.

This may not be just the turning point of the game. This may just mark a new era for this group.

TITANS PAY THE PRICE

Stevan Ridley owned the edge in his 125-yard rushing performance.

Why?

The New England receivers delivered their best blocking game maybe in the past 6-8 years.

Spread out on the edge, Aaron Hernandez got cornered up like a wide receiver and simply pancaked all the 180-pound gnats Tennessee through his way.

Rob Gronkowski, whether in tight or flexed, walled off multiple defenders, and at 6-feet, 192 pounds, Brandon Lloyd was physical and nasty in the Hines Ward mode.

It made Ridley’s job an easy one.

WHY BELICHICK’S BETTER

For much of the afternoon, Belichick and Josh McDaniels “spread” the field with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez flanking the line of scrimmage with Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. That caused Mike Munchak to fall into nickel and dime looks that the Patriots tore apart with Stevan Ridley.

Of course, because Jerry Gray defenses don’t blitz, they never really got in Tom Brady’s face, and that allowed the QB to pick and choose his targets. Jerry, I see you’ve only been a coordinator in this league for one year and now one game. If you want to hang around, you’ll adjust … Just like the Patriots – under Belichick – always do.

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Follow Eagle-Tribune Sports Reporter Hector Longo on Twitter under the screen name @MVcreature.