The New England Patriots are back, folks. After starting the game by going up 24-0, the Patriots were able to take the foot off of the gas and coast to a 38-24 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
After having an up-and-down preseason campaign, not many fans knew what to expect out of New England. But, the Pats were able to set the tone early by executing a huge opening drive and showing that the Patriots offense was up to speed. Here are some other thoughts on the opening game for the Patriots:
The biggest question going into the season was the defense. The faces of years past are all but gone. So, it was time for the Mad Scientist to diagram new schemes, generate new leadership, and entrust a new group of guys with protecting the legacy of a stingy defense that was left behind. The Pats D clearly rose to the challenge.
The play of Devin McCourty made him the biggest standout of the Patriots defensive unit. On the first play of the game, Carson Palmer tested the rookie and he rose to the occasion, batting the ball out of the hands of Terrell Owens. It is noted though, that when McCourty played softer coverage on wide receivers, he was much more prone to letting up catches. If the Pats choose to press McCourty and let the young corner get up on the receiver he's covering, there could be plenty more great defensive plays out of him.
Gary Guyton's interception was another great sight for the Pats. Leaving the touchdown aside (which was the nail in the coffin), Guyton was using great instincts to make the pick and closed it out with his speed. If the Pats can rotate the speedy Guyton and the run-stuffing Brandon Spikes throughout games, teams will have fits with the middle linebacking core of the Patriots.
The play of Vince Wilfork was a welcomed surprised. Usually just thrown into the middle to clog gaps as the DT position mandates in the 3-4 scheme, Wilfork was able to accrue 3 tackles and a rare sack of the quarterback.
Wes Welker seemed as if he hasn't missed a beat after coming off of ACL surgery. He was all over the field making the typical plays that one can expect out of Welker. If Edelman progresses as people in the Patriots inner circle expects and Welker remains at the level he played at last Sunday, the Pats could be able to give teams fits if both are finding space around the field.
Brady was well, Brady. Enough said there.
Brandon Tate's kickoff return was another great moment for Pats fans. Recently, special teams has not been a strong point of the team, with plenty of miscues and mishaps along the way. If the Pats now have a viable return threat, look for them to have another dimension they can use to score.
With the good, comes the bad. As good as the Patriots defense looked in the first half, they didn't look real strong in the second half. Maybe it was the Bengals adjustments or maybe just the Pats taking their foot off of the gas, but they still did not look as good. Regardless, they still won the game.
The final thought is the drive that officially sealed the deal. Even though Guyton's pick was the essential game-ender, the Pats still had one drive that closed it out. Brady and the unit conducted a 9-minute drive in the 4th quarter, at which point I was able to change over to the Steelers-Falcons game.
Overall, the season opener was a welcomed surprise. However, coming into the season, the Pats and Bengals were both question marks in the AFC. As good as the Patriots looked, they may have just been playing a bad team. Next week, the Pats have the Jets and at about 7:30 on Sunday night, we'll know just how good this team is.