April 24, 2014

Grand Opening

logo 98by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The 2007 New England Patriots opened for business on Sunday and instantly began crushing competitors like a gridiron Super Wal-Mart.

The first Mom and Pop operation to go belly up was the New York Jets, who fell to the Patriots 38-14 in a game that was, and I say this without a trace of sarcasm, not as close as the score indicated.

The Pats slaughtered the Jets from pillar to post, owning the line of scrimmage and every square inch surrounding it, emphatically denying any claim New York may have laid – prematurely, it seems – to the AFC Eastern Division.

One can only guess which ancient prizefight film Eric Mangini showed his team to prepare for this game. Emile Griffith and Benny “Kid” Paret?

Score over the last eight quarters played between the two teams? New England 75, New York 30.

Randy Moss was sensational in his Patriots debut, threatening the team’s single game receiving record and threatening the rest of the American Conference with his explosive presence in New England’s lineup.

Ellis Hobbs, quite combustable himself, broke an NFL record with a 108 yard kickoff return for touchdown to open the second half. That, and Moss’s 51 yard score from Tom Brady just moments later, also broke the Jets.

New York quarterback Chad Pennington was forced from the game with an ankle injury in the third quarter, to cheers from the Jets faithful.

It all started, though, with the Patriots utter dominance of New York’s offensive and defensive lines. When Brady took the field, he did so with complete immunity from the Jets pass rush. When Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris lugged the ball, they did so through seams and alleys made clear by the physical, yet athletic New England front. There have been few days where all elements of the Patriots offense have meshed better.

This was never more true than on New England’s first possession. After being pinned inside their ten by a Jets punt, the Patriots offense worked free of their own goal line by handing the ball to Maroney, who carried three times for 21 yards. When the Jets moved up to defend, Brady calmly went over them, hitting Wes Welker and then Moss (alone, in full stride in the center of the field) for easy first downs. It was Welker, set in a formation that left him one-on-one with a single defender, that finished the 91 yard drive with a nifty catch, cut and run for the Patriots’ first score of the season.

On the other side of the ball, the New England defensive line immediately took away Thomas Jones and the Jets running game behind the push of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, while Jarvis Green and Mike Vrabel collapsed the pocket around Pennington. 

It was only a subsequent series of relativetly minor New England miscues that gave the Jets any hope, and Pennington eventually took advantage, driving the Jets 66 yards with short passes to Laverneus Coles and Jericho Cotchery to tie the game at 7.

But Brady took the game right back for the Pats, leading the offense on another balanced drive that again featured thrilling contributions from Moss, and again ended in the New York end zone. The two time Super Bowl MVP first went right (on a perfectly thrown loft that netted 33) and then left (an overhand fastball for 22) on consecutive plays to Moss, which set up a big-league TD catch by Ben Watson on 3rd and Goal from the Jets 5, as the tight end worked himself free along the back line while Brady whistled one through the Jets for the score, and the 14-7 lead. New York went to the locker room with none of the momentum it had so temporarily held.

Nor would they ever come close to recapturing it, even after the break. Thanks for this goes first to Hobbs, who opened the second half by returning a kickoff from eight yards deep in his own end zone. Which come to think of it, is probably not the best idea. But Ellis Hobbs is no shrinking violet, and so he took it left up the sidelines, where Watson stepped up again with the crucial block that set Hobbs free on his record-setting run. What did I tell you about Hobbs? How can you not have him return kicks?

After the defense again made quick work of the Jets, knocking Pennington to the sidelines with a Jarvis Green sack, Brady went back to Moss for 19 more before sending him deep through a morass of New York defenders, where he took in an on-target Brady bomb to the left flag for the controversial veteran’s first touchdown as a Patriot, and a two touchdown lead.

Pennington and the Jets fought back from his ankle injury to drive again, as Jones began to find open running room for the first time. He ran 4 times for 26 yards (half of his total for the day), and two Pennington strikes to tight end Chris Baker set up a second short touchdown by Coles. The lead was back to 7. 

But it was all the Jets had. Brady and Sammy Morris made sure of that, as they both took the Pats on a drive that ate up 75 yards and more importantly, nearly eleven minutes from the clock. It ended with a 22 yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal, and Clemens began warming up for mop up duty.

Heath Evans added a short touchdown plunge with two minutes remaining.

It’s just one game, but it was a victory so complete that surely someone somewhere will lose their head and declare the division race over before it begins. I won’t go that far, yet, though the Patriots appeared so omnipotent on offense that I hardly recognized them. What a juxtaposition from last year at this time, when passes went awry and body language made headlines. This year, though there are even more new faces than in 06, the Patriots offense moved which such precision and ease that even the most ardent fanboy had to rub his eyes in disbelief of what he was seeing.

As for Moss, there are few superlatives that can adequately describe his immediate and stunning impact on the Patriots attack, so I won’t bother. Except to say that regardless of his well-publicized and well-earned foibles, New England has never had a receiver that was his equal. His route on the 51 yard bomb was stunning; bracketed by three men, Moss simply glided past them to an open area across the field, where he easily gathered in Brady’s accurate toss.

Brady finished with a 22/28/297/3 td (now at 150 on his career) line, and it’s unlikely he’s had a smoother or more tranquil day at the Pats controls. He’s found a fast friend in Welker, who worked quick routes to safe completions and first downs throughout. He and Moss combined for 15 catches and nearly 250 yards.

Maroney and Morris played a solid, albeit secondary role, but it was their steady hand in the early stages that set the Pats on their way. Ryan O’Callaghan joined the Pats offensive line often as a third tight end, and played well as Dante Scarnecchia’s unit had one of its better days.

On defense, Vrabel and Green were the leaders, combining for 4.5 sacks, while Wilfork and Warren ate up the middle. Adalius Thomas played an under-stated role, but proved valuable as a pass defender as he covered a lot of ground in the intermediate middle. He nearly picked off a Pennington pass on the Jets first possession. Asante Samuel and the Pats secondary played off the Jets receivers and, while Pennington had an efficient day, he could generate none of the big plays that vexed New England last season.

Returning vet Eugene Wilson led all Patriots tacklers with 8.

If any Patriot had a rough day, it was Matt Cassel, who as holder flubbed a Lonie Paxton snap that derailed an early field goal attempt. He was later replaced by Chris Hanson (who held Gostkowski’s successful 22 yarder), and when New England needed a backup quarterback to take the final snap, the coaches turned to Matt Gutierrez instead. Ouch.

With week one now satisfyingly under their belts, New England’s players and coaches will turn their attention to the San Diego Chargers, the other team who left the field for the final time in 06 grousing about the Patriots. They open the home schedule at Gillette Stadium next Sunday night.

Comments

  1. Is there an offical term for when the stadium empties out due to the home team getting it’s butt kicked? It was barren at the end but the exodus started way before.

  2. David Clemeno says:

    Pinch me.

    It can’t be this good, can it? This is how I imagined it — me, a fanboy — when they made all these off season moves. Welker open underneath, Moss catching anything in the same zip code as him, Maroney and Morris benefitting from all the attention given to the WRs, Brady giddily throwing strikes to his new toys (I wonder if Giselle can walk ok this morning?). The word “machine” comes to mind.

    I’m a New Englander by birth so, no, don’t just pinch me; kick me hard in the a55. New Englanders aren’t allowed to feel this good about anything.

  3. A sobering thought hit me in the 4th quarter: what if Mangini is such a genius that this game is part of his grander scheme to get an overconfident Pats team in Foxborough? Maybe Mangini became so smart over the offseason that his IQ reset back to zero?

    I don’t now about you guys, but I am nervous.

  4. Will Jarvis Green become the new Mo Lewis? Have the Pats unwittingly opened the door for a Brady-like rise from Kellen Clemens? OMG the two situations are exactly alike! That’s why the Jet fans were cheering when Pennington left the field – they were cheering the three Super Bowls they are about to win! Sure, Belichick’s game plan was more impressive in an obvious, I-just-kicked-your-ass way, but I wonder if he didn’t just play right into the evil, conniving hands of the Mangenius.

  5. I’d have been visibly aroused if this had happened against Cleveland, but to blow up your chief division rival on opening weekend…man, that was tasty. We’ll know for sure in nine months, but I think Brady impregnated two or three more starlets while he leisurely waited for receivers to finish routes. Also, I especially liked what I saw from Morris on a few of those runs. I heard somewhere this morning that there’s speculation Cassel hurt a finger on that snap and that’s why he didn’t come back.

  6. It makes a better story if he was banished to the bench for spoiling an otherwise perfect day for everyone. “I hope you’re happy now, Cassel!” I’m going to stay with that angle.

  7. The Jets didn’t have Fireman Ed at the stadium, thats why the Pats won so easily.

    The long passes to Moss, the Hobbs runback, all of those Welker catches were awesome. But the play I rewinded and rewatched most: Mankins was helping Koppen block, and Kenyon Coleman was being blocked by Matt Light. When Koppen was set Mankins peeled off and nailed Coleman in the side and sent the 6’5 300# guy about 4 feet through the air. Threat neutralized.

  8. According to Mike Reiss’s first biog entry today, the Pats offense lined up with at least two tight ends (sometimes three) on 51 of 65 snaps yesterday.

    Does anyone know where Moss’s game lands on the list of best single games (yardage) by a Patriots receiver? I know Terry Glenn holds the record with 212 in a 1999 game, but I was unable to find the rest of that list, if such a list exists. Let me know if you know where to find these things.

    By the way, I’ve really enjoyed clicking on the ‘This Week’s Opponent’ links today (above and to your right). Hee.

  9. That O-Line performance was more surprising than anything else in the game, including Moss. If pressed to outline concerns about this team during the pre-season the number one answer would have been the O-Line after the 3rd game. It was a thing of beauty, but it won’t be like this next week. I think the Jets are headed for a long year.

  10. larry mollin says:

    bummer for me in moscow. because it was a cbs national game i was blacked out but followed on the NFL.Com game center written page.

    one thing i didn’t get a sense of was the play of Adelius Thomas and Wilfork. Their stats weren’t very eye-popping. what was the impression here?

    also it seemed Maroney was less effective in the second half. and i notice on mike reiss’ postings that Kelly Washington took a lot of snaps but had no catches. was anything thrown his way? he must have played well on special teams with 2 tackles and a forced fumble but i was wondering about his WR performance.

    and cassell… he seems to be a problem as holder and may not see the field like that again i figure. i was fingering him for blame during the pre season…

    great GDRV post….
    best, larry (it’s getting cold here.)

  11. Some stats from yesterday….Randy Moss: 9 catches for 183 yards 1 touchdown….Deion Branch: ZERO CATCHES ZERO YARDS ZERO TOUCHDOWNS…anybody still think the Pats should have caved to his contract demands?…Felger?

  12. Larry, I don’t know about their “stats” but the Jets couldn’t run the ball worth a damn and Thomas broke up about 4 passes. I’d call the “impression” OUTSTANDING

  13. Hey Larry, I thought Wilfork played very well. I had some fun with a Steve Serby column a while back that said the Jets were going to get past the Pats this year by controlling the ball with Thomas Jones. Well, he didn’t get too far out of his own backfield without running into a pile of Pats, and to my eyes, it was Wilfork and Ty Warren that took that away from the Jets before they could even get started.

    As noted above, Thomas wasn’t eye-popping like Moss or Welker, but I saw an immediate impact with the way he covered the middle of the field against the pass. He got his hands on a couple of throws, I think.

    Good point on Washington; he really impressed on kick coverage, and I should have worked that into my post above. I don’t recall a ball being thrown his way, though.

  14. Apparently yesterday’s domination has been explained – the Patriots cheated. Of course. It couldn’t be that the AFC East Division Champion New York Jets didn’t make an effing play all day.

  15. This cheating is really becoming a pattern with this team. If you’ll look closely at that hit on Pennington, you can see Jarvis pull a foreign object out of his pants. Give Belichick credit…he realized a long time ago that he couldn’t beat the Jets straight up.

  16. I saw Washington in blocking on running plays. He has value that isn’t going to show up in the stats.

  17. The key to Ellis Hobbs’ record setting kickoff return? A person on the Patriots payroll was pointing one of those annoying laser pointers at the crotches of the Jets kickoff team as they raced downfield. The Jets specials were so embarrassed and distracted that they forgot why they were running down there in the first place.

  18. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    Lost: One head.
    Last seen: On me, declaring the Pats the division winners on Sept. 10, 2007.

    As impressive as Moss’ touchdown catch was (Did they replace the ball with a Nerf football, and the Meadowlands with a playground, on that play?) I was simply bowled over by his first catch, when he got such separation on his cut that it looked like a Roadrunner cartoon.

    Negatives: Though the secondary didn’t give up any big plays, the defensive backfield wasn’t stellar, it seemed to me. Samuel definitely should have had his Asante in training camp — he looked lost out there a couple of times and, though Coles is an elite receiver by anyone’s standards — Samuel was simply owned on that second score.

    Also, where are the Gutierrez doubters now? Cassell’s blown hold coupled with that masterful knee the Gute took at game’s end augur nuthin’ but blue skies ahead for the suspiciously tow-headed No. 7.

    Seriously, minor quibbles aside, these Patriots are better than Thanksgiving Dinner followed by a hummer under the table while enjoying a fine Dominican cigar while watching a couple of cheerleaders or stewardesses — not the old cows the EEOC has saddled us with, but the smoking hot ones with pillbox hats straight like they wore in the early ’60s — wrestling and finding out you just hit MegaMillions and reading in the paper that your high school nemesis’ house is built on an Indian burial ground, which explains his sudden disappearance, and it turns out you don’t have to mow your lawn after all ’cause it just started raining and … well, you get the picture.

  19. larry mollin says:

    thanks for the insights, comrades. lot to look forward to for next week. i’ll be in florence, italy with no chance to see or hear the game. re: san diego — it looks like philip rivers didn’t have a great game against the bears and that LT pass play will not fly against the pats. bring em on.

  20. Scott, Reiss says Moss’s yardage ranks 3rd on the Pats all-time list. That Glenn performance being #1. He didn’t say who sits at #2.

  21. I know everyone is going to walk away saying MOSS! WELKER! We can beat the Colts!. But let’s be honest, the most encouraging sign we saw yesterday in how we can stop the Colts is having Adalius, a guy who can actually cover the tight end. We got exposed by Chris Baker in round 1, Dallas Clark killed us in the 2nd Half of AFC Title game. Sure, the offensive weapons help, but I was really impressed by what he brings to the table. And it is a bit intimidating to line up across from Wilfork, and have a middle linebacker just as big (almost) standing behind him.

  22. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    This may be the line of the week, from a Jets writer, no less:

    “Brady, who wasn’t sacked, had enough time in the pocket to plan out his infant son’s college fund.”

  23. Garven agrees with Reiss it’s the 3rd highest

    “Moss finished with nine receptions for 183 yards. That yardage total is third on the Patriots’ single-game list, trailing the 214 Terry Glenn had against Cleveland in 1999 and the 193 Glenn put up against Pittsburgh a year earlier. “

  24. Brad – I happened to have the same question last night and looked it up in the 2006 media guide (on sale at the Pats Pro Shop for $1 over the summer) – Glenn actually has the top two yardage games in Patriots history – if my memory serves me correctly – Cleveland in 1999 and Pittsburgh in 1998.

  25. Thoughts on seeing Seau in backfield?

  26. Honestly, the use of defensive players on offense (and sometimes vice versa) has become so common place that I hardly even notice anymore. But I love the way they loaded up front with all these big formations and just pushed the Jets out of there.

  27. I like it if it works, but really in that situation it’s about letting players have some fun, and keeping them interested. When I played baseball in college, they would let pitchers pinch run or hit in a blow out.

  28. jamesgarnerisgod says:

    Gotta love Junior’s Dwight Stones-style leap into the end zone. I guess adrenaline crowded out any memories of breaking his arm.

    And it was great to see Evans getting some paydirt love — where was he most of the game? The Pats probably wanted to almost-exclusively feature Morris and Maroney (who needs to bump it to the outside a little more), but I’m always impressed with how Evans generally seems to make the most of his opportunities.

    Also missing: the requisite screen passes to Faulk. I guess the Pats’ domination left little room for a display of their entire arsenal — or maybe the receivers did too good a job of getting open — I think Brady only threw it away once, though I might be mistaken.

  29. Right, we barely used Faulk on the screen or draw or much of Evans. Because Faulk is very good picking up blitz and being a safety valve we will see alot more from him on Sunday night against Chargers.

    Looking ahead to that game (like a true Patriot), what do you guys see as some of keys.

  30. Brady reached 150 TDs in yesterday’s game, moving him up to #3 on the Pats’ all-time list, behind Grogan and Bledsoe.

    Bledsoe has 166, so it looks like TB has a good shot at catching up this year.

  31. “it’s unlikely he’s had a smoother or more tranquil day at the Pats controls.”

    I dunno, that game against Minnesota last year was ridiculously easy for him.

  32. It’s hard to believe this will be the 7th season Brady has been starter, gone very fast! Hugh Millen doesnt even feel that long ago.

  33. Another interesting record broken yesterday (that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere) was highest average kickoff return in one game (minimum 3 returns) as Ellis Hobbs broke the record by an average of 4 yards. Even the top 5 kickoff returns before yesterday (i.e. Clayborn’s 101 yards return) were not even mentioned in the highest average list (maybe it’s because they didn’t return 3+ kickoffs in the game when they had their big return).

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