Foxborough, Mass. – The Patriots got their first regular season look at running back Corey Dillon in the season-opening win against the Indianapolis Colts Thursday night. If the first performance is any indication, Dillon will prove to be a difference maker for the Patriots this season.
Dillon rushed for 86 yards on 15 carries in his Patriots debut, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. By the numbers it may not appear like a remarkable performance, but Dillon's impact on the options of the offense was noticeable. He displayed nice vision, had several nice cutbacks, broke tackles and was effective when given the opportunity.
After seven seasons in Cincinnati where his teams never finished with a winning record, Dillon was cognizant of the difference after the win over the Colts.
"I can't even describe it," Dillon said. "This is what I've been looking for in my career. Playing with a bunch of guys who play to the end and know how to end. It feels good. This is a good moment."
The Patriots rushed for 82 total yards, with all but two of the official attempts – a kneel-down and an attempted reverse – by Dillon. The Patriots opened the game with an empty backfield the entire first series, so Dillon made his official debut on a 4-yard run on the first play of the second series to chants of "Corey, Corey" from the Gillette Stadium crowd. He broke a 38-yard run during the second quarter that keyed a drive leading to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Deion Branch to tie the game at 10-10.
"Corey ran hard," Head coach Bill Belichick said. "He broke some tackles. He finished some runs. His pickups were pretty good. I think he did a good job."
The Patriots committed just two turnovers against the Colts, but their timing late in the game was nearly fatal. Leading 27-24 early in the fourth quarter, Brady threw a ball deep down the middle of the field intended for tight end Daniel Graham that was intercepted by Indianapolis cornerback Nick Harper. Harper returned the interception 12 yards to give the Colts the ball at the 30-yard line. The Colts were unable to capitalize and were forced to punt. But when wide receiver Deion Branch attempted to field his first punt return of the game, he signaled a fair catch, only to have the ball hit the ground and bounced off his leg before it was recovered by the Colts' Jim Nelson. Thanks to an Edgerrin James fumble on the ensuing possession, the Colts were unable to convert either of the turnovers into points.
Mix and Match Line
If the substitutions along the offensive line are any indication, the Patriots are still searching for the right mix of players along the offensive line. New England began the game with its regular starters, with Dan Koppen at center, Joe Andruzzi and Russ Hochstein at guard, along with tackles Matt Light and Tom Ashworth. As early as the third drive of the game, the coaching staff began a regular rotation along the line. Reserve Stephen Neal saw substantial action at right guard, with Andruzzi often sliding over to Hochstein's left guard spot. Adrian Klemm had snaps at right tackle on the final drive of the first half, and played in both tackle spots during the second half.
"We were rotating a lot of people in the game at all the positions," Belichick said. "They haven't really played a whole in the preseason. We rotated people all the way through. We were playing a lot of people. I think our depth is going to be important to us this year, and it's an important time to get contributions from everybody."
Big Play Bruschi
Linebacker Ted Bruschi came up with the first big play of the season when he intercepted Peyton Manning on Indianapolis' first drive of the game. Manning led the Colts down the field, keyed by a 42-yard pass to Reggie Wayne, and had the team poised with a first-and-goal on the 6-yard line. After an incompletion on first down, Manning tried to force the ball to tight end Dallas Clark in the end zone before Bruschi stepped in front of Clark to make a diving catch. Bruschi, who finished with 12 total tackles, had four interceptions last season.
Cornerback Ty Law was seen limping off the field several times during the game, including several plays after a 64-yard pass play from Manning to Clark near the end of the first half. Law's leg "tightened up," according to Belichick, which forced him to miss periods of the second half. Law was noticeably absent on Indianapolis' final drive of the game when a 45-yard completion from Manning to wide receiver Brandon Stokley put the Colts in field goal position.
"I'm the type of guy to try and stick it out," Law said. "I don't like sitting down. It was to a point where I couldn't go out there and hurt the team. That's something I definitely didn't want to do when I'm out there. I did hurt them on the play, so it's best for me to stay out. It's one of those things I'm sure I'll come back from and should be ready by next week."
Brown and Out
Wide receiver Troy Brown was held out of Thursday's game due to a knee injury he originally suffered against the Carolina Panthers during the Patriots third preseason game. Brown, who was listed as questionable in Tuesday's injury report, injured the knee on a punt return and has not played since. As is typical with injuries, neither Brown nor the team has given updates on the knee since the initial injury. When asked two days before the opener about the injury, Brown's only response was, "I feel about a week and a half better than I was a week ago." With Brown out, Branch and David Patten started at receiver for the Patriots.
Playing From Behind
When the Patriots fell behind the Colts 10-3 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Dominick Rhodes with 8:06 remaining in the first half, it marked the first time the Patriots trailed in a regular-season game since they trailed the Houston Texans 20-13 on Nov. 23, 2003. The Patriots did not trail their opponents over a span of nearly six-and-a-half games.
The Patriots listed seven players as inactive for Thursday's game: Brown, running back Kevin Faulk, offensive tackle Brandon Gorin, defensive tackle Ethan Kelley, quarterback Jim Miller, offensive lineman Gene Mruczkowski and wide receiver P.K. Sam.
Brady completed 26-of-38 passes for 335 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 111.2 quarterback rating. It was his seventh career 300-yard game. … Wide receiver David Givens and rookie tight end Benjamin Watson started in place of running backs Dillon and Patrick Pass as the Patriots started the game in an empty set on offense. … Rookie nose tackle Vince Wilfork started in place of veteran Keith Traylor on defense. Wilfork finished with four tackles and a fumble recovery. … Branch and cornerback Tyrone Poole replaced Brown on punt returns. … Rosevelt Colvin did not start, but saw plenty of action at both outside linebacker spots. … Bethel Johnson showed flashes of his big play ability on kick returns, gaining 32 yards on the opening return of the game and later returning a kick for a 34-yard gain. Johnson led the AFC with a 28.2-yard kickoff return average last season. … Branch led the Patriots with seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown, while Graham also finished with seven receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. … Linebacker Roman Phifer had a game-high 14 tackles.