FOXBOROUGH – It may be early in the preseason, but New England couldn't have asked for a much better beginning following a 14-0 shutout of the Super Bowl runner-up New York Giants at Foxboro Stadium Friday night.
The Patriots defense held the Giants to 92 net yards of offense, and rookie kicker provided four field goals, including a 53-yarder on his first try. While there were certainly areas to work on, New England's defense never allowed their opponents any flow.
"Defensively we played a fairly solid game overall," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "We had plenty of mistakes out there that didn't show up, but they hustled well and they tackled well. Overall I thought the game operation was not bad for the first game. There are plenty of things to work on, but plenty of positives as well."
Always the coach, Belichick said there was room for improvement on defense. The average person would be hard-pressed to find fault with anything. When the first-unit defense was on the field against New York's top offense, the Patriots forced Kerry Collins to go three-and-out on three of the first four series. The fourth series lasted just four plays and went for 11 yards before linebacker Bryan Cox intercepted a pass over the middle.
Third-down defense, a major problem for New England last season, was very strong. The Patriots held their guests to just 3-of-13 conversions (23 percent). New York, hurt by the absence of running back Tiki Barber and center Dusty Ziegler, were held to a minute 55 yards on 19 carries. The Giants quarterbacks were just 9-of-28 for 51 yards, but sacks by linebacker Maugaula Tuitele and safety Antwan Harris lowered the net passing yardage to a lowly 37 yards.
Linebacker Matt Chatham actually scored for the defense in the fourth quarter. He wrapped up running back Omar Bacon in the end zone for a safety, which made the score 11-0 at the time.
While the defense keyed the victory, the Patriots had plenty to feel good about on both offense and special teams. Quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe, Damon Huard and Tom Brady were all able to move the ball, combining to complete 20-of-30 passes for 214 yards. Michael Bishop struggled with the last offense, completing just 2-of-7 for 21 yards.
Bledsoe played the first two series, and nearly had a touchdown on the first drive. Starting from the New England 49-yard line, J.R. Redmond opened with a 5-yard run and Bledsoe hit Troy Brown for an 11-yard out pattern. His next attempt was a bomb down the right sideline for David Patten, who was two steps behind the closest defender. It would have been a walk-in, 35-yard scoring pass, but the ball was just inches out of Patten's reach. Throughout practice all week Bledsoe and Patten have hooked up for several long plays.
The drive stalled when Damien Woody had a bad snap on a shotgun play, but punter Brad Costello pinned the Giants at their own 1-yard line with a perfect 39-yard pooch. Tebucky Jones downed the ball for the first of several big plays in the kicking game.
The next big play came from Pochman on the next offensive series for New England. Starting at the New York 46, Bledsoe avoided a sack on first down and connected with Brown for 22 yards. Michael Strahan then abused the Patriots make-shift line on the next two plays, sacking Bledsoe twice for a combined 15 yards. Brandon Short helped on the first sack.
With the Patriots pushed back to the 35 on fourth-down, Pochman came on for his first professional attempt. He drilled the 53-yarder down the middle and gave New England a 3-0 lead.
"I was not really nervous," Pochman said. "I have known Lee Johnson for a long time, and he's kind of been my training partner. Having him as my holder, he was able to keep me focused on what I was doing, instead of me getting caught up in what was going on around me. I actually felt pretty good, and I attribute much of that to him helping me out."
Pochman made three more field goals in the game. He hit on attempts of 53, 23, 25 and 21, but missed a 43-yard try. Costello and Dan Hadenfledt combined to pin six of their eight punts inside the Giants' 20-yard line, including two at the 1-yard line. Sean Morey had a blocked punt in the fourth quarter, and the coverage units were strong all night.
The major area of concern for New England continued to be the red zone. Despite three trips inside New York's 20, the Patriots failed to come away with any touchdowns. The most agonizing of the three came with Huard at the helm in the second quarter following the Cox interception.
Starting at the New York 45, New England converted two third downs and had the ball on first down at the 15 following a 14-yard run by Marc Edwards. A pair of Redmond runs made it third-and-three at the 8-yard line before time ran out in the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Huard converted his third third-down play with a 6-yard pass to Patten (3 catches, 31 yards), making it first-and-goal at the 2. Redmond ran twice more for a loss of 3 yards, and Huard's try for Torrance Small went out of the end zone, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal.
"We need to sharpen up some things down there," Belichick said. "It was a little disappointing to not be able to get it into the end zone. We need to be a little more efficient down there."
The team will not practice tomorrow. New England's next workout will be Sunday at 4 p.m. at Bryant College.
-- The flags at the stadium were flown at half-mast in memory for quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein. A moment of silence was held before the game, and Belichick led the team in a second moment of silence in the locker room after the game. All the coaches wore shirts with the initials D.R. on the sleeve for the coach, who died suddenly last Monday.
-- Wide receiver Torrance Small had to leave the game with a laceration in his leg. The wound required several stitches to close up, but it is not considered a very serious injury.
-- New England's offense was certainly spread out. Passes were caught by 14 different receivers, led by Curtis Jackson (3 catches, 40 yards) and Patten (3, 30). Antowain Smith and Walter Williams each carried the ball 10 times, and Smith had a team-high 50 yards. Fullback Marc Edwards was impressive with four carries for 19 yards.
-- Defensive tackle Riddick Parker led the defense with five tackles, while rookie safety Hakim Akbar had four stops, plus two on special teams. Girardie Mercer, Reggie Grimes, T.J. Turner and Rob Holmberg all batted passes.
-- New England was able to add Hadenfeldt to the roster because of a roster exemption. The team has an exemption because Terry Glenn has left camp. If he returns, the team will have to remove somebody from the roster.
-- It was the second consecutive preseason opener shutout for the Patriots, who blanked San Francisco 20-0 in the Hall of Fame game a year ago. It was also just the second preseason shutout in team history.
-- Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy and Larry Izzo served as the team captains for the game.