Those wondering if Tom Brady and the Patriots offense could bounce back from their late struggles in the season-opening loss to the Chiefs didn't have to wait very long for an answer Sunday afternoon in New Orleans.
Brady led the visitors on a 75-yard drive to a Rex Burkhead 19-yard touchdown catch to jumpstart a three-touchdown first quarter on the way to the 36-20 bounce-back victory in the Bayou.
"We made some plays early and were able to play from ahead, and that was a good thing," Bill Belichick said.
On the defensive side of the ball it wasn't exactly a dominant effort – Drew Brees put forth 429 yards of total offense, though some came in garbage time – but New Orleans was held to 13 points until late in the fourth quarter.
The only real negative of the day came in the form of health concerns, with Rob Gronkowski leaving in the third quarter with what was announced as a groin injury. The big tight end was in the midst of a big day and was unable to return, although he did remain on the sideline and spent time riding the stationary bike after what initially looked like a more concerning issue.
Certainly Belichick has plenty he'll be looking to clean up in the coming weeks. Clearly the growing list of guys dealing with injuries is less than ideal. But the Patriots are back on the winning track and put to rest some of the fears of the opening night loss.
"We have to put together another good week and be ready for the Texans," Belichick said. "But it's good to be 1-1."
Before turning the page to next week's home battle against Houston's impressive defense, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from a relatively impressive all-around win in New Orleans.
Tom Brady –* *For one game, the 40-year-old Brady was a 44-percent passer with an 0-1 record. But fears of Father Time catching up to the quarterback were unfounded as Brady completed six of his first seven passes on the way to the opening-drive score, all to his running backs and tight end. By the end of the day against a terrible young pass defense Brady completed 30 of 39 passes for 447 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 139.6 rating. Brady spread the ball around to nine different targets, six of those recording catches for 19 yards or longer. And a week after questioning his team's competitiveness, Brady said he enjoyed the four quarters of competition in New Orleans to get to 1-1 on the year.
Rob Gronkowski –* *One reason for Brady's early success was his big tight end looked like his All-Pro himself again. After a quiet opener, Gronkowksi caught a 12-yard pass one the opening drive in New Orleans. He then excited Patriot Nation the following possession with a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown capped by an emphatic spike. On a day when Gronkowksi totaled six catches for 116 yards with the one touchdown, the down side is that he left in the third quarter with what was announced as a groin injury and did not return.
Running back committee – With Super Bowl hero James White again leading the way, New England's backfield committee was a big part of the offense and carried the shared load. White had a game-high eight catches on eight targets for 85 yards as he helped Brady kickstart the controlled short passing game that's usually such a key to the New England offense. Burkhead had three catches for 41 yards with the 19-yard score. Mike Gillislee led an OK day on the ground with a game-high 18 carries for 69 yards with a rushing score for an offense that tallied 31 total carries for 119 yards as a ground group. With the injuries at receiver New England will probably have to continue to lean on the depth in the backfield and on this day they got the job done.
Deatrich Wise Jr. --* *The rookie defensive end is proving he can be an impact player in the pass rush. For the second straight week the youngster recorded a sack while also notching two tackles for a loss and five total QB hits. There have been a lot of questions surrounding the defensive end spot in New England, but Wise appears to be offering at least one answer early in the season with his impressive play through two weeks.
Stephen Gostkowski – The lone negative to the Patriots fast start was that Gostkowski missed the PAT following the Burkhead score. The veteran nailed all three of his field goal attempts from 28, 24 and 27 yards. But the continued inconsistency by the former sure-thing just won't let lingering concerns about the kicker die. Gostkowski missed PATs and field goals in the preseason, following a 2016 year that was up and down in both areas including a key missed PAT in Super Bowl LI. The former All-Pro needs to find a way to work out the kinks.
Nate Solder –New England's left tackle may still be knocking off the rust after sitting out the preseason due to an unknown injury. He was blown up on an early run that led to Gillislee going down for a 2-yard loss. Solder then allowed a sack in the second quarter. It looked like he may have also been an offender when New England failed to get set on what should have been a second Gillislee touchdown run. In a contract year, Brady's blindside protector and most veteran lineman can be much better.
Patrick Chung –* *A week after the secondary gave up too many big plays to the Chiefs, the issue wasn't exactly gone in New Orleans. Chung had his struggles, especially in matchups with rookie running back Alvin Kamara who had three catches for 51 yards and missed a couple other chances. Chung also gave up a late TD to tight end Coby Fleener. He was also part of an earlier touchdown that once again had the New England secondary failing to deal with a twins formation from the opposition, struggles in combo coverage that were a major problem against Kansas City. Chung and the rest of the defensive backfield should be the strength of the defense but have to continue to tighten things up in the back end.
Health –The injuries just seem to be continuing to pile up. Julian Edelman leads a long list of guys already on IR. Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Danny Amendola (head/knee) led a list of guys inactive in Week 2 due to injury. Gronkowski left early. So did Eric Rowe (groin). Meanwhile Chris Hogan and Stephon Gilmore appeared to be dealing with their own issues coming out of the nice win, which may have come at a cost yet again.
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