Tom Brady might have been bleeding afterward but he delivered the deepest cuts.
Despite a possible broken nose, the New England Patriots quarterback sliced and diced with a multitude of passes underneath and over the top as the Tennessee Titans suffered a 34-13 season-opening loss at LP Field on Sunday. Brady went into the ground face first when Kamerion Wimbley chased him from behind and sacked him in the second quarter. Trainers immediately patched his nose and the two-time NFL MVP kept playing.
The last time these teams met, in 2009, Brady completed all but five passes for 380 yards and six touchdowns in a 59-0 rout. This time, the veteran gunslinger brought less dazzle but was just as efficient.
Capitalizing on opportunities set up by a no-huddle offense, he exploited holes in the Titans’ loose coverage and utilized his two tight ends to finish with 236 passing yards and two touchdowns.
“He was throwing it all over the place — outside, inside. They just had a good game plan and he executed,” Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “He knew most teams we’re going to take away the big play so he didn’t force anything. He is a very smart quarterback. He didn’t try to do anything to lose the game. He played it very efficient, which a smart quarterback will do in that situation.”
On the opening drive, Brady chucked a deep pass to Brandon Lloyd, who stopped running and dropped a sure touchdown. After that, Brady stuck to his short game. His longest completion was 28 yards and he connected on 10 of his last 11 passes in the first half.
Two of his longest plays came on the Patriots’ first scoring drive and went to his favorite targets of the day, tight end Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 60 yards) and Aaron Hernandez (six catches, 59 yards). Gronkowski did most of the work on Brady’s longest pass, catching a short toss and scampering 28 yards down the sideline. Two plays later with two minutes left in the first quarter, Brady found an open Hernandez for an easy 23-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“We’re going to turn the film on and see mistakes,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “We’re going to see probably a few blown assignments, missed alignments. And then there is going to be times that physically we didn’t just make the play.”
The game’s third touchdown came as a result of Brady making a pass that only a Patriot could make a play on.
He zipped a two-yard pass to the far corner of the end zone, over safety Jordan Babineaux and into the hands of Gronkowski. A replay review confirmed Gronkowski got both feet down and gave the Patriots a commanding 21-3 lead with two minutes left in the opening half.
“Half the time I was anticipating [at least] one [tight end] to be in the game,” Babineaux said. “We had a great understanding of what these guys like to do offensively. It’s not like we didn’t know our opponent today. We just didn’t do a good enough job of out-executing what they like to do.”
The Titans helped Brady and the Patriots, though, with missed tackles.
Most occurred against Stevan Ridley, who turned out to be just as important of a weapon to Brady as anybody. The second-year running back out of LSU had 21 carries for 125 yards and one touchdown.
“They ran the ball much better than we thought they would against us, which makes it easier for their quarterback,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. Added safety Michael Griffin: “When you’re trying to focus on the pass so much it makes you vulnerable to the run.”
Griffin looked particularly vulnerable at times.
The Titans used a nickel package and often brought the sixth-year veteran up to help with the run. Griffin, who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason, didn’t offer much resistance with several missed tackles. He was also out of position on several passes.
“I didn’t have a good game at all,” Griffin said. “I prayed and [vowed] on myself I would get better. ... Nobody’s got to tell me right now, I know I played a terrible game [Sunday.”
On the other side, Brady wasn’t anywhere near matching his near-perfect performance three years ago. But he was overwhelming by completing 23 of 31 passes — to six different targets.
“He has a multitude of weapons out there and he found them,” Verner said. “He is an elite quarterback. We didn’t make enough plays to keep us in the game defensively.”