BOSTON (CBS) — The preseason is 97.4 percent useless. It’s valuable for rookies, and it helps the coaches make the tough decisions for the bottom of the depth chart, but that’s about it.
For further proof, you need look no further than one Mr. Brandon Lloyd.
The Pats’ newest receiving threat came to the Patriots with much fanfare, finally providing Tom Brady with a worthy outside option to complement the three-headed tight end/slot receiver monster that worked pretty well in its own right. Add Lloyd to the mix, we all figured, and there’d be touchdowns on every play.
Well, in the preseason, it didn’t work out that way. He had one catch for just 12 yards and looked to not just be on a different page from Brady but on a separate chapter entirely. This, we started to figure, might take some time.
We figured wrong.
Sure, things got off to a rough start when he totally blew a surefire 48-yard touchdown, but that happened while Lloyd was still working through “The Curse of the Patriots’ No. 85 Jersey.” You think that thing didn’t have some bad voodoo left in it from Chad Ochocinco?
The bad news ended there for Lloyd though, as he finished the game as the Patriots’ top receiver with five catches for 69 yards. He made a Spiderman-esque, toe-tapping catch along the sidelines for a gain of 27, he ran a crisp route for an easy gain of 9, he ran with Brady’s no-huddle and all in all looked like he’ll fit in just fine, “chemistry” be damned.
Let’s dive into a bit more on Lloyd, plus all the rest of the leftover thoughts from the Patriots’ dominant 34-13 victory.
–I won’t harp on the ghost of Chad Ochocinco this year (we all need to move on), and I swear I won’t compare him to anyone on the current roster … after this week. I just want to point out that Ochocinco had 15 catches for 276 yards in 15 games last year. Lloyd’s five catches for 69 yards give him 33.3 percent of Ochocinco’s receptions and 25 percent of his yards in just 6.7 percent of the playing time. I think Lloyd’s going to work out slightly better.
–I thought I was pretty jacked up for kickoff, but then I saw Stephen Gostkowski’s actual kickoff, which sailed through the uprights. I bet he lifts weights.
–I wrote a story to run on Sunday morning on this website which was meant to temper the expectations for the rookie first-rounders, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. The central point was that almost all Patriots first-rounders had quiet debuts in the Bill Belichick era. I felt good about this story. Then Jones and Hightower combined to score a touchdown. I’d like to delete that story.
–I know it was only one game and it wasn’t against the best competition and all of that, but still, it’s hard to see what Jones and Hightower did and not get excited for their futures. Jones was again the monster he appeared to be in his preseason debut, disrupting a lot of plays in the backfield and easily dominating his man (Michael Roos) several times throughout the game. Hightower was equally solid, showing some first-class burst and tackling ability.
Statistically, they had a lot to show for it, too, with each recording five total tackles, Jones registering his first career sack and Hightower scoring a touchdown. Not a bad “Welcome to the NFL” day for those guys.
–I also wrote a picks column, and I picked the Browns to cover the spread. They did that, but when I saw Brandon Weeden trapped under the American flag before the game, I would’ve bet my house that he and the Browns would get blown out. You never want to get stuck under the giant American flag before your first NFL start. You just don’t.
–The Patriots’ defense was historically terrible last season, allowing 411 yards per game. They got off on the right foot this year though, allowing just 284 total yards and an incredible 20 rushing yards. Chris Johnson (11 carries for four yards) might need to change his nickname from CJ2K to “0.4 YPC.” That’s kind of catchy!
–The biggest improvement I saw in the Patriots’ defense was the tackling. There were some great individual efforts early on from Patrick Chung, Brandon Spikes and Hightower. Tavon Wilson made an outstanding tackle on a third-and-5 just before halftime to force a punt, and Ras-I Dowling pushed Kendall Wright backward into the end zone and showed the good sense to try to strip the football. Football’s a wildly complex game, but something as simple as tackling can go a long way in determining a winner.
–It wasn’t all perfect for the defense, though. I particularly didn’t like Chung standing back and waiting for a pass to come to him. Meanwhile, Jared Cook cut right in front of him to make the catch. Chung was left standing there. It might not have been noteworthy, but he did the same exact thing last year in the regular-season game against the Giants, with Jake Ballard making that catch.
It’s as if Chung sees the ball leave the quarterbacks hand and he figures there’s no intended receiver and he’ll have a gift-wrapped pick. He needs to start thinking like Rodney Harrison instead.
–Still, even when the defense was giving up a touchdown, it wasn’t on a bad play. Chandler Jones had Jake Locker wrapped up in the backfield, but the quarterback simply put the perfect touch on his pass to Nate Washington. Hauling the quarterback to the ground is going to result in sacks and interceptions far more often than touchdowns, so I think the Patriots will be OK with that one in the film room.
–The replacement officials, on the whole, weren’t markedly worse than the regular officials. They did miss a blatant pass interference call on Devin McCourty that would’ve set the Titans up on the 1-yard line, but they balanced that by ruling Julian Edelman didn’t catch a pass which it appeared as though he bobbled but did indeed catch. Edelman made up for it by buzzing the ball back at the official’s face without getting flagged, so in all, it worked out pretty evenly.
–Devin McCourty may have tackled Damian Williams in the end zone, but hey, at least McCourty was somewhat aware that the ball was coming. Granted, his instinct needs to be to turn to the ball and make a play on it rather than just put a panic tackle on the receiver, but baby steps, people. Baby steps.
–You do realize how difficult it is for defenses to stop Tom Brady when he doesn’t have a serious threat at running back, right? Well, Stevan Ridley is averaging 5.24 yards per carry in his career now. It’s unfair, really.
–There was one play where Ridley ran outside to the left side for a gain of 15. On the play, Nate Solder ran left as the lead blocker for Ridley. I have to imagine the image of the 6-foot-8, 320-pound Solder with a head of steam running right toward you. In this case, the lucky defender was safety Michael Griffin, who just sort of ran around Solder and made a neck-saving dive into the grass to get out of the way. Smart move.
–After the ball amazingly slipped out of Gronkowski’s hands, thus robbing us of seeing the first spike of the year, I pictured Gronk in a full-on Ricky Bobby moment. “I’m not sure what to do with my hands.”
–If a failed spike is the only negative repercussion from the so-called “Summer of Gronk,” I think that’s OK.
–I’m thankful we won’t spend the entire week talking about “the offensive line issues.” Make no mistake, “the offensive line issues” weren’t imaginary, but you can only write and read about “the offensive line issues” so many times before you go insane.
–The 2012 Patriots have already matched the 2011 Patriots in defensive touchdowns. The 2012 Patriots also rank eighth in total defense. All of that comes with the “for what it’s worth” tag, of course.
–Jake Locker finished the day with 229 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one separated shoulder and about 30 first-half fist pumps. I officially cannot wait for the Titans’ Monday night game in December. Jon Gruden is going to explode.
–Brady’s first touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez was classic Brady. He stood in the pocket for about a half-hour, shuffling around without ever getting rattled by the chaos around him, eventually stepping up and delivering a strike. It was Week 1, but Brady — as always — was in midseason form.
–I watched Brady’s postgame press conference, and I tried to look beyond that ridiculous nose bandage and pay attention to what he was saying. Couldn’t do it. I mean, what was that bandage doing? Unless he was still gushing hours after taking the flying knee of a 255-pound Kamerion Wembley, I’m not sure what a piece of gauze and white tape is going to do to make it feel better.
Either way, with a busted nose, blood on his face and cotton stuffed up his nostril, male model Tom Brady dove headfirst through a pile to pick up a first down on a quarterback sneak. And that is why we all like Tom Brady.
–One thing’s for sure, too: These ladies are going to need a new, bandaged face for their next game together.