The New England Patriots were downright dominant in all three phases of their season opener against Pittsburgh on Sunday night, earning their first victory of the season, 33-3.
It was an impressive showing for the Patriots offensively, particularly the passing game with Tom Brady. On defense, New England held the Steelers to minimal damage offensively as the running game never quite got in motion.
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The Patriots were spurred on by strong performances all over the field and in the absence of some key players either side of the ball. Here’s what stood out.
Josh Gordon is BACK
Who needs a tight end when you’ve got a Flash? In his first game back from suspension, Gordon showed flashes of brilliance, making catches under pressure and bouncing off tackles. He opened the scoring for New England on a gutsy 20-yard catch-and-run, breaking two tackles inside the five. He also made a third-quarter grab where he got cleaned out as he caught the pass, still holding on between three defenders for a 44-yard gain.
Dorsett Looked Even Better
The biggest surprise on offense, without Demaryius Thomas or Antonio Brown available, was Phillip Dorsett being the Patriots top receiver. He beat his coverage several times and even held onto a few tough balls from Brady. His most impressive catch came when he streaked past both Steelers’ safeties for a wide-open grab on a 58-yard touchdown pass. Dorsett has gradually increased his role in the Patriots offense, and that doesn’t appear set to change anytime soon given his major role on Sunday.
Brady’s Still Got It
At 42-years-old, he still looks like he’s in his prime. Brady became the second-oldest player to fire three-touchdown passes in a game behind George Blanda. Brady did more than that, throwing for over 300 yards and completing over two-thirds of his passes on the night. His deep balls looked as good as they did in over a decade and right in time too with a couple new receivers joining the crew next week.
Rushing Game Was Good When Needed
So much for the Patriots becoming a power running team this season? The Patriots had under 100 yards rushing on the night and Rex Burkhead was shockingly the workhorse. Burkhead showed awareness at hitting seams and the same downhill power he had in the AFC Championship game last year. Part of the limited rushing was because of the Steelers’ injured secondary, but also because there was limited involvement from tight ends.
Sony Michel, who rushed for 931 yards as a rookie saw limited involvement and none really until late in the game. It was a rough night for Michel, really the only downside on the offensive side of the ball. He had fewer yards than carries and that explosiveness from last year was absent.
Offensive Line Was Solid
A big concern was whether the Patriots offensive line would provide sufficient protection. With a new center in Ted Karras and Isaiah Wynn taking his first professional snaps at left tackle, there were a lot of questions at that position. But those worries were quelled immediately as Karras improved as the game went on and Wynn allowed just one QB pressure on the night. Brady was sacked just once and typically had plenty of time to throw.
That Secondary Though…
We heard all about how the Patriots secondary would be elite and boy did it deliver. The Patriots made life difficult for Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers all night giving him limited windows to throw. Devin McCourty had a late interception and twin brother Jason led the way with three passes defended and five tackles.
The Patriots had 18 different players feature on the defensive side of the ball on Sunday. Using a similar tactic to one they employed in the Super Bowl, New England would bring several rushers into the box but dropped a few into coverage. It paid off in the end as the Patriots limited the Steelers to just 3 for 12 on third-down conversions and 287 yards of offense.
No Run Zone
The Patriots limited James Conner to just 21 yards on 10 carries during the season opener. Even better, Pittsburgh had just 32 yards rushing for the entire game. It’s a testament to the Patriots linebackers for being quick to close gaps as well as the defensive tackles for plugging the wholes for Conner to hit.
Gostkowski On Target
The Patriots kicker was shaky in the preseason but put that concern to rest by going 4 for 4 in the season opener, including a long of 41 yards. Gostkowski even handled kickoffs and though he left a couple short it wasn’t very costly.