|New England Patriot's Chandler Jones|
While players like Robert Gallery, Anthony Gonzalez and Jabar Gaffney didn't make it through training camp, the Patriots instead got big plays from Brandon Lloyd, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower and Tavon Wilson.
Lloyd was the biggest off-season addition, both in name and impact, because he offers the team something that they had nothing even close to last year. Lloyd is a premiere deep-threat wide receiver with the ability to beat defenses on his own while also freeing up space for his teammates. Lloyd finished the game with five receptions for only 69 yards, but he should have had a touchdown early in the first quarter when he beat the secondary deep.
Brady was expecting Lloyd to run under the ball but Lloyd had to turn around to locate the football. In his attempt to adjust to catch the ball, the pass sailed over his head and cost him a chance at a debut score. A potential 52-yard touchdown reception was taken away simply because the duo didn't have a complete understanding with each other. Considering it is their first game playing together, that is not a problem for the long-term. Brady and Lloyd should develop better chemistry as the season goes on.
That's not to say that they didn't hook up well in this game. Lloyd was targeted eight times by Brady and had one reception for 27 yards on a deep out in the second quarter. That reception typified Lloyd's game as he ran a good route, a deep route, before making an excellent reception with his soft hands. Not many receivers would have been able to get in position to make the pass not least come down with the football.
If Lloyd was the biggest name addition this off-season, Tavon Wilson was definitely the smallest.
Wilson was drafted in the second round to the sound of a collective 'who?' from all NFL fans. The 23-year-old safety impressed as part of the defense's safety rotation. Wilson finished the game with four tackles and an interception. The interception in particular was impressive because he reacted well to a deep ball in the endzone. Wilson wasn't in coverage on the intended receiver, but worked hard to get into the vicinity when the ball was tipped.
Wilson was accountable for his responsibilities in within the scheme and added to the overall integrity of the defense with his play. That is something that the Patriots' safeties have been lacking in in recent years.
The biggest play of the day came from the Patriots' two first round rookies however. When Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower were drafted back in April, expectations were high for the duo as long-time stalwarts of the defense. Any immediate impact would be considered a bonus. Jones waited only 19 minutes before announcing himself on the professional stage. Hightower followed only seconds later.
After an excellent punt from Zoltan Mesko, the Titans' offense was pinned close to their own goal-line. With an incomplete pass to Nate Washington on first down and a run for a loss from Chris Johnson on second down, Jake Locker faced the prospect of passing on a third and long from his own endzone.
Locker did indeed drop back, but he was quickly met by Jones. Jones was facing one of the best left tackles in the NFL, Michael Roos, in a one-on-one matchup. With very impressive use of his hands, Jones attacked Roos' inside shoulder before gliding past Roos' outside shoulder as soon as the left tackle had shifted his weight. Roos was left grabbing at fresh air as Jones turned the corner towards Locker.
The quarterback attempted to step forward to evade Jones, but Jones' athleticism allowed him to reach around and knock the football from his grasp. As soon as Jones hit the football it popped out and rolled towards the left hash line, roughly five yards out. Jones was in the spotlight, but Hightower was about to rush the stage.
Hightower was dropped into coverage initially, but reacted instantly to Jones' hit on the quarterback to scoop the ball off of the ground and carry it into the endzone. That wasn't as simple as it sounds however, Hightower showed off a better sidestep than Chris Johnson did all day to evade an immediate tackle attempt by Roos. From there it was a simple matter of dragging Darus Reynaud into the endzone with him.
It was a very important point of the game because the Titans' defense had been standing up well to the Patriots. At that stage the Patriots were only winning by four points, 7-3, early in the second quarter. Once Hightower added that touchdown, the team never looked back on their way to a 34-13 victory.
The likelihood is that the Patriots' new faces will have their fare shares of ups and downs this year, but it was definitely a good start in Tennessee. The next test should be an easier one, as the Arizona Cardinals visit Foxboro.
Cian Fahey writes for Irishcentral and the Guardian. You can follow him on twitter@Cianaf