I never wrote about it, but I did watch the Super Bowl this year. You know, the one that was a mirror image in many ways of the Super Bowl that remains my No.2 most painful sports memory of all time? Yeah, that one.
So, first, the Patriots begin the 2012-13 season under the expectation that they will avenge that most recent, stinging loss.
Then there's also the expectation, at least in some circles, that they will 'heal our wounds and be a blessing to us' after a Red Sox baseball season that has been nothing short of miserable, never more so than in being dissected by a Sports Illustrated cover story this week.
That piece summed things up this way:
On Aug. 31, 2011, a comfortable evening at Fenway with a sweet breeze blowing in from rightfield, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 9-5. They had the best record in the American League, stability in the dugout and in the front office, an MVP candidate in Gonzalez, an AL ERA leader in Beckett and a nine-game cushion on a playoff spot.
That moment in time seems ancient now, like a lost civilization.
No pressure, Pats.
Fortunately, the New England Patriots who showed up to play today in Tennessee were easily able to bear up under the weight of those expectations and frustrations, and trounce the Titans for a thoroughly satisfying 34-13 win.
Before the game, I was worried about the New England offensive line, which had looked a little shabby in the preseason, but it turns out I had no reason to fret. The Patriots controlled the running game on both sides of the ball today, netting 162 yards rushing, the kind of effort that can only be led by strength up front.
Tom Brady was sacked only once, though the Titans made that one count -- DE Kamerion Wimbley first tackled the QB and then kneed him in the face, resulting in a less-than-stylish Band-Aid on the bridge of Brady's nose and a right nostril packed with gauze to begin the Patriots' fourth offensive series of the game.
More impressive was the way New England controlled the run on defense. The Titans netted just 20 yards and only one of their first downs rushing as a defensive front led by Vince Wilfork crushed their efforts to carry the ball upfield.
That set the tone for a solid defensive effort that's sure to put a spring in any Pats fan's step this week, early though it may be. The remodeled defense, particularly the front 7, looked more than solid today.
Especially encouraging was the way the Patriots reaped the fruit of their 2012 draft class on a play in the second quarter -- after a sack by rookie Chandler Jones forced Titans QB Jake Locker to fumble, the ball was scooped up by fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower, who scrambled into the end zone for what I dubbed the Police Academy Touchdown.
The passing game was a little bit more of a mixed bag overall -- the defense looked disconcerting, for example, on an 80-yard drive for the Titans in the third quarter that took all of a minute and a half to eat up the field with a series of long passing plays. It took a while, too, for Brady and Co. to find a rhythm at the beginning of both halves.
Still, it was the passing combination of Brady and newcomer Brandon Lloyd -- who looks to redeem the number 85 for the Patriots this year -- that had me salivating most in anticipation of the rest of this football season. Lloyd lead the team in receiving yards with 5 catches for 69 yards, but it was more the quality than the quantity of his catches that made me pay attention.
Lloyd stopped running and thus missed the first attempt Brady made to hit him deep, but on the second attempt, made his first catch as a Patriot in grand fashion with a somersaulting grab up the sideline. After that, Lloyd didn't look back, and watching Brady's passes find his back shoulder in stride as the game went on was a thing of beauty. I look forward to more of their work together.