The Titans team New England will play in Week 1 is not the same that got buried under a 59-0 Patriots avalanche in 2009.
Kerry Collins? Gone. Vince Young? Gone.
Tennessee is now lead by second-year quarterback Jake Locker. Have your doubts? Probably. Nobody's seen him start an NFL game before.
But Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia found some nice things to say on his Tuesday conference call.
"I think you can definitely see just the ability he has to be able to run their offense," Patricia said, "recognize what the defense is doing, get the ball to the appropriate people versus whatever the defense may be running, and be able to read the coverages and get the ball to the soft spot in the defenses."
Even though Chris Johnson fell off in production last year, and has underwhelmed during this preseason (more on him in a minute), Locker will have others to look to.
"They have a lot of different weapons they can use offensively along with obviously a great coaching staff to utilize all those players," Patricia explained. "So, weve got to just really pay attention to all of them, make sure we understand whos out on the field and make sure we understand what packages they're running in the game. I dont really think you want to single anybody out; they obviously have great players at every position."
Rookie Kendall Wright will also be making his first career start on Sunday. Part of the opportunity comes from first-round talent Kenny Britt's one-game suspension, but Wright has also made a case all his own for snaps.
He hooked up with Locker for four catches, 44 yards, and a 10-yard touchdown in Tennessee's 32-27 preseason win over Arizona.
"Hes got good speed; he can get down the field vertically on seam routes, go routes, things like that," Bill Belichick noted Tuesday. "They also threw him a lot of slip screens in college, catch and run type plays; hes had some of those with the Titans as well. He has good ball skills, good ability to run after the catch. Hes a 200-pound guy, hes a pretty solid guy thats big, that can run -- not big, big but hes got good size.
"Hes been a very productive player. Hes already had good production in preseason and he had good production in college so he finds a way to get open. Obviously quarterbacks have confidence in him in terms of getting him the ball and the coaches do in some of the plays theyve designed for him. Im sure theyre happy with him; hes been a good addition to their team. He looks like a good football player."
Speaking of good football players, Belichick made it clear he doesn't care that Johnson's stats have fallen off. So what if he only had 26 rushes over 10 yards last year? So what if he only had four touchdowns?
So what if the guy's preseason yards per carry was just 2.9?
Belichick won't call Johnson anything but "very dangerous."
"His production speaks for itself," the coach said. "Hes really an outstanding player with the ball in his hands in the passing game, in the running game, inside runs, outside runs, draws, screens. Everybody is at the point of attack because he has the speed to start one way and go the other to get back to the cutback backside of the defense or bounce out in either direction.
"It's a big challenge for our defense."
Bigger than in the last meeting between these two teams, anyway.
Six days – four quarters of football – remain in Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.
The fact is the Patriots are 3-0 and have gotten a long – and enjoyable – look at their quarterback depth behind Brady. Brady, meanwhile, has gotten a chance to shave one-quarter off the season-long wear-and-tear he takes.
But highlighting silver linings and pointing out there’s not much sand left in the suspension hourglass is no real consolation. Said one team source Thursday night, “It’s never going to go away.”
What’s Brady been up to? Mixing family time and working out. He’s routinely spent four hours a day training, I’m told, presumably with his body coach Alex Guerrero at TB12 Sports Performance at Patriot Place. Also, aside from his Sunday session with Wes Welker, Brady’s been throwing to young college players at undisclosed locations, eschewing the opportunity to bring in some of the “name” former players who’ve reached out and offered their services.
Spotted in Italy with wife Gisele Bundchen last week, Brady’s also been back home in San Mateo visiting with his family.
Speaking to two people close to him, I was told he succeeded in making peace with the time off and avoiding the creep of too much bitterness. I was also told he’s unbelievably motivated to return at a high level and wants his transition back to be seamless in terms of performance and conditioning. That last part is, of course, to be expected. But it will be interesting to see how Brady does perform out of the gates after a month’s forced exile.
NINKOVICH RETURNS, TOO
The lesser of the two suspended prodigal sons set to return next week – Rob Ninkovich – is no doubt going to benefit physically from the quarter-season vacation as well. And the defensive ends who’ve performed well in his absence – Jabaal Sheard and especially Chris Long – will do well to have Ninkovich back in the mix. Mention should also be made of Trey Flowers who has shown up in opponent’s backfields on a weekly basis. It depends on what your personal cup of tea might be, but through three games, Long seems to me a much better defensive fit for this team than Chandler Jones. Jones was the more explosive pass-rusher but Long’s ability in the running game, and his play-in, play-out impact in applying pressure on the tackle in front of him makes it seem so far as if he’s an upgrade.
NEW DEALS AHEAD?
Still no word on which Patriot may be in line for a new deal since the team restructured Devin McCourty and freed up some cap space.
Donta Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Jamie Collins have been seen as the most likely targets for extensions and a redo of Hightower at this point would whittle down his $7M cap number and possibly allow another extension to be executed for either Collins or Butler, as our Phil Perry pointed out. Jabaal Sheard, meanwhile, is the Patriot who flies under the radar when extension talk starts. He may be every bit as important to the success of the Patriots defense as the other three.
The Bills are 0-2, the natives are beyond restless in Buffalo and the Cardinals are in Western New York on Sunday. The Bills are expected to play without wide receiver Sammy Watkins and are a team staring into the esophagus of 0-3 with a visit to the Patriots coming next week. Have a gander at the Bills Mailbag in the Buffalo News. Seems like years since Rex was all giddy about the paint job on his new truck. It was less than 19 months ago.
Phil Perry joins SNC to explain to you why it is still possible that both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett could be ready for Week 4 against the Bills.