Attention, National Football League: The New England Patriots' multifaceted offense -- which scored more than 100 points than any other team in the AFC in 2011 -- rolled out a new weapon Sunday.
That would be Stevan Ridley, who came close to the franchise rushing record in a season-opening game with 125 yards in 21 carries . . . only 12 yards short of the 137 gained by Tony Collins against the Baltimore Colts in the 1982 opener.
They also rolled out some new weapons on defense, too.
Like rookie Chandler Jones, who had a sack and a forced fumble for a touchdown. And fellow first-round draft choice Dont'a Hightower, who recovered that forced fumble for the touchdown. They -- along with veteran stalwarts Vince Wilford and Jerod Mayo -- spearheaded a defensive effort that held Titans star Chris Johnson to a rather mind-boggling 4 yards in 11 carries.
So if the Pats are smiling a little wider today after an unsurprising 34-13 road victory over the Tennessee Titans -- a fair-to-middlin' foe, but not in the same class as the defending American Football Conference champions -- you'll understand why.
"It was a good team win," said coach Bill Belichick. "All three units (offense, defense, special teams) contributed . . . I think if we can play that way all season, we'll be all right."
The name that stands out, however, is Ridley. He eased the fears of those worried by the departure of the steady if unspectacular BenJarvus Green-Ellis with a steady and spectacular afternoon. It started with a 17-yard gain on his second touch of the afternoon, and included a 15-yard run on the first play of a second-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown, and 29 yards on a pair of carries during a third-quarter march that he capped with a one-yard tumble into the end zone, giving the Pats a 28-10 lead and pretty much deciding the game.
"He ran the ball extremely well," said Tom Brady, who was his usual 23-of-31, 236-yard, 2-touchdown self.
"Stevan ran hard," said Belichick, "broke some tackles."
More to come . . .
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.