NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A botched spike after a touchdown catch and a possible broken nose for Tom Brady. Those glitches aside, the New England Patriots got off to their customary start to the season and even showed signs of having a ground game thanks to Stevan Ridley.
Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and Ridley ran for a career-high 125 and a TD as the defending AFC champion Patriots opened the season the way they usually do, with a victory, beating the Tennessee Titans 34-13 on Sunday for their league-high ninth straight season-opening win.
"You always want to start out with a win," said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had the ball slip on him when he tried to spike in celebration. "That's always a great way to start, and the Tennessee Titans are a good team. It was a good, hard-fought battle out there."
The Titans at least led in this game at 3-0 unlike the last time these teams met in October 2009 when the Patriots won in a 59-0 rout.
This time, Brady tossed a 23-yard TD pass to Aaron Hernandez in the first quarter to put the Patriots ahead to stay, and his 2-yard TD pass to Gronkowski late in the first half capped 21 straight points. The first TD pass was Brady's 301st in his career, passing John Elway for fifth in TD passes in NFL history. It also marked his 33rd straight game with a TD pass.
Brady said after the game he wasn't sure if his nose was broken, an injury he's never had before. His nose was freshly bandaged, and Brady said he needs "more scars." Plus, he was pretty happy with how New England's revised offensive line protected him with the exception of Kamerion Wimbley's sack in the second quarter.
"That was the only good one I really took, so I think the offensive line played really well," Brady said.
The Patriots tried to boost the defense through the draft, and early signs are they did just that. Top draft pick Chandler Jones sacked Jake Locker and knocked the ball loose, and fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower picked it up and ran it in for a 6-yard TD between Brady's touchdown passes. Rookie Tavon Wilson, a second-rounder, picked off a Locker pass too.
"That is why they are here," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said.
The Titans had a "Code Blue" promotion for the opener and their 137th sellout. Even former Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt was on hand, raising the 12th Titan flag to help kick off a season in which the Titans expect so much after going 9-7 in coach Mike Munchak's first season.
Instead, they wound up keeping Locker on the sideline after he hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder in the fourth quarter on a play the replacement officials should have whistled as an incomplete pass rather than allowing Patriots safety Patrick Chung to pick up a loose ball and run for the end zone. Chris Johnson, coming off his worst season as a pro, finished with only 4 yards on 11 carries.