You can say Sam Bradford had a sensational night in his first NFL start, or you can be worried the rookie quarterback of a team that went 1-15 last year had his way against Bill Belichick's defense. The Patriots were undisciplined and seemed a little lost.
The Rams allowed 44 sacks last year, tied for seventh-most in the NFL. With four-fifths of the same offensive line and a rookie left tackle in front of Bradford, the Patriots' defense sacked him once and generally failed to create pressure.
New England was credited with three passes defensed. One of them belonged to nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
St. Louis' second-team offense, led by undrafted rookie quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, did this to New England's first-team defense to open the second half: 76 yards on 15 plays in 9:19. Lewis and Brandon Gibson connected for a 20-yard touchdown.
First-round draft pick Devin McCourty started at left cornerback and had a rough night. He struggled on run support and was beaten deep by Donnie Avery for 32 yards on the Rams' first drive. McCourty got scorched on what should have been a 27-yard Laurent Robinson touchdown at the end of the second quarter, but Bradford's throw carried Robinson out of bounds.
A bright spot for the defense was defensive lineman Ron Brace with seven tackles and a sack. He left the field with an undisclosed leg injury in the second half.
Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski is going to be a fan favorite if he can A) stay healthy, and B) keep making the kinds of plays he made against the Rams. He caught three passes for 66 yards and two scores. On his 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he dragged James Laurinaitis the final 5 yards and lunged at the goal line. Gronkowski capped a long drive at the start of the fourth quarter by leaping to snare a Tom Brady dart from 20 yards away.
Wes Welker's return from reconstructive knee surgery took another positive step. He had two catches, one going for 39 yards to seemingly wake up the sleepwalking offense. But the psychological part of his recovery shouldn't be overlooked. Welker showed concern when Avery suffered a serious knee injury in the second quarter. Reminders are everywhere.
Flat is one thing, undisciplined is another. The Patriots committed nine penalties (two were declined) for 72 yards. The defense was culpable for most. Three Patriots were flagged for roughing the passer: Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Spikes and Marques Murrell.
How did the Patriots score 35 points while maintaining possession for only 16:14? Brandon Tate returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown followed by four straight possessions with a combined one first-down conversion. Then they scored touchdowns on each of their next three series, totaling 20 plays.
That's why Brady and the first-teamers played into the fourth quarter. He finished 18 of 22 for 273 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Brady's 65-yard bomb to Randy Moss sure looked pretty and got the Gillette Stadium crowd into the game, but you have to wonder if the Patriots' offense would have been better served with a drive. I don't think Belichick went into Thursday night with "Get Moss behind second-string safety Kevin Payne" on the Patriots' to-do list.
So here's what happened on the next series: At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, New England went no huddle and traveled 98 yards on 10 plays, gaining five first downs before Brady found Gronkowski for a 20-yard touchdown. And it took them just 2:45.
Not sure what to make of running back Laurence Maroney not playing a down for the second straight game. Hard to say for sure, but looks like Belichick has booked him at Chateau Bow Wow. Belichick said it was related to time of possession. Regardless of the reason, no action two straight games is a bad sign for the fifth-year pro.
Sam Aiken is one of the most underappreciated players in the division. He's an adequate receiver who can help out the offense in a pinch, but he's a consistently solid special-teams performer, the kind of player every good team needs. He eliminated a Rams player on Tate's touchdown return and went across the middle for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots' offense probably would've had the ball longer if Belichick opted to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the 50-yard line midway through the first quarter. The TV showed Brady playfully mocking Belichick for punting. Against the Indianapolis Colts on "Sunday Night Football" is one thing. I guess Thursday night wasn't the right moment to be a renegade.