NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
The New England Patriots simply don’t lose season openers.
Tom Brady threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, and the defending AFC champion Patriots routed the Tennessee Titans 34-13 for their ninth straight season-opening win Sunday. It’s the longest current streak in the league.
The Patriots ruined Jake Locker‘s debut as Tennessee’s starter, sacking him twice and forcing two turnovers. New England rookie Dont’a Hightower returned Locker’s fumble 6 yards for a TD in his own debut, and Stevan Ridley ran for 125 yards and a TD.
New England even knocked Locker out of the game in the fourth quarter. He hurt his left shoulder tackling safety Patrick Chung on a fumble return officials should have whistled dead as an incomplete pass to Titans receiver Nate Washington, who also was hurt on the play. Matt Hasselbeck replaced Locker.
The best Tennessee could do was bloody Brady’s nose when defensive end Kamerion Wimbley sacked the two-time NFL MVP in the second quarter.
The Titans weren’t happy at the failure of the replacement officials on three different passes into the end zone they thought deserved flags for pass interference.
The first came on the opening drive when Devin McCourty helped break up a pass to Damian Williams in the end zone. The second wound up an interception by Patriots rookie Tavon Wilson on a pass to Washington. The third came with Chung defending Jared Cook in the fourth quarter that left the Titans tight end pleading his case to an official.
And officials needed replay to overturn the on-field ruling of an interception by McCourty in the third quarter that squirted out when he hit the ground.
The Titans even had former Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt on hand, not that she could help them stop or even slow Brady – despite spending the offseason prepping for the teams’ first meeting since being routed 59-0 in New England in October 2009.
Brady threw five TD passes in one quarter that day. He didn’t match that Sunday, but didn’t need to with Ridley providing plenty of help on the ground as the Patriots outgained Tennessee 390-284.
The Titans couldn’t match Brady’s efficiency and had to settle twice for field goals of 28 and 24 yards by Rob Bironas. Locker did find Nate Washington on a 29-yard TD in the third quarter even with Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones grabbing the quarterback.
Brady missed connecting with Brandon Lloyd for a would-be TD on the opening drive. That was among his few misses.
He put the Patriots up 7-3 with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez late in the first quarter, capping a 67-yard drive. It was Brady’s 301st career pass, surpassing John Elway for fifth in TD passes in NFL history. It also marked his 33rd straight game with a TD pass. He found Rob Gronkowski on a 2-yard TD pass just before halftime for a 21-3 lead.
The Patriots’ work boosting their defense through the draft showed early dividends. Jones sacked Locker and forced a fumble that Hightower ran in for a 14-3 lead in the second quarter.