UPDATED SEP 12, 2012 (AP)
The New England Patriots reached the Super Bowl last season despite a
shaky defense, but that unit could be drastically improved if Week 1 is
Tom Brady's offense, meanwhile, appears as potent as ever.
The Patriots aim for another impressive all-around showing Sunday in
their home opener against the Arizona Cardinals, who seem likely to
have Kevin Kolb under center after he led them to a come-from-behind
After coming within minutes of its fourth NFL championship with a
defense that ranked 31st in the league during the regular season, New
England may be even better built for a title this year after stocking
up on talented rookie defenders in the draft.
The Patriots' two first-round picks quickly combined on a game-changing
touchdown last Sunday, as Chandler Jones sacked Tennessee quarterback
Jake Locker and forced a fumble that was scooped up and returned six
yards for a touchdown by Dont'a Hightower.
Safety Tavon Wilson, a third-round pick, grabbed an interception in his
debut, aiding a defense that held the Titans to 20 rushing yards on 16
carries in a 34-13 win.
"They have to do it again," defensive end Rob Ninkovich said of his
young teammates. "That's the key."
Brady is leading one of the NFL's most formidable offenses again. He
was 23 of 31 for 236 yards without an interception and threw touchdowns
to star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, although the
surprising star of the offense was Stevan Ridley.
The second-year running back rushed for a career-high 125 yards and a
touchdown on 21 carries, equaling the number of 100-yard performances
the Patriots had all of last year.
"We're talented, man, at every position," Ridley said. "We've got tight
ends, we've got receivers. We've got one of the best quarterbacks, if
not the best quarterback, an offensive line that's working hard and a
group of young running backs that's trying to come in there every
chance that we get."
The Patriots should have a good chance to go to 2-0 as they kick off
their home schedule. They've won 24 of their last 25 in the regular
season at Gillette Stadium, including a 47-7 win over Arizona in 2008
the last time these teams met.
Brady missed that game after tearing his ACL and has faced the
Cardinals only once, but New England has won five straight in the
series since Tom Tupa - a punter most of his career - threw three TD
passes in Phoenix's 24-10 win in 1991.
The Cardinals have lost 13 of 15 on the road, but they won their sixth
straight at home last Sunday, opening the season by beating Seattle
John Skelton started at quarterback but injured his right ankle in the
fourth quarter. Kolb replaced him and led Arizona on the majority of an
80-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown, going 6 of 8 for 66 yards and
the score to Andre Roberts.
Kolb struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last season after the
Cardinals acquired him from Philadelphia, losing six straight starts at
one point. He also lost his competition with Skelton in the 2012
preseason, but he figures to draw another start Sunday unless Skelton
makes an unexpectedly speedy recovery from a low ankle sprain.
Kolb said he's not thinking about winning back the starting job.
"The way my career's gone, the way that last year went, the way that it
happened already this year, I'm not even worried about that," Kolb
said. "I'm just going to play and let things take care of the way
they're supposed to end up, so we'll see what happens."
Some of Arizona's fans even booed when Kolb entered the game last
weekend, but Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is hoping his strong
performance is a turning point.
"I think he's got a lot of confidence now," Whisenhunt said, "which
whenever you get into a situation like he's been through, when you have
a good game like that and you make big plays for your team, it really
does a lot for you."
He could use more help from the running game than Skelton got. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams combined for 23 yards on 15 carries, with Wells
battling a hamstring issue.
Larry Fitzgerald had a relatively quiet opener, although two of his
four catches came from Kolb during the key drive. He caught a 78-yard
pass for Arizona's only touchdown four years ago in Foxborough.
Fitzgerald and Wes Welker were two of the top four in the NFL in
receiving yards last season, but Welker had only three catches for 14
yards last Sunday.
"Every week is a little bit different," Brady said. "We have a lot of
football to play and we're going to need everybody. There are going to
be games where Wes has not as many opportunities and there are going to
be games where he has a ton of opportunities."