1. Re-establishing home-field dominance. The way the Patriots finished the season last year was the worst way any team could finish a season, having a home playoff game and getting manhandled by the opposition, in this case the Baltimore Ravens. That's the last image many fans had on their minds. It was critical for the Patriots to recapture their home-field magic and re-establish themselves as a team that was unbeatable at home. This is a message to teams that when you come into Gillette Stadium you're going to have to bring it to win. After the loss last year, it put that message in doubt. But now that message is reaffirmed with a big victory over a tough Bengals team. To check that off the list in the first week is big for the Patriots, as that was something that had to be accomplished in the first month of the season.
2. Rave reviews for Dan Koppen and the offensive line. I was watching the offensive line closely, wanting to see how it would function without Logan Mankins. As expected, they had Dan Connolly starting at left guard. The biggest stat I think you need to look at is that Tom Brady wasn't sacked. In-game statisticians recorded just two quarterback hits on him. One player I thought did a great job was center Dan Koppen. He did a great job cleaning the pocket. That's when you have a free offensive lineman versus a defensive pass rush. In a four-man rush, more likely than not, it's going to be the center because both guards and both tackles will have to deal with four rushing defensive linemen. Koppen was the free offensive lineman at times and cleaning the pocket is when he puts his head on a swivel and helps the other offensive linemen with a late double-team. He helped Connolly with a delayed double-team at times. That opened passing lanes for Brady and helped him have more time. Koppen did have a holding penalty in the third quarter, but would you rather have Koppen get a 10-yard penalty and have the offense live to fight another day? Or let by a free rusher with a kill shot on Brady? Those are decisions that good offensive linemen have to make at times, because defensive linemen get paid too, and they will beat you now and then. Sometimes the best way to protect your quarterback is to grab and hold on.
3. Carson Palmer's struggles. With the addition of all the Bengals' offensive weapons, I felt that Carson Palmer would be a better quarterback. When we played Palmer earlier in his career, we were able to confuse him by disguising our coverages. Over the course of a quarterback's career, he'll start to figure things out, but Palmer still hasn't done that. The Patriots showed Palmer one coverage pre-snap and executed a different coverage post-snap, and Palmer looked lost. I read Pete Carroll's book and when Palmer was at USC, he had self-confidence issues. After throwing two interceptions in the spring game, according to the book, he said to Carroll, "It's just so typical. I always play well and then screw it up when it matters most." He is still that same guy. Until he is able to win the big game that makes a statement, and this was one of those games, defensive coordinators will always see him as a quarterback that can be fooled.
4. Young players rise up for the Patriots. New England's success this year is going to be tied to the development of its young players. The Patriots have a lot of young talent, unknown names, that the team is hoping will develop into big-time players. Right now, fans are starting to find out who players like Patrick Chung, Gary Guyton and Brandon Tate are. These are some of the players who broke through by making big plays on Sunday. Chung is starting to remind me of a young Lawyer Milloy. He has a good knowledge of the game, is a hard worker, is physical and tackles very well. Guyton has shown that big-play ability many times in practice, and he is now learning to transfer that to the field. Tate has waited a long time to contribute, and his efforts are a result of the hard work he has put in during his rehabilitation. The confidence with these young players, and this young team, should be sky high.
5. Props to Jim Whalen and his training staff. The game Wes Welker had should not be overshadowed by anyone, but let's give credit where credit is due. The Patriots have the best training staff in the National Football League. Jim Whalen, Joe Van Allen and Dave Granito have once again gotten a player back on the field and playing at a high level. I was a direct recipient of that care during my comeback and so was Brady. If Welker continues to have a productive year, Whalen and his staff could possibly have a third player who receives the comeback player of the year award.