Strange but true: Rookies make big plays for Pats D


By nature, Bill Belichick is inclined to trust his veterans on defense.

But Sunday, his rookies stepped up and made plays to spark things.

First-rounders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower and second-rounder Tavon Wilson were key to a defense that made Titans running back Chris Johnson a non-factor, and led the way to a 34-13 win.

Wilson caught a tipped pass for an interception in the end zone, and Jones and Hightower combined for the game’s biggest play, a strip sack (Jones) which was returned for a touchdown (Hightower), and created a significant early margin.

“Those two guys probably made one of the biggest plays of the day, the strip sack and the touchdown,” defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said of Jones and Hightower, via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. “Those young guys, in their first career NFL football game, they’ll probably make ‘SportsCenter.’ So, good for them. That was a great heads-up play by both of them. That put our team in a good situation.”

After sagging mightily on defense last year, the Patriots went against type and actually moved up to get both Jones and Hightower.

The early returns are favorable, although it will probably take Belichick time to fully trust them.

14 responses to “Strange but true: Rookies make big plays for Pats D

  1. Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson eerily remind me of Willie McGinest, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison. I had flashbacks watching these three play.

    When BB coaches these guys to their full potential, and combine that with his schemes this defense will be top 5 this year.

  2. Belichick and the Patriots finally had the draft the fans had waited for. They seemingly always have extra picks but this time around they chose to use the extra picks and trade up. Jones and Hightower would not have been there if they’d stayed put at #27 and #31.
    The folks that predicted Chandler Jones would likely not have an impact until 2013 were way, way wrong, that much is for certain.

  3. This is not last years D, this defense is fast and young. And as great as the top three draft choices played,Big Vince was an absolute BEAST yesterday and had a great game.

    Its only week#1 but the Offense looked strong and will be more balanced this year as the Patriots have not had a ball carrier who can break runs like Ridley since Corey Dillon.

    The Patriots will be a top 5 Rush Defense ( 4 yards CJ2K)and as usual being ahead in the 4th quarter,teams willl get garbage passing yardage playing catch up.

  4. I understand that it’s really early, but the encouraging thing is that great players usually don’t need a lot of time to be great – you see it right away. Jones looks like he has a chance to be not just good, but game changing great. It’s not just his ability to pressure the QB, watch how strongly he sets the edge on running plays.

  5. Don’t disgree- they looked much better than last year. HOWEVER, enough with these early predictions of top 5 defense. It we are basing an entire season on one game, then lets call the Skins the #2 defense and Jets the #1 offense.

    CJ is not what he used to be, and had limited carries in a poor offense game plan for the Titans. Locker was also playing in his first career start. And of course, Britt was out.

    In no way can you tell me after 1 game against a mediocre offense that the Pats will have a better D than the Jets, 49ers, Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Eagles, and Giants (fluke week with Dallas, they’ll be back to form next week). I’ll say they project to top half of the league right now, but nothing higher until they prove it more than once.

  6. To add to this, most of the Pats biggest plays were made by either rookies, second year guys (Ridley) or guys who are in their first year with the team (Lloyd). VERY encouraging.

  7. Belichick may turn out to be a year or two late using all those draft picks. He wasted a couple years of Brady’s prime.

    I’m not saying the man isn’t the best coach/player evaluator in the game. He is. But he should have done this a couple years ago.

  8. You never know what you have until at least week four and sometimes not until week 7 or 8. Lets not start placing our Pats anywhere just yet. We haven’t done squat. Nice to get the win though, and get out mostly injury free. Look for the 2-0 match up against Baltimore as our first real test! Go Pats!!!!

  9. Encouraging signs so far but let’s wait before we start talking about how great these guys are…If they can do it consistently then we have something to be excited about, especially with how the secondary looked and the pass rush getting to the QB more…With a good defense the sky is the limit for this team

  10. edavidberg,
    A lot of us Pats fans have gotten as frustrated as anyone that they haven’t drafted true stud defenders (especially DL guys and LBs, minus Mayo who is more of a steady player than a playmaker)in the first round in ages, but I’d bet a lot of money that BB just felt none of them were worth the spot AND the up front money until this year. Whether these guys are true studs or not remains to be seen. But they have made an impact already that guys like Meriwether NEVER made.

  11. So, I decided to have a little fun with the whole “should have drafted studs like this sooner” idea. So I went back and looked at the drafts from 2008-2011. I started with pick 20 in the first round of each draft, which seems a fair spot to assume the Pats could realistically trade up to to draft a defensive stud. Here are the LB’s and DL’s (I included DT and DE) taken from picks 20-32 over the past 3 years:

    DL: Peria Jerry, Evander Hood, Dan Williams, Jared Odrick, Jerry Hughes, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Jordan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Cameron Heyward, Lawrence Jackson, Kentwan Balmer

    LB: Clay Matthews

    If I missed any let me know.

    Now, honestly. How many of these guys are game-changers? Matthews, for at least one year anyway. Wilkerson, maybe someday down the line?

    Guys the Pats ended up drafting because of the all that early round moving back? Hernandez, Gronkowski, Edelman, Spikes, Mayo (yes, Mayo, they moved back from 7 to 9 for him), Cannon, etc.

    So, let’s be clear, even going earlier than 20, WAY more DE’s and LB’s fail than they do succeed. The Pats obviously had an idea in mind, and didn’t overdraft average players because of some perceived need.

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