By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tom Brady might have a broken nose,
about the only damage inflicted by the Tennessee Titans against the
New England Patriots who simply don’t lose season openers.
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.
“I need some scars,” Brady said, joking about the white
bandage covering his nose and marring his usual look.
Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley hurt Brady in the second
quarter when he got Tennessee’s only sack of the game. Brady said
that was the only good hit he took all day and complimented his
revised offensive line featuring a new left tackle in Nate Solder,
new center in Dan Connolly and right guard in Donald Thomas.
“It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but it’s always fun to
win,” Brady said. “It’s a good feeling.”
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 and held Chris Johnson to 4 yards on 11 carries.
“This is something that can be a backbone for us,” Patriots
defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. “ To hold a great back to
only 4 yards that was good defense.”
Locker 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, who was kept on the sideline
as a precaution.
The eighth pick overall in 2011 tried to talk his way back onto
the field after being examined. Locker said he was sore but expects
to play next week at San Diego. And he won’t shy away from tackling
in the future.
“I know I’m playing offense,” Locker said. “I’m not going to
let a guy run into the end zone.”
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. Coach Mike Munchak said there
always will be calls they believe are missed by officials.
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.
Williams had an opinion on the lack of a flag, but refused to
criticize the officials, who also 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
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.
“They’re going to make their share of plays, which we knew,”
Munchak said. “We just couldn’t help them, and unfortunately along
the way, we helped them.”
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.
Notes: Patriots coach Bill Belichick got his 193rd career
victory, tying him for eighth all-time with Chuck Knox. … Brady
became the 14th player with 40,000 yards passing in his career. He
has 40,215 yards, just shy of Johnny Unitas (40,239) for 13th. …
Brady now has sole possession of fifth for career wins by a
quarterback with 125. … Brady is 5-1 against Tennessee and has 10
TDs with no interceptions in those games. … Titans LB Colin
McCarthy had a walking boot on his right foot but said he’ll be OK.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)