The Patriots kicked off their exhibition season on Friday night, and as exciting as it was to see Tom Brady and his new stable of receivers in live game action, it was New England's ground game that stole the show during their 31-22 win over the Eagles.
They rushed for 248 yards against the Eagles' defense, with Stevan Ridley opening the game with a 62-yard scamper on the Patriots first offensive play from scrimmage.
That one play put the Patriots in the driver's seat to the point where on that first drive Brady didn't even have to attempt a pass, he just let the running backs do the heavy lifting. Offseason acquisition LeGarrette Blount followed up Ridley's big gain with three carries of his own before Ridley set up his own scoring run with a five yard gain, and one play later he punched it in from a yard out to put the Patriots ahead early.
It was Ridley's first game action since suffering a concussion in the team's AFC Championship defeat earlier this year, and he finished with a strong performance. He carried 8 times for 92 yards as well as his touchdown, and didn't show any tentativeness carrying the football.
Meanwhile Blount also came up big, finishing the night with 11 carries for 101 yards including a 51 yard touchdown, and really did a good job of finding an opening and lowering his shoulder in a couple of short yardage situations. He converted a 3rd and 1 on the Patriots first drive, and also pounded in a one yard touchdown in the third quarter. Overall he accounted for 5 of New England's 12 rushing first downs.
Obviously the Patriots were hoping to find a guy who was strong to compliment Ridley, and it appears they may have found him.
"I think we got a lot of production out of our running backs," said Belichick after the game. "Actually we got good production out of the receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs, we were able to get good balance on offense so that's great. Anytime you can run the ball that helps everything else."
Interestingly enough the Patriots longest rush last season didn't even come from any of their running backs, it came on a run by Julian Edelman in week 10 against Indianapolis where he picked up 47 yards during the Patriots 59-24 blowout win at home over the Colts. Their next longest run was a 41 yard run by Ridley in week eight against St. Louis.
They managed to eclipse both of those Friday night with Ridley's 62 yard gain and Blount's 51 yard touchdown run. Granted it's only preseason, but it's tough not to feel a little optimistic about New England's ground game as we start seeing them continue working toward the regular season.
"We're special," said Stevan Ridley after the game when asked about their performance. "We've got a work to do and I can just say we're off to a good start."
"We're just working hard every day and the results are showing."