It's the pre-season. It means nothing.
I keep telling myself that, but it's tough not to smile after the Patriots defense shut down yet another high-power offense in their second exhibition. Add to it the fact that the New England offense was clicking last night and showing signs that it has corrected last year's biggest weak points, and there's a reason for the tiny spring in my step this morning.
The big story of the night was Wes Welker's return. Wes has always seemed like Super Man trapped in an undersized body, but being out on the field in the middle of a real NFL game just six months removed from ACL surgery is something truly heroic. While Welker certainly stole the show with his two early receptions, there was a lot more to like about the Pats' offense.
New England's tight end play was downright horrendous last year. Bill Belichick made a point of address that weakness this off-season, signing veteran Algie Crumpler and investing two draft choices in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both rookie tight ends made touchdown receptions last night, which is a promising sign that the "spread it around" offense that had characterized the Patriots for much of the 2000's was back. That will certainly be a welcome change of pace from last season where Brady seemed to throw to Moss and Welker an overwhelming majority of the time.
Despite the abscense of Logan Mankins, the Patriot's offensive line also looked strong. This was most evident in the success of New England's rushing attack. A big knock on the Pats last season was their impotent ground game. For the second time in a row, they showed a commitment to the run, rushing 30 times out of 59, and picking up 120 yards from their running back committee in the process.
I'll conclude by saying that while it's easy to get excited about the Patriots' flashy offense, I can't say enough about their defense last night. Holding an offensive powerhouse like Atlanta to just three points in the first 55 minutes of the game is quite a feat. Things are certainly looking bright half-way through the pre-season, but again, the real test comes September 12th against Cincinnati.