FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Don’t write off the Patriots so fast.
A fashionable pick to lose their grip on the AFC East, the three-time Super Bowl champions showed they’re still strong by dominating the Cincinnati Bengals in their season opener.
Sure, New England ended last season badly — Tom Brady with a mediocre stretch, Wes Welker with a knee injury and the Baltimore Ravens with a lopsided first-round playoff win over Bill Belichick’s team.
And the New York Jets reached the AFC title game, then grabbed the offseason spotlight by adding big-name veterans, making “Hard Knocks” must-see TV and signing, after a long holdout, the only player who coach Rex Ryan says can cover Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis.
But then the games began.
Patriots 38, Bengals 24.
Ravens 10, Jets 9.
So the national sports magazine that had Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on the cover when it picked his team to win the division put Brady there this week for the 12th time, with Moss by his side.
The Patriots are off to a good start in pursuit of their seventh AFC East title in eight years, but one game doesn’t make a season. How these teams compare will be clearer Sunday when they meet at the New Meadowlands Stadium, where Revis will try to shut down Moss.
“I look forward to the matchup,” Moss said. “I have a lot of respect for Darrelle Revis. He’s a young player who definitely matured faster than most young players do. I’ll get the best from him. He’ll get the best from me. The only thing I can say is, collectively as a team, hopefully we get the best of the Jets.”
If the Patriots are slipping, it didn’t show in the opener.
They dominated the Bengals, another team that got offseason hype when it acquired Terrell Owens to join Chad Ochocinco as a dangerous wide receiving duo and reality-show TV stars.
“Hype doesn’t come from us,” Patriots running back Sammy Morris said. “We’re just focused on going and playing the game.”
Brady was sharp in the opener, completing 25 of 35 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions just three days after he was “scared out of my mind” but unhurt in a two-car crash. He wasn’t sacked as the Patriots overcame the absence of two-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, an unrestricted free agent who hasn’t reported.
Welker had eight catches for 64 yards and two TDs less than eight months after surgery for a torn knee ligament. Moss, despite feeling unappreciated by his lack of a contract for 2011, had five receptions for 59 yards before voicing his concerns at a postgame news conference.
Add in touchdowns on interception and kickoff returns and the dominance was thorough.
“We put it all together,” nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We were flying around. There were times when it was like we were on another planet.”
Now they’re back down to earth, where Belichick likes it.
“I don’t think there’s anything that carries over into the next game, per se,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how you did last week or who you did it against. It’s different people. It’s a different scheme. It’s different the next time you do it. You have to prove it every week in this league. Last week doesn’t mean anything.”
The Jets hope he’s right.
Against the Ravens last Monday night, they gained just 176 yards with six first downs and no touchdowns. Sanchez threw for 74 yards.
Brady has said he “hates” the Jets and wouldn’t watch “Hard Knocks.” On Sunday, he’ll get a closeup view of the defense that was ranked first in the NFL last year.
New England’s defense is rebuilding. Only four defenders who started the 33-14 playoff loss to Baltimore started against Cincinnati. The first-string cornerbacks are rookie Devin McCourty and second-year pro Darius Butler. And two reliable veteran starters, defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden, are out for the season.
“We wanted to contain them and limit the big plays,” Butler said. “You can be more aggressive and take your shot because even if you miss your tackle, there’s three or four more guys coming to back you up, so it gives you more confidence when you have speed out there.”
The defense lost four mainstays before last season — Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison to retirement and Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel in trades. And the current Patriots have just eight players from their last championship team that won the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.
While television viewers’ eyes were on the Jets training camp and their ears on Ryan’s salty language, the tightlipped Belichick kept the Patriots out of the spotlight.
“Who knows what’s right or wrong?” Brady said. “Our style has worked for us and that’s what’s most important. We’re not trying to be the Jets and they’re not trying to be the Patriots.”
Those two styles will clash on Sunday — a loudmouthed team whose coach talks about winning the Super Bowl and a quiet club that focuses on the next game, not the next title.
“As a team, I can honestly tell you we’re not riding high,” Moss said. “The Jets were the Super Bowl favorites to whoever’s eyes and we respected that. And I think that the only motivation that you can have as a player or coach is to go out here and just work harder every day.”