FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady found Brandon Bolden with a short pass on the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage against the Buccaneers on Sunday. As Bolden went to make a move up field, he was met by safety Ahmad Black and sent crashing to the Gillette Stadium turf.
However, after being inactive for New England’s first two games of the season with an ankle injury, the hit was one the Patriots’ second-year running back was happy to take.
“Strangely, it did [feel good],” said Bolden, when asked about getting knocked around following New England’s 23-3 win over Tampa Bay. “You kind of get that lick again and you’re like, ‘Dang, I haven’t really been hit in a while.’ Then, to actually hit somebody, I was like, ‘Ha, I still got it,’ so it was a great feeling.”
Bolden finished Sunday’s game with exactly 100 yards from scrimmage (51 rushing, 49 receiving) to lead the Patriots. Following the game he explained how taking a couple of hits can actually work in a player’s favor, if they’ve been out for an extended time.
“You’ve got to get your shoulders loose,” he said. “You don’t want to get that one hit and just be like, ‘God, I don’t know where that came from,’ you know . . . You kind of get used to getting hit again and again and then you’ll be able to start delivering harder and harder blows.”
As the game progressed, Bolden accrued his hits and then turned the tide on a Buccaneers defense that allowed an NFL-low 82.5 yards rushing per game in 2012 with a 46-yard run early in the third quarter.
The play began as a designed run to the right, but when Bolden saw a hole up the middle he made a move, avoided a lunging Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, and broke for the end zone.
“Don’t get caught,” was all he said went through his mind as he ran, but at the Tampa Bay 25 he was brought down by safety Mark Barron.
Despite not getting to the end zone, the run was the longest of Bolden’s career by 19 yards and the longest by a Patriots running back since Sammy Morris’s 55-yarder on Dec. 27, 2009, against Jacksonville.
Bolden managed to haul in five passes after entering Sunday with just two career receptions for 11 yards.
“I feel pretty confident, I kind of got faith in these hands,” Bolden said. “They might not catch everything, but I dust them off, you know, keep going, and try again.”
As with most season-opening games, there were a few miscues for Bolden. The most obvious came late in the second quarter when the running back never looked up to see a deep pass from Brady that came in his direction.
Asked if he was surprised Brady had sent the ball his way Bolden replied, “No, because [Brady] told me to keep my head up and me being hardheaded, I wasn’t paying attention, so that was totally my fault.”
Thankfully for Bolden, the Buccaneers were flagged for illegal contact away from the play so the Patriots got a first down anyway.
“It was great just to get back out there and just play with everybody,” said Bolden. “To look over and see Stevan [Ridley] and LeGarrette [Blount] be like, ‘Man, good job.’ So, it was awesome.”
For the game, New England rushed for 156 yards on 33 carries (4.7 average), with Blount adding 65 on 14 carries and Ridley chipping in with 35 on 11 carries.
It was the second time this season that the Patriots have reached the 150-yard mark (they had 158 in the opener against Buffalo).
“I thought all our backs ran well,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “Brandon did a good job for us but Stevan and LeGarrette, they all had some good runs, some key runs for us. [Tampa Bay is] a tough defense to run the ball against, but we were able to chip away and at least keep them honest and stay out of a lot of long-yardage situations and that helped us.”
It was a surprise to see Bolden on the field to start the game instead of Ridley, who had been the first one up in the first two games this season. But the decisions over playing time aren’t on any of the running backs’ minds, according to Bolden.
“Honestly, we don’t even care about that and I can speak for Blount and Ridley about this,” he said. “If they call our name, they call our name. If they don’t, they don’t. But we’re going to encourage that guy who does go in and gives the best effort he can. I think [Sunday] you got the best of it from all three.”