Don’t let his three catches for 14 yards fool you. Martellus Bennett played a key role in the New England Patriots’ season-opening win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Serving as the No. 1 tight end in place of the injured Rob Gronkowski, Bennett hardly left the field Sunday night, playing 97.2 percent of New England’s offensive snaps (69 of 71) in his regular-season Patriots debut.
While he was targeted just four times in the 23-21 victory and didn’t catch his first pass until the third quarter, the 6-foot-6, 273-pound tight end did yeoman’s work as a blocker for running backs LeGarrette Blount — who gained the bulk of his 70 rushing yards while running toward Bennett’s side of the line — and pass protector for first-time starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo was sacked twice but generally had ample time to throw behind a Patriots offensive line that featured two rookie starters and did not include left tackle Nate Solder, who missed the game with an injury. Undermanned on the line, New England turned to Bennett, who did not disappoint.
“I was just trying to whoop their ass all day,” Bennett said after the game, via the Boston Herald. “I just like to be the guy where when you see him you’re like, ‘Damn, here he comes again.’ That’s what my job was (Sunday), to pass protect and run block. Whatever it is, I feel I’m able to do a lot of different things.
“Each week is going to be different for me. One week, I may catch 10 balls. One week, I may block 75 runs. It doesn’t really matter. I’m just trying to do the best I can to help the team.”
Bennett’s most frequent dance partner was former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, who posted an impressive stat line (five tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, two QB hits) but did most of his damage when lined up opposite blockers not wearing No. 88.
Jones did draw a holding call on Bennett late in the fourth quarter to negate a New England first down, but replays revealed that penalty was dubious at best.
A.J. Derby, the Patriots’ only other available tight end Sunday night, played just 20 offensive snaps and was called for one false start. Gronkowski and Clay Harbor both were inactive.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images