PHOTO: Oakland Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss (18) hauls in a 29-yard pass against the defensive efforts of New England Patriots defensive backs Eugene Wilson (26) and Asante Samuel (22) during the first quarter in Foxborough, Mass. Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Patriots Outlast Raiders 30-20
By Darren Kelly
After the pomp and circumstance, the fireworks, and the unfurling of the latest championship banner, the Patriots went out and showed the football world why they are the defending champions, and why they just keep winning games. The first half was full of big plays, plenty of penalties and a surprisingly 3-point difference. The second half was a different story as the Patriots pulled away to take command of the game and the outcome.
Leading 17-14 thanks to Tom Brady's 212 first half passing yards, New England's defense took control in the second half, holding the fort until the suddenly-cold offense could get hot again. The key play of the game came in the 3rd quarter, after the Patriots turned the ball over on downs. The Raiders had all of the momentum, surviving being pinned on their own goal line twice by Patriots punter Josh Miller. The Patriots defense had been getting pressure on quarterback Kerry Collins in the second half (thanks to the surprising use of a 4-3 alignment). On 2nd and 8 from the 33-yard line, Richard Seymour got free up the middle, and Jarvis Green came around the outside to hit Collins, forcing the ball straight up in the air. Vince Wilfork snatched the ball on the fly for an interception. Three plays later Corey Dillon rumbled 8 yards into the end zone. The Raiders blocked Adam Vinatieri's extra point, but the Patriots still led 23-14, and never looked back.
The Patriots gave the Raiders a number of different looks defensively, including moving into a 4-3 system for the better part of the game. Why the need to switch to a 4-3? "We ran it in preseason," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick replied. "We thought that we would be able to mix it in there a little bit in the game." Not one to tip his plans to other teams in the league, Belichick elaborated slightly, "We've done different things from time to time depending on what the game plan is and how we think we match up against our opponents, but it's taken on a week-by-week basis. We have [the 4-3], we can use it."
The first quarter had the look of an old-time AFL game, as both teams marched up and down the field. The Raiders took the opening drive 72 yards in just 6 plays. On a free play (after Seymour had jumped offside), Collins connected with Randy Moss for the first time, a 29-yard gain. Three plays later, with the Patriots stacked up to stop the run, Collins ran a great play-fake and hit tight end Courtney Anderson in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. It was the first time in 31 games that New England had allowed a touchdown on their opponents' opening drive.
The Patriots took their opening drive 60 yards downfield, as Brady connected with Ben Watson for two key 3rd down completions. But New England settled for a 26-yard Vinatieri field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3.
Penalties were a problem for the New England defense in the first half, and on the Raiders' next possession, defensive holding on Tyrone Poole (covering Moss) gave Oakland a key first down. But Collins tried to find Moss in triple coverage, and after the play was broken up, Rodney Harrison introduced himself to Moss as only he knows how, with a hard hit near the sideline.
Following an Oakland punt, Brady went 4-for-4 on the next drive, connecting with Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch 3 times, including an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave the Patriots a 10-7 lead. The only problem for the New England offense at that point was that the running game was floundering. Brady could be seen on the sideline trying to fire up Corey Dillon, who was finding no running room early on.
Just what was Brady saying to Dillon on the sideline? "Probably some curse words," Brady replied. "I try to fire everybody up, which fires me up."
Oakland running back LaMont Jordan, meanwhile, was eating up yards at will through the middle of the Patriots' defense in the first quarter. When the teams switched sides for the 2nd quarter, that all changed. The Patriots' defense shut down Jordan with their unexpected use of the 4-3 defense paying dividends. Ty Warren, Monty Beisel, and Richard Seymour all took turns dropping Jordan for losses, forcing the Raiders to attempt a field goal from 43 yards out. After Sebastian Janikowski missed wide-left, the Patriots went three-and-out on their next possession and the Raiders had the ball again.
The very next play showed how dangerous a player Randy Moss can be. With the Patriots finally geared up to stop the run, Poole got caught looking in on play-action by Collins, and Moss got a step on him. Moss hauled in a long pass and put a move on Harrison, and walked in for a 73-yard touchdown that put the Raiders ahead 14-10.
Brady and the Patriots came right back with an 8-play, 64-yard drive to take a 17-14 lead. Brady was 5-for-6 on this drive, hitting Givens, Dillon, and Graham with passes. The touchdown pass was a nifty 3-step drop timing pattern to Tim Dwight-the seventh different received Brady hit in the first half.
Belichick was pleased with Brady's performance, "I thought Tom did a good job of managing the game, especially opening night where you know you're going to get a couple different looks," he said. "You're going to get some things that are not quite the way you practice them, but he showed a lot of poise."
At halftime, Brady had 212 yards passing, but Dillon had just 3 yards rushing. It was clear that establishing the run would be a major goal of the second half.
Neither team could keep up the offensive fireworks early in the third quarter, as the teams punted twice each. The normally excited Foxboro crowd was unusually quiet. "I think we put the fans to sleep," said Brady.
The Patriots squandered great field position, as punter Josh Miller twice buried punts within the 4-yard line. With momentum heading Oakland's way, New England went for it on 4th-and-1 from Oakland's 31. Dan Klecko reported for offense at fullback, but blasted right past the Oakland defense, and Dillon was smothered shy of the 1st down.
Two plays later the Patriots had the ball back thanks to the Wilfork interception. The Patriots took advantage of the excellent field position by handing the ball to Dillon who scored again. Dillon's touchdown gave New England a 23-14 lead and swung momentum back to the Patriots.
The teams traded punts, as both defenses seized control of the game. New England's offense finally broke the stalemate and took command again in the 4th quarter. After taking over on their own 16-yard line, the Patriots fed the ball to Dillon who busted through the line for 10 yards. Brady then hit Branch with a quick slant pass, and a facemask penalty tacked on another 15 yards. After a 3-yard pass to Brown, the Patriots ran a nifty fake reverse, and Brady hit Dillon with a 25-yard screen pass. A pass interference penalty put the ball on the 2-yard line and Dillon busted through for another touchdown (with Klecko connecting on a block this time) and a 30-10 lead. It was all the Patriots would need in spite of Dillon finishing the night with only 63 yards rushing on 23 carries.
It looked as if New England would be in complete control the rest of the game and run time off the clock, but a blocked punt gave the Raiders great field position, and the opportunity to put a scare into the hometown crowd. Collins hit Anderson wide open in the end zone (while Moss drew triple coverage), and the 2-point conversion could have cut the lead to 8. Asante Samuel broke up the pass to Moss in the end zone, and was thrown to the ground in the process, drawing a pass interference call on Moss. It was the 16th penalty on the Raiders in the game, costing them 149 yards (compared to 7/46 for the Patriots).
All that was left was for the Raiders to kick the onside kick out of bounds and the Patriots to run out the clock. It wasn't pretty, but the Patriots won--again.
"It was a nice way to start out the season, with a victory," Belichick said. " [The Patriots] stumbled around there on a few things tonight. You know, it's going to catch up with us if we don't get them fixed." Belichick went on to cite the blocked extra point and blocked punt as potential problems.
"There was a lot of excitement coming into this game," said Brady, who ended up 24-38 with 306 yards and 2 touchdown passes. "We were preparing all summer for this team. We'll take the win."
A tired-looking Raiders head coach Norv Turner reflected on the performance his team put together in the loss. "I thought we played a competitive game against a championship team," Turned said. "There's a reason why they have won 20 straight games in this stadium."
Make that 21, coach.
Darren is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: DestinationSuperBowl. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "Darren Kelly"
This article, with all links enabled, can
be found on PatriotsInsider.com
Or you can reach Darren and the rest of the Insider regulars in