PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady gets a pass off under pressure from Oakland Raiders tackle Warren Sapp (99) during the third quarter in Foxborough, Mass., Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Raiders Give Game To Patriots
By Michael Reardon
As the kickoff of the 2005 NFL season approached, its opening game of the Oakland Raiders at the New England Patriots received the most attention, scrutiny, and analysis. There was interesting intrigue for both teams and plenty of questions to go around. For the Patriots, this game marked the beginning of their quest to accomplish what most experts consider to be impossible; the achievement of a third consecutive Lombardi trophy. This journey would have to be embarked on without the offensive and defensive coordinators that steered the franchise through their recent years of success. The Patriots of 2005 will also be missing two inside linebackers that were a crucial piece of the defensive machine that has helped carry this team to a 34 - 4 record over the past two seasons. How would these losses affect the defending champions? In this age of parody in the NFL, how long can this football fairy tale possibly endure?
Across the sidelines, the Oakland Raiders are looking to return to the Super Bowl form they had just three seasons ago. In 2002, the Raiders won 11 regular season games and made it all the way to the Super Bowl before loosing to the Buccaneers by 27 points. In the past two seasons combined, the Raiders have won just 9 games. This past off - season, the Raiders made their usual splash in the free agency market, acquiring in Lamont Jordan a career backup running back ready to take on the role of a full time player and in Randy Moss, the game's biggest play maker. The Raiders, however, did little to improve their defensive unit, which let up 27.6 points per game in 2004; worse than only the Kansas City Chiefs.
The game, consequentially, was portrayed as a battle between Oakland's shiny, new high - powered offensive machine armed with Kerry Collins, Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, and Lamont Jordan against a New England defense that had lost part of its backbone to injury and retirement and its coordinator to career advancement. Nobody questioned whether or not the Patriots could put up points and yards against Oakland's sub par defensive unit, the question was, how much could they limit Randy Moss?
For the first half of 2005 football, the game played out just as many expected. The Raiders offensive strategy seemed to assume that they wouldn't be able to contain the Patriots and would have to score a lot of points to be competitive. They took shots down field, utilizing Collins' superior play - action skills to try and keep the New England secondary off base. The Raiders marched down the field on the opening drive and scored on a Kerry Collins pass to tight end Courtney Anderson. The drive, which took just 3:09 off the clock, was the first opening touchdown the Patriots had allowed in 37 games dating back to week 1 of the 2003 season against Buffalo. New England looked out matched, out of place, and unprepared, surrendering yards both on the ground and through the air without much of a fight. The Raiders moved 72 yards on 6 plays without even having to face a 3rd down.
When New England had the ball, Oakland seemed to have one goal in mind: stop Corey Dillon. Oakland's large front line, anchored by Warren Sapp, Ted Washington, and Bobby Hamilton, seemed immovable at times, and Dillon gained only 11 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Fortunately for the Patriots, Oakland was incapable of stopping Tom Brady and the passing game. The Patriots answered Oakland with a 10 play drive that ended in an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The 60 yard drive consisted of 55 passing yards and just 5 rushing. Every single one of the 55 passing yards was the handiwork of second year tight end Ben Watson, catching the only two completions of the drive, one for 20 yards, another for 35 yards.
The Patriots threw the ball seemingly at will against the Raiders, putting up 225 yards of total offense in the first half almost exclusively through the air. On the New England possession after the field goal, Brady would orchestrate a 5 play, 72 yard scoring drive that ended with an 18 yard TD reception by number one receiver Dieon Branch. Brady was a perfect 4 for 4 on the drive, and the only running play called was a Corey Dillon handoff that yielded -4 yards.
The score remained at 10 - 7 until about halfway through the second quarter. Then, Oakland hit a big play that recaptured the momentum they had achieved on the opening drive. On the first play of the possession, Collins chucked a ball deep, connecting with Randy Moss for a 73 yard touchdown reception. The New England secondary looked like they had on the first drive of the game: out of place and sloppy. Tyrone Poole was covering Moss one on one and made a bad play on the ball while also leaving himself out of position to attempt a tackle after the catch. Moss tipped the ball, caught it, and then made safety Rodney Harrison look foolish, easily avoiding the veteran's uncharacteristically feeble tackling attempt and taking it all the way for the score. The Raiders had regained the lead, the momentum, and had shown the Patriot defense to be ill - prepared for their high flying offensive game plan.
Fortunately, the Patriots offense was able to answer once again, executing an 8 play, 64 yard scoring drive that gave New England the lead once again at 17 - 13. Brady and his receivers performed excellent once again, with 57 of those yards coming through the air. David Givens and Daniel Graham caught their first passes of the season, and Tim Dwight caught his first touchdown reception as a Patriot.
Going into the half, Patriot fans had to be a little concerned with how the game was turning out. While New England was leading by four points, the defense seemed incapable of stopping the Oakland offensive attack. Adding to the peril was the ineffectiveness of Corey Dillon on the ground, which meant that the Patriots could not control the clock by running in an attempt to keep Collins, Moss, and Lamont Jordan off of the field. The game had turned into an offensive shootout, something that played right into the strengths of the Oakland Raiders and allowed them to hang around for the entire first half.
Both defense made adjustments at half time, and the result was a third quarter of offensive stagnation. Almost the entire quarter consisted of stalled out drives, three - and - outs, and punts. The only bright spot for the Patriots during this time was Josh Miller who pinned the Raiders inside their own 5 yard line on two consecutive drives. It was a frustrating quarter for Patriot's fans; as soon as the Patriots defense had figured out how to stifle the Raiders attack, their own offense stalled out and been unable to put the Raiders away while they were vulnerable.
The major change the Patriots defense made was a switch from the 3 - 4 to the 4 - 3. Taking out Chad Brown after he took a blow to the head from Lamont Jordan, the Patriots replaced him with a lineman, Jarvis Green, to create a front four of Green, Seymour, Wilfork, and Ty Warren. The switch to the 4 - 3 was definitely one of the factors that changed the entire character of the game. Lamont Jordan had no room to run, getting caught for negative yards on several plays. Collins was rushed, hurried, or sacked on key passing downs. The formation seems to unleash Seymour's most ferocious talents, as the extra defensive lineman meant more one - on - one blocking against him. He would finish the game with 8 tackles, and played a crucial role in what would turn out to be the key play of the entire game.
With just under 6 minutes to go in the third quarter, Collins dropped back to pass on 2nd and 8. The front four of the Patriots dominated Oakland's offensive line and exerted pressure on Collins. Seymour pushed the middle of the line back into Collins and Green came around the right side of the line and hit Collins as he was throwing. The ball came loose, got knocked into the air, and fell into the unlikely hands of Wilfork. The first and final turnover of the game was the most momentous, and it set up the struggling New England offense at the Oakland 20 yard line. Three plays later, Corey Dillon banged in from the 8 yard line and put the Patriots up 23 - 14 (the extra point was blocked); a very safe - looking lead when considering Oakland's inability to move the ball in the 4th quarter.
As Oakland continued their offensive woes late in the second half, New England would put together another scoring drive in the first half of the 4th quarter. While Brady was effective again throwing the ball, he had a little assistance from the Raiders themselves. Oakland's defense committed two huge penalties, a 15 yard personal foul and a 23 pass interference call, that really helped put the game away for the Patriots. Corey Dillon was also crucial to this drive, picking up 25 yards on a beautifully executed screen pass as well as 12 yards on the ground including a 2 yard touchdown run. The Patriots went up 30 - 14 and the game was all but out of reach.
With 4 minutes left in the game after the Patriots could not get a first down, New England's blocking broke down on a Josh Miller punt, allowing the Raiders to block it and gain field position on the Patriot 21 yard line. Collins connected with Courtney Anderson for a TD with 3 minutes left in the game, but the ensuing two point conversion failed and Oakland remained down by two scores. The onsides kicked went out of bounds, and the Patriots were able to run out the clock to end the game with a final score of 30 - 20.
Brady would finish 24 for 38 for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. After disappearing during the pre - season, Deon Branch received a lot of attention and finished with 7 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. Brady was efficient, accurate, and completed passes to 8 different receivers.
In addition to coming up with the key turnover that turned the tide of the game, the New England defense allowed Oakland to just 4 conversions out of 13 third downs. They made adjustments before the second half, including a switch to the 4 - 3, and essentially took Randy Moss out of the game after he had a huge first half.
Aside from the turnover, the main difference in this game was penalties. Oakland absolutely killed themselves with penalties, committing 16 for 149 yards. As an inferior team, you simply cannot give a quality opponent that much free yardage and expect to win.
You can find more stories about the players in the HOT NEWS section or in their player profiles. Michael Reardon is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. Comments or suggestions send us an email
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