Oakland, which fielded the NFL's 30th-ranked defense in 2004, arguably played better in the 30-20 loss to the Patriots than they did at any time last season. After a tough start in which New England scored on three of its first four drives, the Raiders held the two-time defending Super Bowl champions to just two scores the rest of the way, one coming after a turnover deep inside Oakland territory.
Granted it wasn't exactly a Raven-esque effort but for the Raiders, it was a definite step in the right direction.
''We had it going for a minute,'' defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. ''We just couldn't get it going at the right time.''
Oakland's defense held New England running back Corey Dillon to just 63 yards on 23 carries. Dillon did score a pair of touchdowns, but after finishing second in the AFC and third overall in the NFL in rushing yardage in 2004, the veteran running back was kept under wraps by the Raiders for most of the game.
While everyone's focus was on Oakland's new offensive weapons, wide receiver Randy Moss and running back LaMont Jordan, it was the Raiders defense that drew the most praise for their effort against the Patriots, No. 7 in the NFL in rushing last year.
''We can take a lot from that game,'' free safety Stuart Schweigert said. ''We're still learning. There's a lot we can clean up. It's going to be a growing process.''
After New England quarterback Tom Brady threw his second touchdown of the first half with 4:49 remaining, the Raiders held the Patriots to just two first downs over New England's next four possessions. Included in that spurt was a fourth-and-one play where Oakland defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton and linebacker Danny Clark stuffed Dillon for no gain.
New England didn't get untracked until Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins was intercepted
at his own 20, setting up a short score for the Patriots. Later in the fourth quarter, a pair of penalties on rookie defensive back Stanford Routt helped New England to its game-sealing touchdown.
That and 16 penalties were too much for Oakland, even with its improved defense, to overcome.
''You can't play that team and make those mistakes and expect to win,'' Sapp said. ''They play the game fundamentally and don't make mistakes. We make too many mistakes.''