their first-ever Super Bowl championship, Oakland made sure there would be no quirky finish this time around.
Backed by their strongest defensive showing of the season and getting three touchdowns on the ground, the Raiders thumped New England 27-20 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated.
Playing in front of a sold-out stadium for just the second time this season, Oakland beat the Patriots to every punch. And though they spent the week denying that last year's playoff loss to New England was a motivating factor, the Raiders didn't dance merrily off the field just because they'd won another game.
''You try to be professional about it but you can't when you spend many a nights sick over it,'' said Oakland tight end Roland Williams, referring to the Raiders' 16-13 loss to New England in last year's AFC divisional playoffs. ''Yes, it was on our mind. Any time a team knocks you out of the playoffs, ends your dreams and hopes, you're not going to forget those guys. They took something from us and we wanted to get it back.''
This game certainly didn't have the magnitude of that playoff game but it was a critical game nonetheless, more for Oakland than for New England. The Patriots play in the oh-so mediocre AFC East where only one team -- Miami -- is over .500. The Raiders, on the other hand, needed to win just to keep pace with the rest of the AFC West.
Denver, San Diego and Kansas City all won Sunday, putting the pressure on Oakland to follow suit. The Raiders did just that and at 6-4 stayed one game behind the Broncos and Chargers, who are tied for first at 7-3.
That they beat the Patriots so convincingly -- New England trailed by 11 points for most of the game until a 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game's final minute -- was impressive enough for the Raiders. That the impetus for the win came from the defense was downright stunning.
Oakland's defense has taken its fair share of criticism this year and understandably so. The Raiders hadn't show much of anything during its four-game losing streak and certainly nothing to make one believe they could turn things around so quickly.
But in beating Denver last week and then New England on Sunday, Oakland's defense made a definite statement. In their last eight quarters, the Raiders have given up just one touchdown and four field goals.
''When we got beat, we got beat,'' said defensive tackle Sam Adams. ''We didn't play good football. We had to nip some things in the bud and fix something, and we did that.''
They did it primarily by improving a pass rush that had just 18 sacks through the first eight games of the season. Against Denver, the Raiders dropped Broncos quarterback Brian Griese four times and they matched that against New England.
Brady, the boy wonder who came off the bench to lead the Patriots' championship run a year ago, could never get settled in the pocket and spent much of his night running away from pressure. When he wasn't getting sacked, the young quarterback frequently tossed the ball into the ground just to avoid getting dropped for a loss.
Oakland also shut down the Patriots' running game, holding them to a meager 48 yards on the ground.
The Raiders' own offense, on the other hand, was operating smoothly. The running game, almost a forgotten part of things, pounded out 97 yards on the ground while quarterback Rich Gannon passed for 297 yards.
Numbers like that are good but look even better when backed by a defensive performance like Oakland had against New England.
''I thought our offense and defense played extremely well tonight,'' said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. ''We made a lot of great plays on the field tonight.''
Just like that playoff game this past January in Foxboro, there were plenty of strange happenings going on Sunday night in Oakland. On the Patriots' opening drive, Brady completed a short pass to wide receiver David Givens on an inside slant route. Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, who was beaten on the play, stripped Givens of the ball, knocking it five yards back upfield where a New England teammate recovered. The Patriots retained the ball and got a first down then drew first blood on Adam Vinatieri's 36-yard field goal.
When the Raiders got the ball back they appeared to be stalled out on a third-and-short play when Gannon's pass for Tim Brown was tipped into the air at the line of scrimmage. The ball then bounced off Brown's hands and appeared to be heading for a New England defender when Oakland tight end Doug Jolley came out of nowhere to pluck the ball out of the air for a 13-yard gain and a first down. The Raiders eventually settled for a 39-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski.
Showing no inclination to run the ball against the Patriots, Oakland attacked through the air on its next possession. Again it was Jolley, the Raiders' second-round draft choice, who came up big when he hauled in a 30-yard completion from Gannon on a rare play-action pass. Later, after Charlie Garner was stopped inches shy of a first down, the Raiders opted to go for it on fourth down from the Patriots' 2-yard line. Out came Zack Crockett, whose failure to convert on a fourth-and-one play in the playoff game against New England opened the door for the Patriots' comeback.
This time Crockett wasn't going to be denied. Picking up a pair of beautiful blocks by center Barret Robbins and guard Frank Middleton, Crockett burst untouched into the end zone as the raucous crowd exploded.
New England closed to 10-6 on another Vinatieri field goal, this one from 31 yards out, but the uprising was short-lived. Following a 41-yard punt by Shane Lechler pinned the Patriots back at their own 13, Oakland defensive end Chris Cooper got to Brady for a sack and knocked the ball loose at the same time. Trace Armstrong recovered at the eight-yard line, setting up a two-yard touchdown run around the left end by Gannon to push Oakland out front 17-6.
The Patriots, who had survived their own four-game losing streak earlier this season, had won two straight heading into Oakland and were coming off a game against Chicago in which they trailed by 21 in the third quarter and rallied from 11 points down in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter to win.
New England found itself buried in another big hole Sunday after the Raiders opened the third quarter with an 85-yard scoring drive. Oakland ran the ball nine times for only 26 yards during the series but got into the end zone when Crockett again roared in from two yards out.
That put the Patriots in a 24-6 hole that had New England staggering but not out. And when linebacker Tedy Bruschi intercepted a Gannon pass off the foot of teammate Lawyer Milloy, returning it 48 yards for a touchdown to help close the gap to 24-13.
New England forced the Raiders to punt on their next series and got the ball back at its own eight-yard line with 13:20 remaining. The Patriots quickly moved to midfield but came up short on a fourth-down pass and ended up giving Oakland possession at its own 43.
The Raiders managed to get to New England's nine before bringing out Janikowski for a 28-yard field goal that seemingly secured the win for Oakland. But an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Kevin Faulk with 59 seconds left to play made for some anxious moments late in the game.
But when Tory James recovered New England's onside kick attempt, the Raiders and their standing-room-only crowd celebrated.