NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The New England Patriots' second straight title defense begins with the Oakland Raiders visiting Gillette Stadium for the NFL's Thursday night season opener. The Patriots will celebrate their latest world championship by unveiling their Super Bowl XXXIX banner. They will then put 2004 in the rearview mirror as they get set to take on a revamped Raiders team that features an array of offensive weapons capable of exploiting even the most talented defenses.
Is New England one of those defenses? Can it be as good as the unit that won the last two Super Bowls? Can it establish a dominant level of play despite losing a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback, its two starting inside linebackers and its defensive coordinator? Those questions will start to be answered this week when the Raiders offensive arsenal invades The Razor.
Two of Oakland's weapons came in the offseason with the trade for star wideout Randy Moss and the signing of up-and-coming running back LaMont Jordan, who played behind Curtis Martin with the Jets. With those two, along with holdovers Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel and tight end Courtney Anderson, quarterback Kerry Collins can work the ball around and use play action to try take his shots vertically to a speedy receiving group.
The Patriots, meanwhile, will try to match up with plenty of new faces on defense, including linebackers Monty Beisel and Chad Brown and cornerback Chad Scott, who because of his size (6-1, 202), could see plenty of Moss.
That might make for a sleepless night because Moss is the best pure receiver in football with his combination of size, athleticism and speed. The Patriots will have to throw multiple coverages at him, hope he doesn't make any huge plays down the field by out-jumping a corner for the ball and try to wear him down where he starts taking some plays off because the coverage dictates that Collins should go elsewhere with the ball.
"He's one of the best receivers in the league," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "There is no question about that. He has all the skills. He is a tall guy with exceptional quickness. He changes direction very well. He can explode out of his cuts, which you usually see more of that from shorter receivers, guys that have a lower center of gravity, that are closer to the ground. But he can really bend his knees, bend his ankles, keep his weight low, and then explode out of those cuts on slant routes, in-cuts and comebacks. He's very good at stop-and-go routes, which again is unusual for player of his size, where he can go, stop and then go again and then accelerate and beat the defender on the second part of the route.
"(He has) excellent hands. (He) can catch the ball away from his body and extend. He is not a body catcher at all. He has great timing on the deep balls, so he can jump high and go up and take the ball at the high point. Moss has a combination of height, long arms, and good timing and jumping ability and excellent hands to go up and get the ball. He's good after the catch. He's very fast. He can get the ball on a lot of under routes and crossing patterns and things like that and outrun linebackers and safeties and pick up extra yards down the sideline. He doesn't really have any real weakness in his game. (He is) a smart guy. (He) can get off the jam. He's very quick on the line of scrimmage. He is a hard guy to jam and hold up. He's pretty good."
Belichick often praises the opponent, but his glorification of Moss was over the top and an indication that he is worried about keeping the talented, but enigmatic, receiver in check. He even excused Moss for taking plays off at times.
"I think Randy Moss is a good competitor," Belichick said. "I think he's really good. There are times when he isn't going full speed. He probably knows that there's no chance that he would get the ball on that play, not based on the route or the play, based on the way that the coverage has deployed itself and therefore where the quarterback is going to be going with the ball. I think there are a lot of players that do that."
While New England will mix things up, it has to commit two defenders to Moss when in man coverage and roll the defense in his direction when in zone. From there, the Pats have to hope that Moss doesn't simply make one of those plays only he can despite strong coverage or hope that Collins either forces balls to a well-covered Moss and makes a critical mistake or goes elsewhere and makes his star receiver a non-factor.
The Patriots will only jam Moss when there is help behind the corner, otherwise, as Belichick pointed out, it's essentially a game of Russian roulette.
"If you're out there covering him and you don't have any help, it would be foolish not to, in some way, back off or respect the vertical part of the passing game. Now, if you're out there playing him and you have another guy playing behind you that is responsible for that, then you can play it a whole lot differently. It really depends on what your responsibility is on the play. But if you have deep field responsibilities and he can threaten it and he is on your side or he is your man, the defender would be a fool not respect that and be in the deep part of the field."
It's not as if that is the only part of the field the Patriots have to respect. Jordan bided his time in New York behind Martin, but could never unseat the future Hall of Fame runner. With Martin still around, the free agent Jordan shopped his talents to a team that would make him its featured back and he landed in Oakland.
Jordan will present the first test for a Patriots defense that lost its three starters in the middle of the 3-4 front - nose tackle Keith Traylor and linebackers Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi. He rushed for 1,277 yards in his four-year Jets career but proved to be a versatile inside-outside runner with excellent receiving skills. He showed off his talents this summer in the preseason when he averaged 4 yards per rush and added 12 receptions for 75 yards.
With Jordan out of the backfield, Collins does not feel pressured to take unnecessary shots down the field even though Moss and Porter can get deep.
The Raiders offense will present a formidable opening test for a Patriots defense that struggled against the run and on third down for most of the preseason, with the exception of the all-important third preseason game, which they won 27-3 at Green Bay. The first two preseason opponents - Cincinnati and the Saints - converted third downs at a near 60 percent clip. So the new, and allegedly deep secondary will need to elevate its play against a diverse passing attack.
While Oakland's offseason offensive improvements should certainly make Norv Turner's club more competitive, it was the defensive problems that led to a 5-11 season last year. The Raiders defense, which is coordinated by former Patriots assistant Rob Ryan, ranked among the league's worst last year while allowing 442 points. The struggles prompted a change from a pure 3-4 base scheme to one that will utilize a 4-3 as well.
But he needs a strong season from former Patriots defensive linemen Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton along with former sack champion Warren Sapp and second-year man Tommy Kelly, who Belichick raved about along with cornerback Charles Woodson.
"Tommy Kelly is one of the best defensive linemen in the league," Belichick said. "He's an outstanding player. They have a lot of good players, but he and (Charles) Woodson are probably about as good as you're going to get at their two respective positions, corner and defensive line. Kelly plays everywhere. He's a little bit like Howie Long in that Howie Long was a guy that they would move along on the front."
The Raiders also hope the addition of former Eagle Derrick Burgess to their defensive line will help a pass rush that mustered just 25 sacks last year.
That group will present a challenge for a decent Patriots front that will feature rookie Logan Mankins making his career debut on the big stage.
SERIES HISTORY: 31st meeting. Raiders lead series 15-14-1 and make their first ever visit to Gillette Stadium. The Patriots last played host to Oakland in the final game ever played at Foxboro Stadium, a controversial 16-13 Patriots overtime win in a Divisional Playoff game. The Pats went on to win their first ever Super Bowl thereafter. The Raiders won the last meeting in Oakland back in 2002.
--Walt Coleman has not been back to Oakland to referee a game, not since he uttered the words that ring famously in New England. "After further review, the quarterback's arm was moving forward. The pass is incomplete."
It's the infamous tuck rule play that turned momentum in New England's favor in what is now known as the Snow Bowl - the last game ever played at Foxboro Stadium. The Patriots trailed 13-10 with just less than two minutes left in that Divisional Playoff game when Charles Woodson blitzed off the corner and forced a Tom Brady fumble that linebacker Greg Biekert recovered on a play that would have secured a Raiders win.
But Coleman reviewed the play and determined that, by rule, Brady's arm was moving forward despite he fact that it appeared Brady was pulling the ball back down. With the second chance, the Pats drove into Oakland territory to set up Adam Vinatieri's amazing 45-yard game-tying field goal through the driving snow. Vinatieri then connected again from 23 yards in OT to send the Pats to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game.
Coleman was the official who visited Patriots training camp this past summer to brief the team and the media on rule changes. He said he hasn't been assigned to a game in Oakland since that night but has seen video of a man dressed up in his referee garb with his official's number walking up the stairs at Oakland Coliseum with a cane and dark sun glasses, indicating that he was blind. "They haven't forgotten," Coleman said.
But who can blame them? It took that play, 25 years after a 1976 Patriots playoff loss at Oakland, for New England fans to get over what is known in the region as the "phantom roughing the passer" penalty called against Ray Hamilton for a seemingly legal hit on Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler on a third-and-18 incompletion in the waning minutes of that 1976 playoff game. Ben Dreith made that infamous call, which gave Oakland a first down on what ended in the game-winning drive. File it in the what-goes-around-comes-around file.
--Safety Rodney Harrison always hears the doubters. The Patriots could be 25-point favorites to win a game and Harrison would find the one person picking his team to lose and extract motivation from that source. But he has noticed that many prognosticators are not picking New England to win this year either because of the losses suffered or because no team has ever won three straight Super Bowls.
"We thrive on that," he said. "We're motivated by people who doubt us like they are again. We lost our coordinators. We lost this and that. We don't care. We're just getting ready to play the Raiders."
One of those doubters apparently resides within the Patriots division. Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma told Maxim Magazine for its September issue that he's not all that impressed by the Pats. "They're not that good," he said. "After my first game against them, I was like, 'That's it?' I was expecting big, great miraculous plays. It's a matter of them tuning in to the little things, which we have to pay more attention to."
--LB Chad Brown feels as though he's come a long way since the preseason opener in Cincinnati when he admitted to struggling in the Patriots complex defense. "I'm considerably more comfortable. I've continued to get better with each practice and each game I've taken steps (forward)."
Brown and fellow newcomer Monty Beisel are being counted on to hold down the middle of the Patriots run defense behind second-year nose tackle Vince Wilfork. All three are relatively inexperienced in the system and their learning curve could determine how the Patriots fare early in the season when they face some of the league's best running attacks.
--Belichick said that running back Corey Dillon is way ahead of where he was last year when he was preparing to begin his Patriots career. He spent the offseason in the Patriots conditioning program, which has better prepared him physically for the season and he also is much more comfortable in the offense, which has shown this summer when Dillon has looked to be in midseason form. Dillon rushed for a franchise-record 1,635 yards last season and may be poised to improve upon that.
--Offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, who started at guard during the 2003 playoffs and was called out by Warren Sapp before Super Bowl XXXVIII when Sapp degraded his ability on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, had nothing to say when asked if he was going to say hi to Sapp this week. "No comment," he said with a smirk.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 -- The number of consecutive games the Patriots have won at Gillette Stadium entering the season opener. The Pats are 24-3 overall in three seasons at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots last home loss came to the Jets back on Dec. 22, 2002.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You must not have been around for a while. You don't question Coach Belichick. It was the best decision. Coming into a new system, would you like as many looks as you can get? Sure, but do you question the head coach and say, 'I want to play.'? No you don't." -- LB Chad Brown when asked if he'd rather have played in the preseason finale rather than sit out.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Patriots did not have any last-minute roster changes heading into the Raider game, but did add 6-8, 314-pound tackle Wesly Britt to fill out the practice squad a day after signing linebackers Eric Alexander and Jared Newberry, running back Kory Chapman, wideout Bam Childress, guards Ryan Krug and Billy Yates and safety Ray Ventrone.
Alexander, Chapman, Childress, Krug, Yates and Ventrone all spent training camp with the club before being let go at final cuts. Britt was San Diego's fifth round pick in April's draft out of Alabama, but was released at final cuts. Newberry was the Redskins sixth round pick in April.
Mike Vrabel expects to remain on special teams despite being injured on the kickoff return team in the preseason opener. Vrabel, who was playing mostly inside linebacker early in camp before being hurt, could work into the rotation Belichick likes to use both inside and outside. "I don't know, we'll find out on Thursday," Vrabel said of his game day role. "But I'm still on that kickoff team. I've been on special teams since I came into the league and that's not going to change as long as I'm here."
Vrabel admitted that it was annoying getting hurt on what would have been his last play on the field during the preseason opener, but declared himself "ready to go."
It's not known if Bethel Johnson will be available to return kicks, but if he doesn't, those chores will fall to either rookie cornerback Ellis Hobbs, Kevin Faulk, Patrick Pass or even Tom Dwight, who is the team's primary punt returner.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Andre' Davis was not present at the open portion of practice on either Monday or Tuesday. He left the preseason finale with an undisclosed injury.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain wore the shoulder pad shells the rest of the team wore for Tuesday's practice, but he also had a long compression sleeve covering his left leg. He also was hurt during the preseason finale.
--WR Bethel Johnson appeared ready to partake in practice Tuesday for the first time this week. Johnson suffered an undisclosed injury in the last preseason game and missed practice Sunday and Monday. Tuesday's practice was a no-pads workout.
--S James Sanders was not present at the start of Tuesday's practice. Sanders was injured in the preseason finale against the Giants and has not been seen at the open portion of practice.
--CB Duane Starks missed a significant portion of the preseason after suffering an unknown injury in the team's preseason opener against the Bengals. But he was dressed for practice Tuesday and looked, at least in the early going, as though he would participate in the workout.
--WR Deion Branch did not play in any of the preseason games, but insisted that he was completely healthy. He will play against the Raiders.
GAME PLAN: The Patriots offensive game plan will revolve around Corey Dillon. The Raiders struggled miserably against the run last year, allowing 125.8 yards per game, and the Patriots will test that area of the Oakland defense before airing it out with Brady. New England will feature two- and three-tight end sets designed to play a physical brand of football. The front five will have to account for a big, fast Raider defensive front, and Belichick believes that Warren Sapp is back where he is more comfortable as a three-technique as opposed to a 3-4 end. Beyond simply playing power football, look for the Patriots to try to attack the linebackers in coverage with tight ends Benjamin Watson and Daniel Graham as well as running back Kevin Faulk. New England is not as apt to attack a solid secondary, particularly cornerback Charles Woodson.
Defensively, the Patriots will pay Randy Moss the utmost attention to make quarterback Kerry Collins either go elsewhere with the ball or force it into coverage where he hopes his guy will make the play. The Patriots have to be able to defend the run with seven this week as much as any so that the safeties can stay deep against an offense that loves to take plenty of vertical shots. That will put pressure on the front seven to contain LaMont Jordan. New England will also bring the heat at Collins, who is prone to mistakes when under pressure. Their ability to do that will stem from the run defense. With a healthy front seven, New England must establish its early down run defense from the outset.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots C Dan Koppen, who plays with excellent strength at technique on the pivot vs. Raiders NT Ted Washington, who is simply a mountain of a man and an athletic run defender despite weighing in at 365 pounds. Koppen must find a way to open up running lanes for Dillon or at least block Washington one-on-one and prevent him from occupying two blockers.
Patriots LG Logan Mankins, a rookie making his first career start, vs. Raiders DT Warren Sapp, who is back playing the three-technique position at which he thrived for the Bucs for a decade. He will be talking to the rookie all evening and will test Mankins' pass protection skills. Sapp is clearly looking forward to taking on an experienced lineman.
Patriots WR Deion Branch, who is coming off his Super Bowl MVP effort looking to establish himself as a top-tier wideout, vs. Raiders CBs Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha, who have excellent speed to stay with the diminutive Pats receiver. Branch is Brady's go-to guy and could see a steady diet of Woodson in single coverage.
Patriots CB Chad Scott, who at 6-1, 202 pounds is the Pats biggest corner, vs. Raiders WR Randy Moss, who is a physically dominant receiver with a rare combination of size and speed. The Pats will throw different looks at Moss, but could try to press the big receiver with Scott while giving him help over the top in the event Moss beats the press. Don't expect the Patriots to give Moss a free release unless in straight man coverage.
INJURY IMPACT: Wideout Andre' Davis and safety James Sanders aren't expected to play in the opener, but cornerback Duane Starks, wideout Bethel Johnson and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will likely be game-time decisions. There is a reasonable chance that Sanders would have been inactive anyway. The Patriots have six receivers on the roster and could go to the game with only four. Johnson would be the fifth if available. Even when all six receivers are healthy, it's likely that only five will be active every week. If Banta-Cain can't go, a combination of Matt Chatham, Wes Mallard and Mike Vrabel will fill his spot. Monty Beisel could also see some special teams work. Starks is expected to play in sub packages if he's able to go.
Their season opener at New England is an example of why the Oakland Raiders believe in those ghostly conspiracy theories. Coach Norv Turner got the question asked in a rather non-conspiratorial way Monday and he gave a rather non-conspiratorial answer.
The question: could the coach think of a better test to open a season than this one?
The answer: "You know it's quite a challenge. They have won a lot of games there in a row (20) and they play awfully well there. They play awfully well in the fourth quarter. We are going to have to put four quarters together. But I keep saying it ... we knew when the schedule came out. You are going to play the best team in football in their stadium on the opening night of the season ...
"So come to your own conclusions."
Owner Al Davis did just that -- talking about this very game when the schedule came out.
"Payback," he said. "That's all. They have us playing the model franchise in pro football on a Thursday night. It's payback. But it's fine."
"Fine" might be a bit of an exaggeration. A heck of a test? More like that. But there is also the issue of the next two games on the Oakland schedule: Kansas City at home in Week 2, Philadelphia on the road in Week 3.
An 0-3 start would definitely not be "fine," but it is something of a real possibility.
Just why would the league pit a 5-11 team against a 14-2 team that just won the Super Bowl and place that game in the better team's stadium as a prime-time appetizer on opening week if it weren't sadistic or vengeful?
Davis is the only one with carte blanche to speak his mind. Turner is careful enough to play it straight. "You know you're going to play them and you've got to be ready to play them when the schedule comes out, whenever it is," the coach said. "When we finished last year and the schedule came out, they had the equation. You're on the plane after the game or wherever we were, the schedule comes out and they tell you who you are playing.
"We knew we were playing New England on the road. You know you're going to play the team that won the Super Bowl, on the road, and that it's going to be a challenge. Every week is a challenge. It's a great opportunity for our guys."
But why a last place team vs. a champion on national TV for starters?
"I think the Raiders is a big part of it," Turner said, playing the globality of the Raiders card. "I think people looked at us and felt we were an exciting football team the second half of the year last year and were a much improved team. "Obviously signing Randy Moss, LaMont Jordan certainly has an appeal. I think there was also a big game played back there in the snow a few years ago that brought some memories. There are a lot of things.
"It was surprising because what they've done in the past is stick teams that played each other in the playoffs or teams that won their division. There were some people who thought it was going to be San Diego and New England in that game (which will be played Oct. 2). But it was us."
Turner cited a fast start as one of the keys to any team's fortunes -- that and the schedule and injuries. The Raiders have been preparing for this little tester since July knowing what it could mean.
"It's going to be a tough challenge for us going to New England and playing the defending Super Bowl champions," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "At the same time, it's a little too early to me. Hopefully you're hitting on all cylinders when you get there. Sure, we'd like to have a fast start. We'd LIKE to be 16-0. But it's a long season. You don't want to get into a situation where you're not playing your best from the beginning. But hopefully, we get better as it goes along."
All the Raiders can do is conspire to greatness and leave the payback to others.
SERIES HISTORY: 28th meeting. As original members of the American Football League, the Raiders and Patriots have met 27 previous times in the regular season with Oakland leading 14-12-1. All six of the games played over the last two decades have been decided by a touchdown or less including the storied "tuck game" in Foxboro on Jan. 19, 2002 -- a game that helped boost the Patriots to the first of their three Super Bowl championships. The Patriots have their own unpleasant playoff memories of the Raiders. In 1976, they lost 24-21 in Oakland after a controversial roughing penalty on Ken Stabler. Earlier that season, in Foxboro, the Pats dealt the Raiders the only loss of their 16-1 Super Bowl winning season, 48-17.
--Raider defensive tackle Warren Sapp likes the fact the Raiders are opening with a tough cookie. "How many chances do you get to see the two-time defending champions in their home where they haven't lost a game in (20) shots to start off your season," he said.
"If you don't relish that, then you're dead."
--Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson and New England quarterback Tom Brady played together at Michigan for three years, making their co-involvement in the Tuck Game in January of 2002 somewhat unique. They have met since then, including a game in Oakland seven months later in which Oakland prevailed 27-20.
"I remember I was warming up ... they kicked the crap out of us ... and he came up and kicked me from behind and we kind of got a chuckle out of it," Brady said. "I think I was on some great fortune that night. I'm glad the refs got the call right."
--The Raiders for years coveted the rugged play of current New England safety Rodney Harrison and in 2003 he came close to signing with Oakland as a free agent.
Instead, he chose the Patriots and has picked up two Super Bowl rings in the interim. Meanwhile, Oakland has gone 9-23. "That was one of the biggest decisions I ever made in my career," Harrison said. "Through a lot of prayer and meditation, God really blessed me. He gave me the opportunity to kind of start my career over. I had the opportunity to come to Oakland. Things didn't really get right. As a kid I always dreamed about being an Oakland Raider because I think what they stand for really fit with what I bring to the field. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be and I moved on."
--One of the surprises when the Raiders made their final cut to 53 was the fact former second-round draft pick Teyo Johnson was let go and undrafted second year player John Paul Foschi was retained. At 270 pounds, Foschi looked the part of a tight end. But what escaped notice was that Foschi, though listed at tight end where he played at Georgia Tech, was actually going to play fullback.
That makes him one of the league's largest fullbacks. Foschi, though, at 6-4, doesn't look like he weighs that much. "That's because it's all muscle," he said. "I have good hands but I wouldn't say I have great speed. Actually, I think the team is looking for me to be more of a blocker than anything."
--Defensive lineman Ed Jasper's decision to sign with Oakland came after pondering retirement following the disappointment of being cut in Atlanta. "When (Jim Mora and) the new coaches came in, nobody's job was safe," Jasper recalled. "It was `I don't care how you play ... we know you are just coming off surgery but you haven't showed us.' It was one of those what-have-you-done-for-me lately deals.
"The Raiders kept calling. I looked on paper and saw these guys had a chance of winning. Everyone wants to be part of a championship team and if I was going to come back, it wasn't going to be just to come back. It was going to be with a winner.
"I heard that these guys got rushed (in 2004). Well, when I was in Atlanta, I WAS the rush (defense)."
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- The number of different coaches and different quarterbacks who have taken the Raiders to Super Bowls. Coaches were John Rauch, John Madden, Tom Flores (2) and Bill Callahan. The quarterbacks were Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett (2) and Rich Gannon.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They are not world beaters. They are the two-time defending champions, no doubt about it. They have (20) straight home wins and all that. If you break them off into individual pieces, they are not that impressive. But they play well together." -- DT Warren Sapp on the Patriots.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Norv Turner probably has a pretty good idea, but he's not giving out his personal thoughts on who will start at right guard in New England. Brad Badger started two exhibition games, Ron Stone the other two. Turner said a decision -- or at least an announcement -- wouldn't come until Tuesday ... or Wednesday. Since there is no media access the day before the game, the best bet would be the announcement would be made Wednesday -- in a hall closet.
"Both guys worked there today (Monday)," Turner said.
Will he rotate the guards? "I think one of them will play most of the snaps," Turner said, then correcting himself, "...all the snaps."
The Raider depth chart lists Badger as the starter but Stone is more of a power player and if the Raiders intend to focus on the run, he might get the call. There was also mystery involved in who would be the starting wide receiver opposite Randy Moss.
Jerry Porter was practicing three days in advance of the game and Turner said, "I am getting a better feel (for Porter's hamstring status). I believe Jerry will be ready to play. I don't know to what extent."
In all probability if Porter does not start, Ronald Curry will get the call, which would be the sixth start of his career. Johnnie Morant (15 catches, 315 yards in the preseason) will see plenty of duty regardless. Rookie free-agent cornerback Chris Carr will handle both punt and kickoff return duties. He had a 100-yard touchdown on the game's opening kickoff called back due to a holding penalty on Zack Crockett. Carr did not return a punt in the exhibition finale against New Orleans (five fair catches) and only returned four of 13 in the entire preseason. However, he averaged 15 yards a punt return and had a 31-yard scamper in that mix.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Jerry Porter (hamstring) is practicing with the team again and running routes, but the team is still waiting to see how he emerges from the increased work. In past efforts to incorporate him into the team drills, he had adverse day-after complications resulting from trying to make cuts. He has not yet played this year in a game. He was listed as questionable officially, but Turner has his own category: don't know.
--WR Doug Gabriel (finger surgery) is progressing more quickly than anticipated when, on Aug. 22, it was declared that he would miss 4-to-6 weeks. There is now a chance he could be available Sept. 18 against Kansas City. If not, the Sept. 25 game at Philadelphia would be a target date.
--RB Justin Fargas (knee) has not been participating in drills, but he is listed as questionable in the team's official injury report -- which they insisted was not due to be in the league's hands until Wednesday. Figure on him being closer to doubtful.
--QB Marques Tuiasosopo is practicing fully in spite of a fracture of the right index finger after being kicked in the hand while holding for now waived kicker Gary Cook on Aug. 20.
--Backup SS Jarrod Cooper (groin) declared that the injury was having no effect on his play and has practiced fully since being hurt against New Orleans.
GAME PLAN: The Patriots don't let teams get behind them for long gainers, which helps them jam up the running lanes and prevent teams from playing ball control. The Raiders would be best served to try to stretch that defense by sending Randy Moss deep, then having LaMont Jordan rush or gather in passes underneath. Defensively, Oakland must be prepared to mix it up, first making sure to control RB Corey Dillon on sweeps and not letting him break out into the flat uncovered against oversized outside LBs Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons. Don't look for an abundance of blitzing. The Patriots play it safe, figure the Raiders will do the same.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Expect T Warren Sapp to test rookie LG Logan Mankins early to see if the Raiders can exert pressure on QB Tom Brady. Likewise, in pass rush situations, look for RE Derrick Burgess to put pressure on LT Matt Light. When Oakland has the ball, WR Randy Moss will no doubt try to drag LCB Randall Gay downfield to try to force FS Eugene Wilson or SS Rodney Harrison to help out in deep coverage. The Raiders will try to take advantage of two new inside linebackers Monty Beisel and the 35-year-old Chad Brown (who replaced retired Ted Johnson and the ill Tedi Bruschi) to spring RB LaMont Jordan.
INJURY IMPACT: If Porter (hamstring) isn't able to function up to par, his spot will be taken by Johnnie Morant, possibly even as a starter. That will allow Ronald Curry to operate out of the slot as he usually does. If Justin Fargas (knee) can't play, the tailback options are, in order, FBs Zack Crockett and Omar Easy.