Sunday, September 11, 2005

Patriots 30, Raiders 20 (9/8/2005)

Well, thankfully that was the first game of the year and the Raiders didn’t have their act together yet. The Patriots won a 30-20 decision over Oakland last Thursday, but it was the most uneven performance they’ve had in three years. The win puts the Pats in a first place tie with Miami and Buffalo (both surprise winners on Sunday) and begins the long journey to what we all hope will be a playoff run. Here’s how I saw things on Thursday.

The offense couldn’t run early, couldn’t pass in mid-game, and couldn’t put the Raiders away at any point. Problems with run blocking along the O-line will have to be corrected, though their pass protection was very good (zero sacks). Brady was his usual efficient self (24 for 38, 30 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Deion Branch and Troy Brown had big receiving days. Ben Watson’s two catches in the first half were crucial, gettin first downs that supplied the defense with time to make important adjustments after Oakland scored easily on their first drive.

The running game was pretty much non-existent. Corey Dillon was hit and dropped in the backfield more in this game than he was last season (perhaps a slight exaggeration), and only Kevin Faulk’s change of pace got anything going in the first half. Most of Dillon’s 63 yards came in garbage time, though he did power in for two touchdowns. The best thing I can say about the offense is they committed only two penalties and drew a boatload of them from the Raiders. And that statement isn’t the kind of praise I’m used to giving this offense. So they better get the O-line and play-calling in sync if they want to beat a much tougher Carolina team next week.

The defense played a very good game, but not a great one. They did give up a first-drive touchdown (first time in 35 games), but after that the Raiders scored only twice: on a long pass to Randy Moss; and on a 20 yard “drive” after a blocked punt. The D wasn’t without fault, having trouble with the run early on, but they got their sea legs under them in the second quarter and held the Raiders in check for the rest of the game. But it wasn't vintage Patriots defense because they forced only one turnover and missed opportunities for others, especially in the passing game.

Richard Seymour looked like a man possessed out there. Once the Pats switched to the 4-3 (midway through their second drive), he was like a one man wrecking crew, leading the team with 8 tackles, many of them in places you wouldn’t expect a defensive lineman to be. He and linemates Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, and Jarvis Green dominated the line of scrimmage after the switch to the 4-3, and that’s where the game was won. Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest are the only other players I felt were worthy of special mention, making several big plays each.

The linebackers and secondary were non-descript, double- and triple-covering Randy Moss and daring the Raiders to beat them with just about anyone else. In the second half, Raiders QB Kerry Collins looked lost, either finding no one open or no time to throw. And with the Patriot offense sputtering, it’s a good thing he was lost.

As for special teams, they need more work. Josh Miller pinned the Raiders twice with punts that stopped dead at the four yard line. But the punting unit also gave up a blocked kick that Oakland turned into a quick touchdown. Add to that the blocked extra point and special teams coach Brad Seeley will be a busy man this week.

The coaching staff acquitted themselves well, with a few questionable play calls on offense but some brilliant play design (I’m thinking specifically of the Corey Dillon screen pass and the Tim Dwight touchdown). Eric Mangini made quick and effective adjustments on defense, and the D never got beaten on the same play twice.

So where does that leave us? Well, the Pats have 10 days to prepare for a road game against the historically fast-starting Carolina Panthers. Guaranteed the Panthers won’t commit 16 penalties for anywhere near 149 yards – that is usually left to NFL doormats like Oakland. The Panthers run well and have a defense on par with New England’s, and as an added incentive, they lost their first game which means they’ll be after their first win of the season next Sunday. The game will likely come down to how the O-line handles the pass protection and the question of which QB plays better. Until then, the Patriots are tied for first place – so enjoy it.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: “Both Charlie and Romeo were missed in the first game, but I think the coaches we have can handle things just fine. I thought the offensive play-calling wasn’t quite as good, but it was close. And the defense didn’t come out with the same excellent plan, but the coaches made great adjustments and held the Raiders in check for the rest of the game.”

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 1-0!

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