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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Patriots Defense Decides to Show Up, New England Wins In Oakland

In a league that changes from week to week, let alone year to year, in a weird way you have to give the Oakland Raiders credit for never changing in many aspects: they roll through mediocre quarterbacks and head coaches like nobody else, they covet fast wide receivers that are better suited for track events in the Olympics, they are always near the league leaders in penalties and despite their terrible record the last decade, their convicts-I mean fans-still dress up in their finest Halloween costumes and show up at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Oakland (2-2) is no longer a joke, I'll give them that much, but they basically lucked out in drafting running back Darren McFadden (75 yards rushing, 48 yards receiving). The New England Patriots (3-1) bounced back from last weekend's debacle in Buffalo for a satisfying 31-19 win this afternoon on the West Coast.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (16 of 30, 226 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) didn't put up nearly as much fantasy points as he had the first three weeks but he also didn't have any turnovers after throwing four interceptions against the Bills.

To call New England wide receiver Wes Welker (9 catches, 158 yards, 1 TD) a one-man band would be kind. He was targetted on nearly half (14) of Brady's 30 attempts and only Chad Ochocinco (2 catches, 26 yards) recorded more than one catch in the win. In other words, please come back soon Aaron Hernandez (who missed his second straight game with a knee injury).

Oakland's latest flavor of the month QB Jason Campbell (25 of 39, 344 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) is the same average guy he was all those middling years in Washington with the Redskins. Don't let his numbers fool you either, he piled up a ton of yardage and got his only touchdown on a garbage-time drive that cut it to 31-19 with less than a minute remaining in the game.

Campbell had two unforgivable mistakes that the Pats were able to take advantage of. First, he threw an awful interception right to safety Patrick Chung in the end zone during the second quarter. As if that wasn't bad enough, he threw his second pick in the fourth quarter to that noted ballhawk Vince Wilfork (haha second in three games for Big Vince).

The most notable development of this game was New England's dedication to the running game, something they are usually allergic to in most cases. Would you believe me if I told you, they had 30 rushing attempts to go with Brady's 30 passing attempts? Youth and high school football coaches across New England just got massive erections reading that. See, you gotta get a 50/50 run, pass split!

The beneficiaries of the Patriots' running game were rookie running back Stevan Ridley (10 carries, 97 yards, 1 TD) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD). Ridley has the size (5-11, 225 pounds), strength and moves that the team has lacked since Corey Dillon retired. No, I'm not saying after four games in his NFL career that he'll come anywhere close to Dillon's career output but Ridley is an obvious talent that they've lacked for years.

That also put to bed (for one week) the common feeling around the NFL that as Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain opined last week "the Patriots are a finesse team." They still love their passes but at least they proved they can run it against a physical team.

New England also got a glimpse of former star defensive lineman Richard Seymour (who was dealt to Oakland two years ago in one of the worst moves in Pats history). Seymour was fired up as evidenced by the way he tossed Brady on New England's opening drive. Other than three solo tackles and three penalties (one that was declined), Seymour wasn't heard from too much.

All week, Patriots fans were scared to death of seeing McFadden and Michael Bush (26 yards rushing; 55 yards receiving) run all over the place. Somehow, the Pats defense was able to put it all together. They hemmed them up by tackling well (usually a big issue) and forcing Campbell to win it which he clearly couldn't do.

Everyone's favorite scumbag kicker Sebastian Janikowski opened the scoring with a 28-yard field goal on Oakland's first drive. Brady and Welker answered as the former found the latter with a 15-yard touchdown strike on New England's first drive, the PAT made it 7-3 for the visitors.

It's safe to say that Welker is 100% recovered from his brutal knee injury of two seasons ago. He looks like the same guy that is basically unstoppable for opposing defenses and he's already found the end zone five times this season.

Bush began the second quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run for the Raiders, the PAT made it 10-7. Green-Ellis responded with a 1-yard TD run of his own. Stephen Gostkowski added the PAT on that score then drilled a 44-yard kick with six seconds left in the half, giving the Pats a 17-10 lead.

Ridley took all the air out of the Coliseum with a beautiful 33-yard scamper to put New England ahead 24-10 early in the third quarter after the PAT. Janikowski had the Raiders' only points of the frame with a 26-yard kick after they stalled in the red zone.

Brady put it out of reach early in the fourth quarter, finding Deion Branch for his only catch of the game-a 1-yard touchdown grab. Gostkowski's PAT gave New England an 18-point advantage (31-13).

Rookie receiver Denarius Moore caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Campbell with 28 seconds left in the contest. It was totally inconsequential to the outside world but it made me happy since I grabbed him off the waiver wire in a fantasy league and gave him a spot start (thanks for reading about my fantasy team).

The only downside to this win is that Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee, MCL) and running back Danny Woodhead (ankle) left with injuries and never returned. Good luck figuring out how long (if at all) those guys will be out. I will say that Mayo's looked more serious as he was carried off by teammates while Woodhead hobbled to the sideline. The last thing the Patriots defense needs is their signal-caller (Mayo) to miss significant time. Woodhead also brings plenty of value in his versatility (catching screens and running between the tackles).

Things should pick up another notch next Sunday as the New York Jets (2-2) limp into Gillette Stadium. Rex Ryan and his team were rocked tonight in Baltimore (34-17) but you know they'll get up for next weekend's early AFC East showdown. New York's defense is still very solid but their offense is off to a particularly slow start with quarterback Mark "Cantchise" Sanchez looking as overmatched as ever thanks to a terrible offensive line.

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