Sep 21, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive linemanVince Wilfork
(75) celebrates after making an interception during the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 16-9. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Oakland Raiders came into Foxborough, MA on a stopover on their way to London to play the Dolphins next week. The New England Patriots offense seemed to have already taken the week off on a vacation of their own. The Raiders came in at 0-2 and had struggled particularly stopping the run. So, of course, the Patriots came out with three consecutive passes. Huh? Yes, it was one of those games for the Patriots again.
New England started the game with 2013 second-round draft pick and wide receiver Aaron Dobson inactive for the second time in three games. That led Brandon “Offensive Pass Interference” LaFell, Danny “Invisible” Amendola, and Kenbrell Thompkins at wide receiver other than top target Julian Edelman. With Rob Gronkowski still working to full strength and Shane Vereen still not 100% healthy, the Patriots’ offense continued to look as if they were still playing preseason games as they shuffled receivers in and out.
Sep 21, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterbackTom Brady
(12) thaws under pressure from Oakland Raiders defensive tackleAntonio Smith
(94) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Against an Oakland team that gave up 400 yards rushing combined in weeks one and two, the Patriots’ offense struggled to make room for running back Stevan Ridley and Vereen. Center Dan Connolly had a bad snap that stalled a red zone drive inside the five before the half which led to rookie Bryan Stork gaining playing time there in the fourth quarter as Connolly slid to right guard to replace the struggling Jordan Devey. The offensive line failed to create space for the running game and was unable to keep quarterback Tom Brady clean as the Raiders generated pass rush with just four rushers.
On one hand, Stevan Ridley had an effective game as he failed to put the ball on the ground and through three weeks–unlike last year–he is far from the dog house. However, he still struggled against a weak run-stuffing Raiders defense as he ran 19 times for just 54 yards. For the game, the Patriots had–removing Brady’s “kneel-downs” at the end of the game– 29 rushes for 83 yards. Despite not running well, the Patriots offense was committed to running the ball.
For quarterback Tom Brady, it was another game where his only consistent receiving target was again Edelman. With Gronkowski working his way back to health and still limited snap-wise, he had just three receptions but that included a touchdown and a big 22 yard third-and-fifteen conversion on their final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Brandon LaFell added four catches for 46 yards, but a big offensive pass interference penalty negated Danny Amendola’s only reception again.
On defense, New England did not allow a touchdown, as Oakland punted five times and was unable to threaten the Patriots until the final drive of the game. With a chance still to tie the game on their last drive, the Raiders drove into the red zone aided by a questionable defensive pass interference penalty with 1:02 to play on cornerback Logan Ryan when he was thrown to the ground by the receiver Andre Holmes. Fortunately, the Patriots saw a pass bounce off Oakland’s Denarius Moore and into the arms of massive defensive tackle and captain Vince Wilfork for his third career interception.
Sep 21, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive endChandler Jones
(95) blocks a pass by Oakland Raiders quarterbackDerek Carr
(4) during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Unlike in week one versus Miami, the Patriots were able to bottle-up Raiders running back Darren McFadden as he and the Raiders backs gained just 67 yards on 22 carries and and 3.0 average. The Patriots appeared to move cornerback Darrelle Revis around the field and stay primarily with former Green Bay receiver James Jones. Jones had just three catches for 43 yards on five targets. His only big reception was an 18 yard grab on the final drive on an excellent individual effort by Jones.
The Patriots were hurt by some sloppy penalties on both sides of the ball and the offensive line struggled much of the game. With rookie quarterback Derek Carr playing better than advertised as he had just the one turnovers and completed 21 of 34 passes for 174 yards, the Patriots seemed content to sporadically pressure him. For most of the game the Patriots dropped seven in coverage and dared Carr to put together long, mistake-free drives to score touchdowns. He could not.
The Patriots won 16-9 but it was hardly a dominant performance like many expected. The Patriots face the Chiefs next Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and need to step-up their performance as the hottest team in the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals, loom large in week five. The offense needs to shake off their malaise and get Brady time to find multiple receiving options going forward.