By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
November 13, 2002

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It's no secret that the Patriots have been in Oakland's crosshairs ever since their bus left Foxboro Stadium following their 16-13 AFC Divisional Playoff loss back in January.

They felt cheated when the now infamous "Tuck Rule" nullified a fumble recovery by Oakland giving New England their opportunity to win the game and later advance to the AFC Championship game. When the schedule came out after the season, Oakland immediately realized they'd have a shot to try and at least get even, and this time it would be on their own home turf.

That game is now on the horizon, with both teams set to face off this Sunday night at Network Associates Coliseum in front of a nationally televised audience.

Oakland is coming off of a big win over the Broncos Monday night, beating them soundly 34-10 at Invesco Field. Quarterback Rich Gannon played near flawlessly, missing just four passes and finishing the night 34-of-38 for 352-yards and three touchdowns. The ageless Jerry Rice caught nine passes for 103-yards and scored twice, with runningback Charlie Garner second in receiving during the game with seven catches for 89-yards.

They appeared to be trying to send a message to the rest of the league that despite losing four in a row after their 4-0 start, they are far from out of it. Then on Wednesday the Boston Globe reported another message that this time came from Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson.

"We're gonna win."

It's very simple. There is no love lost between these two teams, and Oakland still believes they should have been the ones playing in Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game.

Which now sets the stage for what is going to be an emotional and difficult game for New England as they will now try to win their third straight road game after losing four straight themselves.

Five Keys For The Patriots

1. Stop Charlie Garner: Garner carried the ball just five times gaining two yards on the evening in Oakland's win over Denver Monday night, but he caught 7 balls for 89-yards out of the backfield including one for 49-yards. Garner is a proven threat out of the backfield, as he's currently ranked 12th in the AFC in receiving yards, with 52-catches for 554 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Brown is currently ranked 20th.

2. Stop the Big Play: Oakland had 8 plays for 15-yards or more through the air on Monday against Denver, and also had an interception by Charles Woodson that was returned 98-yards for a touchdown. It's going to be difficult enough to play in a hostile environment, but if they aren't able to take the crowd out of the game and the defense gives up big plays, they're in for a very long evening.

3. Convert on Third Down: When the Patriots have struggled it's been when they couldn't convert on third down. Last week they were 0-for-5 on third down in the first half and just 6-of-17 for the game. During that first half the time of possession heavily favored the Bears, with New England's defense spending over 17-minutes on the field. They managed to get away with it against Chicago. That won't work on the road in Oakland.

4. Stop Oakland on Third Down: Oakland was 6-of-10 last week against Denver on third down, and are number one in the AFC in third down efficiency, converting 45.5% of their attempts.

5. Get an Early Lead and Sustain Drives: It's no secret that the best way to stop an opposing offense is to keep them off the field, and New England will need to do just that. The Patriots are ranked 7th in the AFC in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 30:39 per game, while the Raiders are currently ranked 9th. New England will need to get an early lead and run the football to keep Oakland's offense off the field, and also give their defense a break.


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