By: Bob George/BosSports.net
November 17, 2002

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OAKLAND -- Bill Belichick brought in Bill Russell during training camp. Subject: how to repeat as champs.

Next on deck: Larry Bird. Subject: how to stop playing like sissies.

A pick by Tedy Bruschi and a kickoff return by Kevin Faulk made this respectable. But this evening belonged totally to the scorned and evil Oakland Raiders, who will spend the next two months bragging to the world that they should have been Super Bowl champs last year. The Raiders made with the physical game Sunday night, and laid a 27-20 pasting on the Patriots. And they did it largely with players who weren't even in the Snow Bowl in January.

27-20 a pasting? Yes, folks, sad but true. Take away Bruschi (48-yard pick) and Faulk (86-yard kickoff) and their long returns for scores and you get a thoroughly humbled and beaten team, a team that played as soft as the Raiders played hard. The Raiders played as smart as the Patriots played foolish. The Raiders played as driven as the Patriots played hoping for another Chicago miracle.

In front of the subculture of human society known as the Black Hole, the Raiders pacified their delirious, albeit largely mentally unbalanced fan base by knocking off the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in January thanks to that famous tuck rule call. While there was still no question that the Patriots were the better team in January, tonight left no doubt that on this evening, the Raiders were the better team in every way imaginable.

But naturally, Raider fans have a thug mentality, and thus will look at this win as "payback", "revenge" and "that Vince shoulda been ours". So, fine. Raiders got their revenge, but the Patriots remain in a better playoff position right now than the Raiders do. The Patriots are a game out of first place and trail only Miami, while the Raiders have Denver and San Diego to worry about, and both teams could keep Oakland out of the playoffs this year (as could Kansas City).

But that's off in the distance. Tonight, the Patriots were simply embarrassing.

Tom Brady set the tone for the evening early on by getting two receivers wide open deep, and overthrew them both. Both plays occurred in the first quarter.

On their second possession, up 3-0 at the time, the Patriots had third and eight at their own 28. Brady found Deion Branch deep, who got behind Tory James and had a clear path to the end zone. But Brady lofted the ball ten yards over Branch's head. Then on the penultimate play of the quarter, David Patten slipped away from James on a slant route from the Patriot 29. Brady saw him, but the pass glanced off his fingertips. Again, Patten was wide open and Brady missed him.

It could have been 17-3 Patriots, with the crowd totally out of the game. Brady missed another sure touchdown in the second quarter, what would have been a nine-yard scoring strike to Patten from nine yards out. Brady simply overthrew Patten, who had broken free in the end zone.

Brady's low moment of the evening came late in the first half. On first and ten at the Patriot 14, Chris Cooper barged in and stripped Brady of the ball from behind. Trace Armstrong recovered at the eight, and three plays later Rich Gannon ran it in from 2 yards out to make it 17-6 at the half for the Raiders. Like the Snow Bowl's famous play, Brady failed to take care of the ball under pressure, and it cost his team this time.

But Brady's failures were only part of the problem. On both sides of the ball, the line of scrimmage clearly belonged to the Raiders. On offense, Gannon had basically all night to throw. On defense, the Patriots had zilch for a running game and Brady was bothered most all game long.

The Raiders sacked Brady four times on the evening. Armstrong may have sent Greg Randall back to the bench, as the Raider veteran end had Randall for lunch all evening long. Matt Light looked like a bullfighter as DeLawrence Grant blew by him for a second quarter sack of Brady. As a team, the Patriots averaged only 2.8 yards per rush. Brady was held to only 172 yards passing (18 of 30).

On the other side of the ball, the Raiders made the Patriots look soft and cuddly. The Raiders helped accomplish this by doing one thing that was key to a Patriot win: controlling the ball. The Raiders had the Patriots in time of possession by holding the ball for over 36 minutes. What really put the game away was the opening drive of the second half, a masterpiece that went 83 yards in 15 plays, and chewed up an unbelievable nine minutes and 43 seconds. The drive culminated in a 2-yard touchdown run by Zack Crockett, his second 2-yard scoring run of the evening.

On his first such run, Bruschi tried to seal a gap up the middle because center Barret Robbins submerged Richard Seymour. But Bruschi overran the play, and Crockett walked through a five-foot wide hole for the score. Seymour continues to have problems with technique, and but for a sack tonight, continues to be almost totally invisible this year.

The real problem with the Patriot defense was how much time Gannon had to throw all evening long. Belichick's plan obviously was to flood the passing lanes with defenders and key on route disruption and receiver coverage rather than to pressure the quarterback. But Gannon had plenty of time to find his receivers, and with presumptive Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown out there, Gannon could not possibly fail. Even worse for the Patriots, Rice and Brown weren't even the leading receivers (Charlie Garner was with seven catches).

Garner killed the Patriots with 122 all-purpose yards, and averaged just under four yards per rush. Most of his yards were tough yards, and like the Snow Bowl, he proved that he is still a hard back for the Patriots to tackle. Tyrone Wheatley chipped in three grabs for 25 yards, all of them on shovel passes which completely fooled the Patriots.

Despite the loss, the Patriots are in reasonably good playoff shape. They, the Bills and the Jets are all 5-5 and a game behind Miami. The Patriots now enter the easy final six games of their schedule. They could run the table like last year, but only if they regain the ability to play tough football and not look like total softies against Oakland tonight.

Raider Nation can cheer all it wants tonight. Their team played better and deserved to win.

Fortunately, it's who cheers in January that counts. The Patriots embark on that journey next week at home with Minnesota in town.

Now, let's bring on Bird. "Well, boys, way back in '84 I called my teammates 'sissies', and four games later we were NBA champs…"


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