By: Ian Logue
Heading into tomorrow’s game out in Oakland, it’s probably safe to say that as the Raiders try and establish themselves as a contender, they’re going to be treating tomorrow’s game as a big litmus test.
That’s been the case so far for any team that’s played the Patriots. Teams are always using them as a measuring stick, and New England saw that last weekend out in Buffalo after seeing the jubilation in the Bills locker room on how they just came back and beat Tom Brady to improve to 3-0 on the season.
For the Raiders – like New England – they’re trying to get to 3-1 on the season and not drop to .500. Oakland’s been a laughing stock in recent years, and finally appears to be back on the right track. As a result, it’s probably safe to say they’ve been preparing for this game like it’s a playoff game. With that in mind, it’s going to be crucial for the Patriots to come out and match that intensity and not let up the way they did last Sunday out in Buffalo.
“You’ve got to play for 60 minutes,” said Brady after last week’s loss. “You’ve got to keep the foot on the gas pedal and play mistake free, and we certainly didn’t do that. Too many turnovers, too many penalties, too many scoring opportunties that we missed, and that’s why we lost the game.”
If Oakland comes out strong and their crowd gets into it, as the Jets found out last weekend out there, it could end up being a long afternoon.
These are the types of characters that will be in the stands Sunday out in Oakland. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
Speaking from experience, Oakland fans are just crazy. Any Patriot fan who’s visited Network Associates Coliseum in Oakland will tell you it’s a scary place. The stories of fistfights, bathroom brawls, they’re all true. If you’re a visiting fan and you get into it with the home crowd, they’ll band together and aren’t afraid of delivering a knockout blow while the rest of the fans sit back and laugh at your misfortune.
“They’re intense, to put it mildly,” said Bill Belichick on Friday.
Those same fans have helped establish the well known “Black Hole”, which wasn’t kind to Brady the last time he played there in 2002. It’s a tough environment for any visiting quarterback, and Brady’s the number one public enemy there because Raider fans to this day are still bitter after the infamous “Tuck Rule” game. With their team on the rise, they’ll likely bring the same hatred and venom they’ve been holding since that game when Brady and the Patriots invade their stadium on Sunday.
Most experts are already making this one seem pretty easy. They’re saying that the style of football Oakland plays falls right into the hands of the Patriots, and that this could be just the opponent New England needs to get their season back on track. Most believe that this “old school” style of football should be a reprieve from what New England has had to deal with in recent weeks, and are predicting a fairly easy game for Brady and the offense.
However, those same experts thought the Patriots were going to bring the Bills back down to reality and put them in their place last Sunday. Obviously “that’s why they play the games”, and that’s also why New England is going to need to bring their ‘A’ game this week in what will likely be a tough environment.
“Well, it will be a hostile environment I’m sure,” said Belichick. “We don’t get [a] very good reception out there but that’s the way it is just about every place we play. That’s what playing on the road is – you have to be able to handle those elements: the hostile environment, the crowd noise offensively, just the fact that it’s really all you have are the people standing there on your sideline.
“That’s the way it is just about every away game. We just have to block out all the support that our opponents are getting at home and focus on what our job is and make sure that our communication, our substitutions and our execution during the game is the best that it can be. Just control what we can control – there’s nothing we can do about the rest of that stuff. We know it will be what it is – you’ve all seen that before.”
The crowd noise was tough in Brady’s last visit out there, which was a Sunday night game back on November 17th, 2002. However, of their 7 penalties in that game (Oakland committed 12), only one was a false start. The biggest miscue in that game was a crucial turnover committed by Brady down in their own end, with the then 3rd year quarterback getting sacked at their own 9-yard line, and he fumbled the football away. The Raiders recovered, and it lead to an easy touchdown which put Oakland up 17-6. It ended up being a key play in their 27-20 win over New England that night.
Back-to back losses don’t happen very often for the Patriots, and that one game swing is going to be the difference between 3-1, and 2-2, the latter of which would put them in a tough spot facing the Jets in Foxboro next Sunday, as a loss there could potentially drop them below .500.
New England hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2009, which were two back-to-back road defeats against New Orleans and Miami. They haven’t been below .500 since 2002, when they were 3-4 after opening the year 3-0 and then dropped four straight.
The last time they were 2-2 was in 2005, although they also started off the same way in 2003 and and went on to win it all. However, they weren’t really experiencing the same defensive transition they’re dealing with now, and getting a big win on the road would be a great turning point at this stage of the season.
That’s the goal facing Bill Belichick’s club, and he knows it’s going to be a tough game. He’s seen the film and he’s aware of what Oakland’s capable of – and he’s trying to make sure his team isn’t taking them likely.
“We’ve never played the Raiders or prepared to play the Raiders and not recognized the strengths that they had and what they’re capable of doing,” said Belichick. “I can’t speak to all the other games and so forth, but just watching them, they do a lot of things.
“They have a good team, they have a good program in place and its showing up in the win column so far this year and it did last year in their division. You have to recognize that.”
Either way, this is anything but your normal average every day road came. As this team tries to find an identity and start putting things back on the right track, beating a tough Raiders team in that environment – something next week’s opponents couldn’t do last Sunday – would certainly give them some additional confidence heading into a tough division game next weekend.
Meanwhile Brady said earlier this week that they’ll learn a lot about this team and how they respond on the road tomorrow against another tough opponent.
“We are trying to bring a fresh new plan, new energy [and] we’re trying to put it together against a damn good football team,” said Brady. “We’re going to learn more about our team going on the road and playing a tough opponent then anything more than that. We’re trying to go out there and get a win.”