September 09, 2005
Patriots Get A Tough But Successful Opener
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- The Oakland Raiders did plenty to win the game, but did even more to lose it.
Against the two-time Super Bowl champs, where you usually have to play a mistake-free game, the Raiders made far too many key gaffes to offset some rather terrific moments for them in the 2005 league opener. As things might predict to even out over sixty minutes of football, the Patriots showed once again that they rule the league, and will make any team pay which makes mistakes and does more to lose than they do to win.
The Patriots, amidst a gala opening night show and the unveiling of their third Super Bowl banner, had enough in the end to defeat Oakland, 30-20 and capture the season opener before a national television audience and a rabid throng at Gillette Stadium. Treated to a far better game (and show) than the fans at Fenway were (the Sox were shut out by the Angels, 3-0), the Patriots were as smooth as Carlos Santana and as tough as Ozzy Osbourne.
It is far too easy to take the champs and dwell on the negative, since Patriot Nation is used to such exquisite football week in and week out. But the Raiders were able to perpetrate some big plays on the Patriots, who looked at times a bit off kilter and at times a bit careless. On only one play in the game did perhaps the coordinator thing rear its ugly head, but for the most part the Patriots overcame some brain cramps and eventually forced the Raiders into many of their own.
On the opening drive, the Patriots came out seemingly unprepared to deal with the revamped Raider offense. Biting on every play fake in the book, the Raiders marched 72 yards in six plays to score an anomalic opening drive touchdown against the Patriots at home. Eugene Wilson left Randy Moss alone in the left flat for 29 yards, then Willie McGinest missed a tackle on a 27-yard right screen toss to LaMont Jordan. Courtney Anderson scored on a two-yard pass off a play fake from Kerry Collins.
In the second quarter, Moss scored on a 73-yard touchdown pass which at the time gave the visitors a 14-10 lead. This was a play which smacked of the final Eagle touchdown in last year’s Super Bowl. For some reason, Tyrone Poole was left in single coverage along the left sideline on Moss. The former Viking easily gained a step on Moss, made a juggling catch, and sidestepped Rodney Harrison on his way to the end zone. One has to wonder where was the safety help, and why was Harrison the nearest safety and not Wilson. It seemed that the rest of the game, Wilson was always near Moss in coverage. Did Eric Mangini call the wrong defense on that play, like the play in question in the Super Bowl? Food for thought.
In the fourth quarter, with the game seemingly put away, Josh Miller allowed a blocked punt. Randal Williams streaked in from the right side and batted down the punt at the Patriot 40, and Tyler Brayton recovered at the Patriot 21. This was with 4:09 left and the Patriots up 30-14. Exactly one minute later, Collins found Anderson from five yards out to get it to 30-20.
These kind of plays could have been enough to get the Raiders by, considering the stout run defense they played all evening (Corey Dillon only averaged 2.7 yards per carry, the team 2.4) and the pressure the rushers got on Tom Brady in the second half. Like the Snow Bowl, the Raiders came into Foxborough and played the Patriots tougher than perhaps most experts predicted.
What did in the Raiders were penalties, one costly turnover, and lousy pass defense in the first half. Brady was able to mix plays well enough to get the win, all the while not doing anything which would cost his team the win. Dillon managed only 63 yards rushing, but did manage to score two touchdowns. Brady’s rating was 105.8, thanks to sure handed receivers like Deion Branch (7 catches, 99 yards) and the pitifully old Troy Brown (6-51). Brown made his age detractors look silly with a vintage game, showing everyone that he still has lots of gas left in the tank.
Another delicious Patriotic stat came from Benjamin Watson. The second-year tight end caught two passes for 55 yards, a 27.5-yard average. When Brady had time to throw, Watson came up with two huge plays, both on the first offensive possession of the game. He ran a slant route over the middle for an 18-yard catch, then three plays later hauled in a 37-yard right sideline catch. Brady never went back to Watson again, largely because of Brady wanting to spread the receiver wealth around, and because when the Raiders began to blitz more, Brady wasn’t able to find Watson open any more.
The Raiders finished with an astonishing 16 penalties, which cost them 149 yards. There wasn’t any one penalty which killed them, just several nagging penalties. Three times the Raiders were called for personal fouls, two of those coming on facemasks.
It could be said that the Patriots “sealed” the win with the one turnover in the third quarter. With 6:37 left in the third, the Raiders had the ball at their own 31. Two plays later, Jarvis Green barreled in from the right side and dislodged the ball from Collins. Vince Wilfork caught the ball at the Oakland 21. Since Wilfork caught the ball in the air, it was ruled an interception despite the fact that Collins’ arm never really came forward. Three plays later, Dillon rumbled in from eight yards out to make it 23-14 Patriots.
Unlike the Snow Bowl, which turned on the tuck rule play, the referee had no decisive hand in this one. The two-time champs made the plays they always make, and turned away the stout Raiders because they simply know better how to win. The Patriots had nine fewer penalties, no turnovers, played things generally close to the vest and did nothing stupid in the game. That is why this team continues to win when the opposition throws their best effort at them.
Moss and Jordan make the Raiders a far more formidable offense. But the entire team needs to step up their game if they are to take the next step up in the echelon of NFL teams. At least Raider Nation got to see a stellar effort from their team.
Patriot Nation got to see a win. And a banner. And the satisfaction that the champs are back.
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