First, the good news: the Patriots’ 49-26 dismantling of the Raiders on a rainy day in Oakland kept them in the hunt for post-season play. New England scored touchdowns on their first four possessions, racing out to a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter, largely due to quarterback Matt Cassel (18 for 30 passing, 218 yards, four touchdowns, one Benjamin-Watson-tipped interception). The Pats had 487 total yards of offense.
This game was almost the opposite of last week’s tense-off at Seattle. When the Patriots went up 42-14 at the beginning of the third, fans sat back and sighed in relief. New England stayed in contention with a 9-5 record, nominally tied atop the AFC East.
Now let’s get the bad news out of the way. The Pats lost two more players to injury (tackle Matt Light, linebacker Gary Guyton) during this game, which could impact future contests. Meanwhile, the Jets won this week thanks to Buffalo putting the game in quarterback J. P. “Loose Cannon” Losman’s hands, even though running back Marshawn Lynch averaged over six yards a carry. With 2:06 remaining, Losman dropped back, got sacked, and fumbled. Sean Ellis recovered and scored the game-winner. Nice work there, Buff.
Miami, meanwhile, took care of San Francisco, 14-9. Among myriad other scenarios, New Englanders find themselves hoping for a Jets loss to Seattle next week and a Miami loss to New York in Week 17. And maybe a scandal involving Brett Favre, but let’s not get all greedy.
This is hard to say, but someone must: the Patriots as currently constructed would have a hard time beating Boston University’s football team, much less a bunch of professionals. (For those of you who don’t know much about B. U. football, here’s some history. You see my point.)
One play showed fans how steep this uphill climb could be. With 5:45 remaining in the third quarter, Raider Darren McFadden swept to his right. Linebackers Rosevelt Colvin and Junior Seau (they of the formerly retired set) seemed in decent position to make the tackle, but McFadden ran around them like a deer past a couple of tree stumps. Twelve yards, first down. Oakland scored two plays later on what was quite possibly the best pass of quarterback JaMarcus Russell’s career, a fade to Ronald Curry in the right corner of the end zone past (seriously, this is true) Ellis Hobbs.
Now, as a New England fan, you’re saying, “Hold on, there! You can’t count a third-quarter score against them! The game was decided! These guys just need some work!”
First off: stop yelling. I can’t hear you. Second: one team can only take so much. Guyton is a solid cover linebacker (there’s a reason Oakland had success with those short passes to McFadden: three for 68 yards); Light is their starting left tackle (though Mark LeVoir stepped in well). James Sanders is out. Tedy Bruschi is out. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of amazing this team has nine wins.
But enough with the negative stuff. Much praise goes to Cassel, who overcame personal tragedy to have a remarkable game. Any questions on how his father’s death would affect him were answered on the Patriots’ first possession. Starting at Oakland’s 40 after a three-and-out and 14-yard punt return by Kevin Faulk, New England mixed passes with runs by Sammy Morris (14 for 117 yards, one TD) and Kevin Faulk (six rushes for 45 yards, six catches for 66 and the TD I’m about to mention). Cassel converted three third downs, the first two on respective 16- and seven-yarders to Wes Welker (six catches, 69 yards, one TD). On third and goal, Cassel hit Faulk from seven yards out, the running back crossing from right to left. Faulk ditched his man at the five and picked up a block by Welker to find wide-open spaces and a 7-0 Patriots lead less than five minutes into the game.
The visitors benefited from a 26-yard punt to start their next possession at Oakland’s 35. Morris broke for 15 yards up the middle. Two plays later, Cassel stepped up in the pocket to avoid the pass rush and threaded a line drive to Randy Moss near the left pylon, with Moss beating safety Rashad Baker on the play (Moss totalled five grabs for 67 yards and two touchdowns). Up 14-0, New England still had almost eight minutes left in the first quarter.
After their third consecutive three and out, the home team watched their guests embark on a nine-play drive to take a 21-0 lead. Cassel’s passing, Morris’ running and Oakland’s rule-breaking (16 yards on a holding penalty by – watch spellcheck go nuts – Nnamdi Asomugha) got the Patriots to the Raider 29-yard-line. From there, Morris started up the middle, took a swift right turn and cut upfield past sliding cornerback Chris Johnson for the touchdown. With 3:43 left in the first quarter, the Pats had a 21-0 lead as Oakland fans looked at themselves in their over-the-top costumes and gained a brief, shocking moment of self-awareness.
(I’m just kidding. That never happened. Those crazy S.O.B.’s still wear makeup and plastic skulls, even though their team hasn’t finished .500 in forever. God bless ’em.)
In the midst of the downpour, both teams’ defenders started acting as if they were playing on a Slip ‘N Slide. Hobbs became victim to the conditions, falling down as Johnny Lee Higgins took a short pass and cut up the sideline for 56 yards and the touchdown. New England blitzed on the play, demonstrating once again why the coaches are hesitant to send extra defenders after the opposing team’s QB. It didn’t help that Hobbs was only slightly closer to Higgins than Pats fans were as they watched from the East Coast.
For all the excitement the first quarter provided, the beginning of the second quarter saw three TDs scored in 33 seconds. Cassel finished off a seven-play, three-minute drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Welker. Up 28-7, the Pats looked like they could cruise to the win, but Oakland’s Justin Miller ran back the ensuing kickoff for 91 yards to cut the lead to 28-14. Hobbs played copycat, returning the following Raiders’ kick for a 95-yard TD and a more comfy 35-14 score.
The QBs traded interceptions before the half. Cassel’s came on the aforementioned tipped ball by Watson that would have given them a first down deep in Oakland territory. Rookie Jonathan Wilhite picked off Russell at the one-yard line three minutes later. New England looked to add a late field goal in the final seconds but an illegal motion penalty and subsequent clock runoff prevented them from doing so.
The Patriots’ ineffective end of the first half got overshadowed by their scoring drive to open the second. After Cassel threw two consecutive passes to Moss, Morris took a handoff left, shuffled to the middle, found some daylight and plowed ahead for a total of 35 yards inside Oakland’s 10. Cassel then found Moss working his way from left to right at the back of the end zone: touchdown, Pats, 42-14 at 11:36 in the third.
Both rain and an appreciation of the inevitable made the rest of this one sloppy. The Raiders sandwiched two touchdowns around the final Patriots score, a LaMont Jordan “Remember Me, Oakland?” 49-yard rumble to the right side behind solid blocking (including a surprisingly effective kickout by tight end David Thomas).
So, where does this win put the Pats? For the next six days, pundits and warblers alike will discuss the probability of New England making the playoffs. Maybe this team won’t get any help from others, and maybe they’ll end up as the only 11-5 squad to miss the postseason. Considering most of us figured this year had swirled around the bowl eight minutes in, it’s nice to think that at least New England has a chance.
Chris Warner’s ‘Game Day Rear View’ appears after every game on Patriots Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"This is hard to say, but someone must: the Patriots as currently constructed would have a hard time beating Boston University’s football team, much less a bunch of professionals."
Ummm… what? They're 9-5. They've already beat 9 professional teams. I think you find it hard to say because it is extreme hyperbole that has no bearing on reality.
To RC, that's why I added the phrase "as currently constructed." They've lost several key players along the way; I think their Week 2 lineup would handle yesterday's Week 15 team pretty well. Losing Guyton didn't help; neither did Light's injury.
In terms of my use of hyperbole, you're absolutely correct. I've done it a million times. Thanks for checking in.
And here's another Reality Check: of those nine wins, six have come against teams under .500. Of the three teams over .500, only one was outside the division (the Broncos, who rule the relatively horrific AFC West).
The Pats "as currently injured" are a completely average team, who beat almost everybody they should beat and lost most games it should have lost. Due to an easy Schedule we have good record and a outside shot at the playoffs.
Thats a bit more and a bit less then i thought at various points during the season, but it was a fun ride, and I still hope on two more lucky breaks. And if not it was a fun ride and we will be back next year.
Its a lot more than Boston U could manage, where they to play in the NFL.
Both of you are right: BU's football team couldn't manage much, mostly because BU doesn't have a football team. That was kind of the point. The Pats aren't all that great right now and have played the best they could despite difficult circumstances. I must have failed to make that clear because you both think I'm making a serious comparison between the New England Patriots and a college football program that became defunct in 1997 (check out the link).
But again, you guys got me: for the record, the Patriots could definitely defeat a non-existent college football squad. Definitely. It wouldn't even be close.
As always, a great article! One little comment, though. If the Patriots miss the playoffs with a record of 11-5, they will be the second team in NFL history to do so. The 1985 Denver Broncos missed the playoffs despite their 11-5 mark. Just a bit of trivial info!
Chris, It's very possible (or likely) that an 11-5 team will miss the playoffs in both conferences. But, why is this so? I think it points to the absolute mediocrity of the NFL "as currently constructed" rather than to the brilliance of those teams who get in. So the "who dats" of the NFL braintrust finally get what they wanted all the time. An absolutely boring game played by talent challenged players. And coaches who mimic themselves so much that there is hardly any creativity left in the game. And let's not forget those morons on the competition committee which has totally emasculated the game with their absolutely inane and sometimes undecipherable rules.
Chris don't discount that BU team, the only footage of them is over 10 years old, and it's probably on crappy VHS tapes. Meanwhile they get to watch the Pats on tv every week.
That will be tough for Belichick to prepare for, they have nothing on BU.
If hyperbole is off the table, I'm down to a post a month, maybe.
Hey, BTW, did anybody else notice the amount of ink I devoted today to Matt Cassel's performance after his father's death (zero) and compare it to the amount of ink I devoted to Brett Favre after his father's death?
Hey, BU was the only New England team to consistently make the 1-AA playoffs (BC was busy qualifying for the Poulan Weedwacker Bowl). I loved watching those guys. A little run and shoot action: what's not to like?
And BobD, you're right about Denver being the other 11-5 team. I think the Pats would be the first with the "current playoff structure" as I heard it. In any case, it would blow.
Hey Peter King – Thanks for mentioning Mr. Favre. It had been a few hours and I'm sure you were suffering some kind of withdrawal.
Chris, another great recap with intelligent insight. I, for one, love the hyperbole and feel that it is not used enough (point proven in the initial comments). Don't let the confused get you down!
Oh man that last two minutes of Billsdom in NY really hurt watching. I assume hoping for another AFCE team to get something right was futile to begin with.
But at least the right teams (For our playoff chances) won in Baltimore and Dallas.
While I have no idea how a tream without 25 of its defensive starters is supposed to stop Arizoona, but lets hope they take it easier, now that they basically fixed their playoff spot.
And since Romo saves his big bullshit for the playoffs, there is still a chance left they beat Baltimore, which would give us back the control of our own destiny.