EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 3, 2011

Back on Track: Patriots adds physicality to balance offense in Oaklan

Bill Burt

Here's the New England Patriots' numbers of the game yesterday in Oakland: 30 and 30.

As in 30 passes and, get this, 30 rushes.

Everything else was, well, meaningless.

Yes, Tom Brady made plays.

The difference yesterday, 3,500 miles away, was thankfully he didn't have to make all of them.

The New England Patriots went back to their winning days — bend and don't break on defense and tough, opportune football on offense. It led to an impressive 31-19 win over the Oakland Raiders.

Even the nondescript 2011 Patriots special teams didn't allow a potentially big play, forcing the Raiders to go nearly 80 yards every time their offense got the ball. That is a tall task with Jason Campbell at quarterback.

Anyway, the up-and-coming Raiders weren't the story in Black & Silver Land. It was the kind of football the Patriots played, the kind that didn't just win football games around here. It won championships.

It's a far cry from what we saw the last few weeks or really the last few years when the Brady wreaked havoc on the record book.

Mind you, this was not a Super Bowl contender the Patriots pummelled yesterday. Far from it. But the Raiders not only were playing in their home stadium but they did bury the braggadocious New York Jets a week ago, which we all know around here is no small accomplishment.

The Patriots had a lot to prove yesterday. The loss to the Buffalo Bills was embarrassing. Brady made a handful of mental errors that turned a 52-0 win into a humiliating loss. And the defense got abused by a Harvard University graduate at quarterback.

Their collective manhood was questioned. And rightly so.

When was the last time Brady barely topped 50 percent completions (he was 16 for 30)? Was it at Michigan? Junipero Serra High?

Or better yet, when was the last time that statistic mattered?

In glossing over a few statistics during the Bill Belichick-Brady Era here's one that stuck out: In the three playoff games during January and February of 2002, the Patriots offense scored one offensive touchdown per game.

OK, I realize that was like two generations of football ago — everybody in the league is chucking the football first and running it second — but you get the point.

It's funny how a decent-to-good running game opens up wide open passing lanes. I don't remember seeing Wes Welker wide open so often.

The Patriots rushed for 183 yards, split for the most part between rookie Stevan Ridley (10 rushes, 97 yards) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (16 rushes, 75 yards, 1 TD). Ridley and Green-Ellis appear to be a nice mix of speed and power.

But the more impressive number was the 30 overall carries.

When Brady has real play-action, in which opposing linebackers actually think Brady is handing off, the Patriot offense is unstoppable. Better yet, it will be unstoppable in January.

Email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.