By Art Martone
If you allow lots of yards, then you'd better create some turnovers and make some big stops. It was the Buffalo Bills' recipe for success against New England last week.
Scoring summary, statistics
The Patriots apparently took it to heart, because that's exactly how they beat the Raiders, 31-19, on Sunday.
The Pats' defense -- which suffered a potentially crippling blow when Jerod Mayo suffered a left knee injury in the second quarter and had to be helped off the field -- once again surrendered a ton of yardage; 504, to be exact. It was once again pathetic on third down, allowing Oakland to convert on 8 of its first 10 attempts. It gave up a mind-boggling 17 plays of 10 or more yards.
But . . .
Cornerback Patrick Chung intercepted a Jason Campbell pass in the end zone on second-and-goal with 2:24 to play in the first half and the Pats clinging to a 14-10 lead, killing a Raiders drive that had started on the Oakland 14.
The Pats' defense -- aided by the referees deciding to overturn their own pass-interference penalty against Kyle Arrington at the New England 2-yard line, ruling his trip of Jacoby Ford was the result of incidental contact -- halted a third-quarter drive that had started on the Raiders 18 and eventually reached the Patriots 8. The Raiders had to settle for a chip-shot Sebastian Janikowski field goal, which cut New England's lead to 24-13 but kept it as a two-score game.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who had never intercepted a pass in his career prior the Game 2 against San Diego, snared a Campbell pass intended to Darren McFadden at the New England 30 with the Pats leading 31-13 in the fourth quarter, essentially ending Oakland's last hope.
The defensive effort backed a crisp, mistake-free effort by the offense. The numbers weren't as stratospheric as they've been in other games this year, as Tom Brady passed for a "mere" 226 yards. (He did, however, throw for two touchdowns and move past his childhood idol, Joe Montana, into ninth place on the NFL's all-time list.) But their running game was strong (183 yards) and -- in sharp contrast to the 34-31 loss to the Bills -- there were no turnovers.
"This whole week, we challenged each other," said Wilfork. "Coach Bill Belichick challenged us just to play better football, don't give away games, and we did . . .
"This was one of the best weeks of practice we had this year . . . and it showed."
The victory increased New England's record to 3-1 and moved the Pats back into a first-place tie in the AFC East, thanks to Buffalo's last-second loss at Cincinnati.
The teams traded blows early; the Pats answered a Janikowski field goal with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Wes Welker and held a 7-3 lead after one quarter. The Raiders pushed ahead again, 13-10, on a one-yard run by Michael Bush in the second quarter, which capped a 6-play, 88-yard drive, but the Pats answered that TD with a score of their own: A one-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis that capped a six-play, 64-yard drive jumpstarted by a personal-foul penalty against the Raiders, one of seven penalties (for 70 yards) called against Oakland in the first half.
At this point, however, the Raiders were moving the ball easily and had scored on three of their first four possessions. When they went from their 14 to the Patriots 6 and were on the verge of scoring again, it looked like another long, frustrating afternoon was in store for the Pats' defense.
Then Chung intercepted a pass that Campbell was attempting to throw away. And everything changed.
The Pats got the ball on their own 20 and Brady engineered a two-minute drive that ended with a 44-yard field goal by Stephan Gostkowski with six seconds left, giving the Pats a 17-10 lead at halftime. It was a lead they increased to 24-10 with a 7-play, 81-yard drive after the second-half kickoff that was capped by an electrifying 33-yard run from Stevan Ridley, who ran for 97 yards on 10 carries during the game.
"Stevan did a good job, but I thought all our backs did a good job," coach Bill Belichick said of the ground game, which averaged 6.1 yards on 30 attempts. "The players did a good job; we blocked well, we ran well . . . It was a good team effort running the ball."
"It was huge," said Brady of the revived running game. "Being able to be more balanced than we've been . . . that's important. It sets up a lot of things."
The defense's stop on Oakland's next drive, which resulted in another chip-shot Janikowski field goal but kept the Pats in front by 24-13. A four-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Deion Branch with 13:43 to go in the final period made it 31-13 -- the 12th straight regular-season game they've scored 30 or more points -- and Wilfork sealed the victory with his interception.
The Raiders scored a garbage-time touchdown with 28 seconds left on a six-yard scoring pass from Campbell to Denarius Moore. Still, the 19 points allowed -- Oakland went for a two-point conversion after Moore's TD and failed -- was the lowest number of points the Pats have given up in a game this year, and put the team in a good frame of mind heading into next week's divisional showdown against the Jets.
"Got a big win today," cornerback Devin McCourty said on Twitter, "now this LONG flight home . . . "
It'll probably seem shorter than the short fight home from Buffalo last week, though.
Art Martone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.