Pats bend, don't break, in 31-19 win over Raiders

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Pats bend, don't break, in 31-19 win over Raiders

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

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 amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

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Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home. 

He also had to become fluent in a new language.

The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33). 

"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."

Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career. 

Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.

After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him. 

"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."