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.

Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense

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Flashback: Belichick breaks down lasting impact of Buddy Ryan's '46' defense

When news broke on Tuesday of Buddy Ryan's passing, it wasn't very long before the NFL community at large paid tribute to one of the most well-respected defensive minds in the history of the league. 

Ryan, a longtime coordinator and head coach, leaves a legacy that includes two sons -- Rex and Rob -- who have carved out length careers spent on NFL sidelines. His legacy also includes a defensive scheme that confounded offenses, particularly in 1985, when the Bears '46' defense dominated all comers. With eight men in the box and just three defensive backs, Ryan's defense could be as confusing for quarterbacks as it was intimidating.

On the day of Ryan's passing, we can add to the list of Ryan rememberances a long quote from a Bill Belichick press conference back in 2012. The Patriots were getting ready to play Rex Ryan's Jets, but as the topic of conversation shifted away from the game itself and toward football philosophies, Belichick explained how Ryan's '46' defense changed the game, and where it can still be seen today. 

(To see the video of the press conference, you can head here. It's a bit slow for the first six or seven minutes, but when Belichick is asked about the idea behind being a "game-plan offense" and which coaches inspired him to take that mindset into his own career, things start rolling. Belichick rattles off the names of those who influenced him, including Annapolis High coach Al Laramore, Phillips Andover's Steve Sorota, Navy coach Wayne Hardin, Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda and several others. He calls the list of coaches who educated him -- including his father, of course -- a "menagerie." If you're into those types of Belichick responses about football philosophy and his own personal football upbringing, it's a video that's worth your time.)

Here is Belichick's response to a question from Sports Illustrated's Greg Bedard, then of the Boston Globe, concerning Ryan and his '46' scheme. A tip of the hat to Chris B. Brown of Smart Football for pointing out the quote on Twitter early Tuesday. 

Q: You mentioned Buddy Ryan earlier. How come we don’t see more 46 defense? I’m not talking about for a full season – not everybody is the ’85 Bears, but in a one-game situation. Is it because of the quarterbacks and the shotgun?

BB: "A lot of the success that Buddy had with the 46 defense came in the ‘80s when there was a lot of two-back offense. It was one of the things that probably drove the two-back offense out. If you remember back in the ‘80s when Buddy was in Philadelphia, he had a lot of trouble with the Redskins and their one-back offense, a lot of trouble. There were a lot of mismatches of Art Monk and Gary Clark on the middle linebacker and stuff like that.

"I think the 46 was really originally built for two-back offenses, whether it be the red, brown, blue and the flat-back type offenses and eventually even the I-formation. I think it still has a lot of good application; a lot of teams use it in goal-line situations. They either use a version of it like a 5-3 or cover the guards and the center and however you want to quite fit the rest of it, but that principle you see a lot in goal-line, short yardage situations. You see it and some teams have it as part of their two-back defensive package.

"As it has gone to one-back and it’s gotten more spread out, if you’re playing that, it kind of forces you defensively to be in a one-linebacker set. You lose that second linebacker and depending on where the back lines up and what coverage you’re playing, then there’s some issues with that. If you’re in a one linebacker defense and you move the back over and the linebacker moves over then you’re kind of out-leveraged to the back side. If you don’t move him over, then you’re kind of out-leveraged when the back releases and that kind of thing.

"There are some issues there that, I’m not saying you can’t do it, but you have to work them out. In a two-back set, I’d say it was probably a lot cleaner and it always gave you an extra blitzer that was hard for the offense. Even if they seven-man protected on play-action, there was always an eighth guy there somewhere. You didn’t have to bring all eight; if you just brought the right one and they didn’t have him or somebody would have to have two guys and that creates some problems.

"I think that’s what Buddy, really, where the genius of that was. He had by formation a different combination and group of blitzes so depending on what formation you were in, then he ran a blitz that would attack that formation and then when you changed formations, then he would change blitzes. Now, plus the fact [he] had Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, [Otis] Wilson, [Wilbur] Marshall, that was a pretty good group there. You could have probably played a lot of things and that defense would have looked pretty good, especially when they put Hampton on the nose. That was pretty unblockable."

Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

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Amendola forced Brady to break a ping pong paddle in first week with Patriots

Tom Brady has never been one to hide his emotions when he's on the field, and it sounds like he's not much different at the ping pong table.

When asked about Brady during an interview on ESPN's NFL Insiders show, Patriots receiver Danny Amendola recalled one story from his first few days at Gillette Stadium back in 2013.

"He's the best teammate," Amendola said. "He's so competitive . . . I remember one story, it was my first week in the building and he wanted to play some ping pong. I didn't know how to go about it. I knew I was better than him, [but] I didn't want to beat him too bad because I wanted him to throw me the ball.

"I knew I was better. Needless to say, his competitive nature unleashed a broken paddle by the end of it. It's the reason we love him, and the reason why he's the best quarterback."

That first encounter at the ping pong table didn't seem to hinder Amendola's relationship with Brady in the least. In their first game together, Amendola fought a groin injury and still ended up with 10 catches for 104 yards in a win over the Bills. Since then, when healthy -- and particularly since New England's most recent run to a Super Bowl title -- Amendola has established himself as one of Brady's most trusted targets.

Amendola and the rest of the Patriots are facing a start to the regular season without their No. 1 quarterback as Brady awaits a decision from the Second Circuit on whether or not it will rehear his case against the NFL. Should backup Jimmy Garoppolo take the reins in Brady's place, however, Amendola said he'll be confident. 

"He's a great player," Amendola explained. "He's been in the system a couple of years now and he's learned a lot. He's picked up everything that Tom has taught him and then also what coach [Bill] Belichick has to offer him. So we're all excited to see where he goes and see what the future holds for him."

Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries

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Amendola says he feels 'really good' following offseason surgeries

Danny Amendola did not participate in OTA or minicamp practices that were open to reporters, but that doesn't mean he's ailing. 

"I feel really good," Amendola said while paying ESPN's NFL Insiders show a visit. "I had a couple minor procedures done after the season. Everybody knows how long the season can be. I wanted to go into next season feeling as fresh and ready as I can."

Amendola joined a relatively long list of Patriots regulars -- including LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon -- who were not spotted during spring workouts. There exists, however, some optimism that he'll be ready to participate in training camp.

Though Amendola has battled nagging injuries in three seasons with the Patriots, he's often played through them rather than miss time. The 30-year-old wideout has played in all but six regular-season games since 2013.

Amendola is coming off of his best year in a Patriots uniform, finishing 2015 with 65 catches for 648 yards and three scores. He now helps make up a receiving corps that will include Edelman, newly-acquired wideouts Chris Hogan and Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper and rookies Malcolm Mitchell and Devin Lucien.