OAKLAND, Calif. - The Patriots looked all tuckered out.
Was it the hype about the “tuck rule” game last Jan. 19? Were they tired after their amazing comeback victory against the Chicago Bears last week in Champaign, Ill.? Maybe they were beat because of the six-hour plane ride to the West Coast.
Whatever it was, the Oakland Raiders tucked it to the Patriots, 27-20, last night at Network Associates Coliseum, much to the delight of the revenge-seeking Oakland fans thirsty for Patriots blood after feeling they were robbed in the Snow Game 10 months ago.
“Before the game, I told all of the DBs that this game ain’t just about the game,” defensive back Charles Woodson said. “We have a chance to still end the season with something special. New England did it last year. They ran the table, and that’s what we need to do.”
“This game was not about revenge,” Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski added. “When a team focuses on revenge, they lose focus on what they have to do during the game.”
Patriots fans this morning might be pointing to a stagnant offense that failed to score a touchdown or a defense that couldn’t stop the Raiders when it had to, but coach Bill Belichick summed it up in his inimitably succinct way.
“We just didn’t make enough plays,” said Belichick. “We had a chance to hit a couple of plays, and we couldn’t do it.”
The Patriots (5-5) fell one game behind the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East and now have an identical record to the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. They face the Minnesota Vikings next Sunday in Foxborough, normally a gimme, but the Vikings upset the Green Bay Packers yesterday.
The Patriots, who have now lost as many games as they did all of last season, must win out to duplicate last season’s regular-season record. Do they have another run left in them?
Trailing, 17-6, at halftime, the Patriots allowed the Raiders to move down the field (the defense let the Raiders go 6 for 10 on third downs through the first three quarters) early in the third quarter, capping it with Zack Crockett’s second 2-yard touchdown. The score, with 5:18 remaining, made it a 24-6 game.
“We’ve got to do a better job on third down,” said Patriots cornerback Otis Smith. “It makes it hard to give up as much as we did. It’s a still a problem and we have to work harder at getting it resolved.”
The Patriots, who had designs of another comeback, certainly took a step toward that when Tedy Bruschi took a ricochet off Lawyer Milloy’s left foot and returned the ball 48 yards for a score to make it a 24-13 game after Adam Vinatieri’s extra point.
The Raiders challenged the ruling, feeling the ball had touched the ground before it touched Milloy’s foot. Officials indicated the replay was inconclusive, and allowed the call to stand with 1:27 remaining in the third.
Was this the beginning of another miraculous finish? Was the play going to be the new Patriots-Raiders controversy?
The Raiders made sure neither would happen.
Sebastian Janikowski, who had one field goal blocked by Richard Seymour, booted a 28-yarder late in the game. Kevin Faulk, who has been making plays of late, made a huge one when he returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards to pull the Patriots within a touchdown.
The Patriots attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by the Raiders’ Tory James with less than a minute remaining. James had made another big play when he broke up a pass intended for David Patten on fourth and 1 early in the fourth quarter. Question was, why did they pass with a yard to go?
Another big play was Tom Brady being stripped of the ball right before the end of the half. The Raiders got it at the Patriots 8 after Trace Armstrong recovered the fumble, which was caused by Chris Cooper. Terrell Buckley committed a costly holding penalty on third down, giving the Raiders a first down, and they scored when Gannon went in from the 2.
The Patriots could have lost by a much greater margin considering the penalty-riddled Raiders’ attack and the fact the Patriots performed so poorly on third down defensively.
Vinatieri’s 36-yard field goal with 9:09 remaining in the first quarter gave the Patriots a 3-0 lead, but they blew a big opportunity on their second series when Brady, who rarely goes deep, overthrew a wide-open Deion Branch, who had beaten Woodson right up the middle of the field on third and 8. Branch, who had 5 yards of separation on Woodson, probably would have taken it to the house had the ball been on the mark.
The Raiders started their next drive at the 25. Good fortune aided them along the way. On a third and 5 from the Patriots’ 43, Gannon’s pass attempt was tipped by Bruschi, hit off Tim Brown, and went into the arms of tight end Doug Jolley.
Gannon moved the chains, but his shovel pass to Tyrone Wheatley on third and 20 fell 3 yards shy of the first down at the Patriots 21. The Raiders settled for Janikowski’s 39-yard field goal with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter, tying it at 3.
It was another overthrown Brady pass to an open Patten (who had beaten James) down the field on third and 18 that forced the Patriots to punt. Ken Walter shanked it, though, giving the Raiders decent field position at the 37.
Gannon, who completed 21 straight passes in defeating the Broncos last Monday night, hit a wide-open Jolley for 30 yards to the Patriots’ 11.
Gannon swung it out to the left side to Garner on third and 15, and he stormed down the sideline and lunged for the goal line. The officials spotted the ball at the 2, and the spot was challenged by Raiders coach Bill Callahan.
After the play was reviewed, the officials awarded the Raiders a half-yard. That was still short of a first down, so it was fourth and inches.
Gannon got the go-ahead to go for the first down. He handed off to Crockett, who penetrated the right side for the 2-yard score with 9:58 remaining in the second quarter to give the Raiders a 10-3 lead.
The Raiders could have had more, but penalties hindered them. With just over six minutes remaining, the Raiders’ defense had pushed the Patriots back on an 8-yard sack by DeLawrence Grant. But facing a fourth and 20, the Raiders couldn’t help themselves. Special-teamer Marcus Knight roughed Walter for a 15-yard penalty, continuing the Patriots’ drive.
Antowain Smith broke loose for a tough 11-yard run, but a couple of failed pass attempts by Brady into the end zone ended the drive. A 31-yard Vinatieri field goal, his 177th, which moved him past Gino Cappelletti for first all-time for the Patriots, cut the deficit to 10-6.
“It was a close game right there, but then we committed the turnover [Brady]. That was a big play,” lamented Belichick.