FOXBOROUGH -- The New England Patriots claim they are not out to make history, just first downs.
They maintain they focus more on getting their clutches on opposing quarterbacks than on another Lombardi Trophy.
They even say reaching a goal no other National Football League team has achieved -- a third consecutive Super Bowl championship -- is secondary to reaching the goal line.
Whether they admit it or not, the lofty, albeit unspoken, aspirations are going to make the first downs, tackles, and touchdowns more difficult.
The Oakland Raiders demonstrated as much last night, but the two-time defending Super Bowl champions displayed their standard resilience, toppling the feisty visitors, 30-20, in the 2005 season opener.
The Patriots recorded their 21st straight victory at Gillette Stadium, a streak that extends to late in the 2002 season, and it marked the 100th career win for coach Bill Belichick.
In many ways it came in a fashion similar to so many wondrous wins the previous four seasons -- efficient, opportunistic offense, and dominant defense when it mattered. But it also came with some distinct differences from how the Patriots rolled to the championship last year. Namely, a blocked extra point and punt, and the defense giving up the longest play it has allowed in more than five years.
About all that did was keep the boisterous sellout crowd from having a game-long celebration on the night the team’s championship banner from Super Bowl XXXIX was unveiled.
“It was a nice way to start out the season, with a victory,” Belichick said. “We kind of stumbled around on a few things tonight that are going to catch up with us if we don’t get ‘em fixed.”
The Patriots found one fix in this one, junking their 3-4 defensive set for a time to go with a 4-3 alignment, with Jarvis Green joining Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Vince Wilfork up front. The resulting pressure on Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins served to keep him from getting the ball to wideout Randy Moss, who burned the Patriots twice for long gains in the first half and finished with five receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots’ defense was particularly stout in the third quarter, when it held the Raiders to 34 yards. Oakland had five possessions in the period, but was 0 for 4 on third downs, and turned the ball over with an interception.
“We knew we had to pressure the quarterback -- knock him off a spot,” Wilfork said, who came down with the interception at a key point.
Leading, 17-14, New England took over the field position battle early in the third quarter by downing a pair of Josh Miller punts at the Oakland 4.
The second one helped set up the Patriots in prime field position at the Raiders’ 40, but they failed to do anything with the possession, and actually lost field position and seemingly momentum by coming up short on a fourth-and-1 play.
With defensive tackle Dan Klecko in at fullback, Corey Dillon went off right guard, where he was upended by former Patriot Bobby Hamilton and Danny Clark shy of the marker near the Raiders’ 30.
But just two plays later, Seymour created a traffic jam in the backfield, essentially pushing center Jake Grove into Collins. Green cleaned up from behind, hitting Collins and knocking the ball into the air.
Wilfork grappled with the ball but pulled down his first career interception at the Raiders’ 20.
It took three plays for the Patriots to tack on the score. Dillon followed blocks by Daniel Graham and Stephen Neal, and peeled off his longest run to that point (8 yards) for the touchdown.
Adam Vinatieri’s extra point was blocked by Langston Walker, ending a streak of 84 consecutive conversions for the Pro Bowl kicker -- dating to the 2003 season -- leaving New England ahead, 23-14.
Tom Brady was crisp, especially in the first half, when he completed 14 of 20 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns. He finished 24 for 38 for 306 yards, the ninth 300-yard game of his career. He had to be solid with the Patriots struggling early (only 7 yards rushing in the first half). Deion Branch, the Super Bowl XXXIX most valuable player, led New England with seven receptions for 99 yards and a score. Tim Dwight added a 5-yard touchdown catch, and Dillon (23 carries, 63 yards) came to life with a pair of second-half touchdowns.
Were it not for Moss’s big plays, the Patriots could have held the Raiders scoreless in the first half. Of course, that’s why the Raiders acquired the speedy wideout from Minnesota in the offseason.
Before the smoke cleared from the pregame fireworks display, the Patriots were in a 7-point hole, having surrendered more points on an opening drive than they did on all 19 game-opening possessions of the 2004 season (including the postseason) combined.
New England had not given up an opening-drive touchdown in 37 games, a streak that included six playoff games.
Moss, of course, figured in the in-game fireworks. On the third play of the game, he snuck behind the Patriots’ secondary and caught a 29-yard loft from Collins.
The Patriots were caught napping somewhat, as a cagey cadence from Collins drew Seymour into the neutral zone before the snap. A moment’s hesitation -- though the play wasn’t whistled dead -- provided all the time Moss needed to streak downfield, well past safety Eugene Wilson.
Had Collins’s throw not levitated too much, the Raiders would have had an easy touchdown.
The next time Collins and Moss hooked up, it went for 6. All it took was a simple fly pattern against a man-to-man, or, more accurately, short-man-versus-tall-man defense.
The 6-foot-4-inch Moss outfought the 5-8 and falling Tyrone Poole for the ball, cut past Rodney Harrison at the 15, and coasted into the end zone for the score. It was the longest play from scrimmage given up by New England in more than five years.
“He’s 6-4, he runs like a deer, and he can jump like Kobe Bryant, so he’s going to make some plays,” Harrison said. “We emphasize not giving up big plays like that, but he’s Randy Moss, the best receiver in the league.
“We made adjustments and did a pretty good job in the end.”
The Raiders finished with 351 yards to the Patriots’ 379, but nearly 100 of Oakland’s total came during a desperate fourth quarter with the game pretty much in hand.
“If you want to be a good team, want to win ballgames, you have to be able to adapt, and I think we did a fair job of that,” Harrison said.