Defending Super Bowl champs claim first game 30-20
If the first game is any indication, the Patriots look hungry for what would be a record third straight Super Bowl. On Thursday, September 8, the Patriots began the NFL season with a resounding 30-20 win over the Oakland Raiders at Gillette Stadium in Boston. Other than simply putting the Patriots in the win column, this game sent a message to the rest of the league: the Patriots are still the team to beat.
The Patriots extended their home winning streak to 21 games and showed the form that has helped them win three out of the last four Super Bowls. Led once again by a stifling defense and the calm presence of two time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots looked in control throughout the contest. The storyline was one that has become familiar to Patriots fans over the past four years: the Patriots' stifling defense dominates the opposing offense and Brady's efficient passing keeps the opposing defense on their heels.
Brady finished the game 24 of 38 passing for 306 yard and two touchdowns. His looked very impressive in the first half, completing passes to six different receivers for 212 yards and an exceptional 149.6 quarterback rating. Corey Dillon, the Patriots' stud running back, finished the game with just 63 yards rushing, but he scored two crucial second half touchdowns that finished off the Raiders.
The Raiders offense looked flashy but mostly inconsistent throughout the game. Kerry Collins threw for three touchdowns, including a 73 yard bomb to newly acquired star wideout Randy Moss and two to tight end Courtney Anderson.
On the Raiders' first possession, which announcer Al Michaels called a "dream beginning," Kerry Collins led a 72-yard drive that was punctuated by Anderson's first touchdown catch, which put the Raiders ahead. Early on, it looked as if the loss of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, and a retooled Patriots defense would be the Patriots' undoing. Crennel, now a head coach with the Cleveland Browns, was an integral part of the Patriots three championship seasons. Brady's precision passing and touch on the football resulted in an Adam Vinateri 29-yard field goal and an 18-yard TD catch by reigning Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch.
After gaining good field position on their own 43-yard line following a missed field goal attempt by the Raiders, the Patriots were forced to punt. On the first play of this new drive, Collins hooked up with Moss for the most electrifying play of the evening. Moss sprinted past New England cornerback Tyrone Poole, and then juggled Collins' deep pass before maneuvering past Patriots safety Rodney Harrison and gliding his way into the end zone for his first touchdown as a Raider, and making the score 14-10 in their favor.
Brady's offense responded with a touchdown of its own, this time a five-yard toss to wideout Tim Dwight on a comeback route, putting the Patriots ahead at the end of the first half.
The second half proved to be more in New England's favor. The Raiders took over on downs in their own territory, but the New England defense forced a costly Kerry Collins turnover, which was just the break the Patriots would need to pull away. After a great Patriots pass rush forced the ball up in the air, nose tackle Vince Wilfork caught an interception on the Raiders 23-yard line. After abandoning the rushing game in the first half (Corey Dillon rushed 6 times for net -3 yards), the Patriots turned to Dillon to help them run the clock and put the game out of reach. Dillon's 8-yard touchdown run put the Pats ahead by a score of 23-14. Adam Vinateri's point-after attempt was blocked.
This turnover swung the momentum in the Patriots favor and made Kerry Collins appear squeamish and uncomfortable in the pocket. From this point forward the Patriots cruised, never looking flustered or pressured by the Raiders, on both sides of the ball. Corey Dillon's second touchdown of the game put the Patriots up 30-14 with just over five minutes left to play. The Raiders blocked a Patriots punt which led to Kerry Collins' third touchdown pass of the game: an 8-yard catch by Courtney Anderson. This made the score 30-20 in the Patriots' favor, and it stayed this way after the Raiders failed on a two-point conversion. The Raiders' unsuccessful onside kick attempt on the ensuing kickoff ended any resemblance of drama.
Although Randy Moss finished with over 100 yard receiving and a touchdown in a promising first game with his new team, the Patriots were the team that exuded dominance. The Patriots certainly sent the rest of the NFL the message that they are not going to give up their Super Bowl crown willingly.
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