After a stunning loss to the Bills in week three, the Patriots traveled west to take on the young and talented Oakland Raiders.
Led by Darren McFadden, the league’s leading rusher, the Raiders posed a threat to New England’s hopes of staying in the hunt for the division lead.
However, like Bill Belichick has done so many times, he crafted a specific game plan to take out the opponent’s best weapon.
While the defense certainly didn’t dominate, it did enough and took advantage of some poor decisions by Jason Campbell and held the Raiders to 19 points.
On offense, Tom Brady didn’t throw for 400 yards, but was effective in finding his open receivers (aka Wes Welker) and the running game finally made an appearance.
1. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley: After becoming the Patriots’ first 1000-yard rusher since Antowain Smith, some thought Green-Ellis would be able to carry the load again this year. However, the former undrafted free agent hadn’t looked capable of being THE guy this year especially after a dismal performance against the Bills (10 carries for 18 yards). However, the fourth-year veteran looked more decisive and ran with some authority against Oakland, rushing for 75 yards and a score on 16 carries.
Yet, the surprising star of the running attack was certainly Ridley. The third-round pick from LSU showed why he was a first-team All-SEC pick as a senior, rushing for 97 yards on 10 carries, including a 33-yard TD. While he was pegged as a power back in the draft process, Ridley has shown impressive quickness and speed and looks primed to eat into BJGE’s carries as the season progresses.
2. Devin McCourty: Despite all the holes and question marks on the Patriots defense, few thought McCourty would suffer from any type of sophomore slump. Through the first three games, we were all wrong. But against Oakland, McCourty rebounded with a solid performance. Campbell targeted McCourty seven times, but the 2010 pro bowler only allowed four completions for 29 yards. Hopefully McCourty builds on this performance and regains his title as a shutdown corner.
3. Offensive line: Playing against a fired-up Richard Seymour and a talented defensive line, the Patriots’ front five more than held their own. Despite not having Sebastian Vollmer in the lineup, the unit did a good job of keeping Brady clean in the pocket, allowing only one sack and four QB hits. Yet, it was the run blocking that was the biggest key of the day. Led by Logan Mankins and Brian Waters, the offensive line opened some big holes as the Patriots rushed for a season-high 183 yards on 30 carries. If they keep up this type of performance, it would certainly benefit an offense that had become too reliant on the pass.
4. Wes Welker: The little man does it again. Welker has been unstoppable this season, showing more quickness and speed than he did before his knee injury. Without Aaron Hernandez in the lineup, he has been an absolute monster. He racked up nine catches for 158 yards and a score.
1. Injuries: The Patriots suffered a monumental loss when All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo left the game with a knee injury. Reports have stated Mayo will miss up to six weeks with a sprained MCL. Outside of Vince Wilfork, Mayo is the MVP of the defense and the Patriots will be hard pressed to replace him. Defensive tackle Kyle Love suffered an ankle injury early in the first quarter, but returned to the sidelines. Running back Danny Woodhead suffered a left ankle injury and only played six snaps the whole game.
2. Pass rush: Same old, same old. Campbell threw at will on the Patriots. We didn’t sack him once. Only three QB hits. Something needs to change.
3. Gary Guyton: It may seem nitpicky, but if this is who will replace Mayo in the starting lineup, our defense will be even worse. Guyton displayed no physicality and seemed disinterested at times. He once looked like someone who could be counted on, but his performance left me wondering what his role is. I would have liked to see Dane Fletcher on the field more over Guyton.