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Patriots minimize mistakes in route of Raiders

Rookie Stevan Ridley was given his first extensive action of the season and did not disappoint, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on only 10 carries.

It was not their most prolific outing, but the Patriots were able to eliminate turnovers and cut down penalties on their way to a convincing victory over the Raiders in Oakland.

In what became a flipped script from last week where the Patriots fell to the Bills despite outgaining Buffalo, New England was able to leave Oakland with a victory despite the Raiders putting nearly 100 more yards in the stat sheet. The Patriots were able to overcome this by winning the turnover battle 2-0 and only amassing 45 penalty yards, less than of half what they were penalized a week ago. As another departure from their struggles in Buffalo, the Patriots found some offensive balance for the first time in 2011, rushing for 183 yards and, more importantly, 11 first downs.

All this helped the Patriots turn what appeared to be a competitive game early on into a comfortable 31-19 victory. Quarterback Tom Brady was held under 300 yards passing for the first time this year, but threw for two scores and, unlike last week’s four interception fiasco in Buffalo, did not turn the ball over. It was a much-needed win for a team coming off of an uncharacteristicly mistake laden defeat.

“It’s always big to bounce back,” receiver Wes Welker said. “We had the letdown last week and we got a bounce-back from that, and coming on the road into a hostile environment, it’s a big win for us.” 

Perhaps other members of the Patriots were bouncing back, but Welker himself was just continuing an early season trend of eye-popping statistics. After a career day in which he accumulated 217 receiving yards and two touchdowns last week, Welker was again fantastic Sunday. With his 158 yards through the air and another receiving score, Welker maintained his spot as the league’s top statistical receiver. The undersized wideout got the scoring going early for New England when Brady found him for a 15-yard score late in the first quarter to put that Patriots up 7-0.

Midway through the second quarter the Patriots clung to a 14-10 advantage following a Benjarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run, but Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell had his team in striking distance at the New England six-yard line. But, after buying time in the pocket, Campbell inexplicably threw a pass directly to Patriots safety Patrick Chung in the back of the end zone. The Patriots would turn the first major Raider gaffe into three points and go to the half leading 17-10.

New England’s newly found running game showed up again early in the second half. Rookie Stevan Ridley took a handoff up the middle and slipped through two Raider defenders before using his speed to break away from the pack for a 33-yard touchdown run. It would be a solid day for Ridley, who led the Patriots with 97 yards rushing on only 10 carries, and New England’s ground game as a whole which outgained an Oakland rushing attack that came into the game as the league’s best.

“We just ran the ball better,” coach Bill Belichick said when asked if the Patriots ran the ball more by design against Oakland. “We always want to have balance, and we were able to have it today.”

After a Brady pass to Deion Branch put them up 31-13, the Patriots closed the door on a possible Raider comeback when massive defensive tackle Vince Wilfork came up with his second interception in the last three games. This time Wilfork did not need a tipped ball as he did in San Diego two weeks ago. Rather, the All-Pro tackle simply took advantage of a low throw from Campbell. Still, it was a difficult catch on what appeared to be a bullet of a throw.

“Vince has got great hands,” Belichick said. “When he gets his hands on it, he’s like a vacuum cleaner, he sucks it right in there.”

The Raiders would add a late touchdown, but it would only serve as stat padding for Campbell who had a great day yardage wise, throwing for 344 yards, but a forgettable one in the turnover department. On the other side of the ball Brady had his least gaudy stat line of the season, only 226 yards and a pair of scores. Those scores did, however, push Brady past his childhood hero Joe Montana for ninth place on the all-time passing touchdowns list with 274. It was fitting that Brady was able to pass Montana on his homecoming trip to the Bay Area, but he was quick to point out that statistics are hard to compare across eras because of changes in the way the game is played.

“I’ll never be in Joe’s category,” Brady said of Montana. “We throw the ball a lot more than they threw it back then. It’s much more of a passing league now than it’s ever been.”

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