OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 02: Deion Branch #84 of the New England Patriots celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on October 2, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Bounce Back Victory. Following a disheartening loss to their divisional foes, the Buffalo Bills, in week 3, the Patriots bounced back with a critical road victory over the Raiders, as the team prepares for a difficult stretch in their schedule. The win wasn't exactly flawless, I wouldn't even call it pretty, but it's always nice to get a blowout victory on the road against a competitive team, especially following a loss.
Balance on Offense. After three weeks of pass heavy offense, the Patriots finally established a solid balance on offense. In total, the team threw the ball just 30 times while carrying the ball a total of... 30 times. No, Tom Brady's numbers weren't as gaudy as they were in the first three weeks, but they were solid (16/30, 226, 2 TD). However, the Patriots did a nice job of clock control in the second half and having the ground game established helped in doing so. Rookie Stevan Ridley and fourth year back BenJarvus Green-Ellis both had really solid games. It was nice to see the Patriots win a game without solely relying on the play of Tom Brady / Wes Welker.
Ugly Game For Oakland, Turnover Free Day for Pats. The reason the Patriots were able to win today's game so easily came down to two major things: winning the turnover battle and not committing costly penalties. The Raiders bogged down on offense in the red zone several times, and had one back-breaking interception late in the first half (courtesy of Pat Chung). Vince Wilfork also came up with another athletic interception. The Patriots were turnover free and while they had a total of five penalties for 45 yards, none of them were two costly. On the other hand, the Raiders committed nine penalties for 85 yards, several of which helped keep Patriots drives alive.
Pass Rush, Third Down Defense Struggle. For the second straight week, the Patriots failed to record a sack on the quarterback. The only player who seemed to get any kind of rush was Mark Anderson, who had a should-have-been sack on Jason Campbell in the fourth quarter. In total, the Raiders went 8/13 on third downs. Not a good sign for a unit that needed to show improvement in those two areas.
Wes Welker Spectacular... Again. Today, Wes Welker had nine catches for 158 yards and a touchdown. No other Patriots receiver had more than 25 yards or two catches. In total, Welker has 616 yards on 40 catches and five touchdowns on the year. He made some really tough and really important catches. Everyone knows he's going to get the ball, especially with Aaron Hernandez out, yet Welker continues to tear up NFL defenses. Wes Welker is a legitimate MVP candidate at this point.
Defense Stops the Run, For the Most Part. Heading into the game, the Patriots knew that would need to slow down Darren McFadden as much as possible, and they did a pretty decent job at handling that task. McFadden picked up 75 yards on 14 attempts. If you take out the Patriots one mistake (a 41 yard run), McFadden had just 34 yards on 13 attempts. So, like I said, the Patriots did a pretty good job containing him for the majority of the game. Props go to Brandon Spikes, who I felt was a difference maker in the Patriots base defense (he played nearly every 1st and 2nd down snap),
Leg Injuries for Jerod Mayo and Danny Woodhead. The Patriots may have lost two key players for an extended period of time. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Danny Woodhead each suffered leg / knee injuries in this afternoon's game. According to multiple reports, Mayo has a sprained MCL, and won't be lost for the entire season. We still don't know what Woodhead's deal is. Either way, losing either or these players for an extended period of time would be a significant blow for the Patriots.
Patriots 3-1, Host Jets Next. The Patriots have finished the first quarter of their season with a respectable 3-1 record. But as the team prepares to enter the most difficult stretch of the season, there are still plenty of things the team needs to work on. Next Sunday, the team will host the New York Jets in a game that will certainly be critical in the AFC East division race.