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Patriots vs. Raiders: Fan Notes from the Game

Related: Patriots vs Raiders recap: Running game, opportunistic defense help New England win 36-20

Las Vegas Raiders Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The New England Patriots got themselves back in the win column with a solid victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, a team that had just taken out the Saints and seemed to be fairly legit. It was a great bounceback win and another step forward as the team continues to find itself. The preseason is almost over, and once that calendar turns to October these games might start to actually matter, so it’s always a good thing to keep the arrow pointing up.

  • This was one of those classic Patriots games we’ve become all too familiar with over the past several years, where an opponent comes out of the gate swinging with a complex defensive gameplan that the Patriots just can’t seem to figure out, complimented by a bruising running game that sets up second and five or less in order to open up the playbook for slants and shallow crossers. New England goes three and out over and over and the other guy marches on down the field before the defense forces a turnover or holds them to a field goal.
  • And give the Raiders credit; they attacked the Patriots exactly how I would have drawn it up as well - a lot of one-gap 4-3 defensive front that collapsed the center of a Patriots line that had to shift their guard over to center and start a rookie in his place. The pressure forced the tight ends to push inward and allowed edge rushers to collapse the outside lanes in order to keep Cam at home. New England’s first three offensive drives went for a combined 38 yards with one first down (which came on an encroachment penalty on 4th and 2) and a pick. New England tried quick screens, keepers, slants, RPO runs, and power runs...nothing. And I still can’t name a single player on the Raiders defense, so hats off to the gameplan.
  • However, as they always seem to do, the New England defense kept the Patriots in it until the offense figured it out. We started seeing toss plays to the outside and stretch zone runs around the edge. The thought process was that if the Las Vegas D was going to overcommit, then move the play beyond them and leave them in the backfield while you use your speed backs and quick receivers to gain yards.
  • I think the reason it took the Patriots so long to figure that out was...well, let’s be honest. If you’re looking to play some hard D in Las Vegas, the last thing on anyone’s mind is overcommitting.
  • Once the Raiders were forced to adjust and spread themselves out wide to prevent the sweep, the Patriots went back to slamming it up the middle.
  • Joe Thuney needs an extension and he needs one soon. I completely forgot that David Andrews was out after a while, both because the snap count was so seamless and because the running game was so effective.
  • Not even sure where I should start in the running game, to be honest. JJ Taylor was impossible to catch. Sony Michel seemed to realize that if he didn’t deliver in this game he’d be rendering himself completely replaceable and went off for 117 yards. Rex Burkhead seemed to be under the impression that every single player on the Raiders had coronavirus and were all trying to cough on him, as he made more guys miss than that comically narrow urinal trough at the old Foxboro Stadium. It all starts up front of course, with solid blocking and arguably the unheralded Patriot of 2020 thus far, Jakob Johnson, opening up holes and knowing when to abandon his original blocking assignment to penetrate into the 2nd level. But the backs ran with purpose, fell forward after contact, and got involved in the passing game as well.
  • The question I found myself asking before this game was what Michel brought to the backfield in terms of a unique skillset that the other backs didn’t have. Burkhead is the best all-around running/receiving threat. James White is one of the best, if not the best, receiving backs in the game. Taylor is quickly emerging as the change of pace, shifty guy that’s hard to bring down and has the speed to get to the outside for positive yards. And the short yardage back seems to be Cam Newton. So what does Michel have to offer?
  • If I had to answer that question based on yesterday alone, I’d call him the one-cut, follow the full back power runner who has a second gear past the line of scrimmage and can blast through arm tackles. He doesn’t have the speed to take it to the house once he clears the linebackers, but few running backs do. I’m very much looking forward to seeing What Damien Harris, who is now eligible to return, will bring to this rushing attack, and whether Michel will continue to see the occasional look in the passing game.
  • James White should be back next week as well. And if this team would be willing to run through a wall for any man on this roster, I’d put White second only to Matthew Slater.
  • The passing game was...efficient, because that’s all it needed to be. There were a few plays early in the game that were full-on, Alec-Shane-the-morning-after-all-you-can-eat-rib-night-at-Golden-Corral ugly, like that pass he forced into a triple covered Julian Edelman and the interception where he stared down Burkhead from the snap, threw it behind him, and Abram made the pick. That play might also have been a miscommunication between Newton and Asiasi, as he kept running instead of stopping to give Newton an outlet. But still, that’s the stuff you don’t like to see out of your quarterback.
  • Overall, though, you have to be beyond thrilled with what we’re seeing from Cam Newton and his growth in, and comfort level with, this offense. I think my favorite play of the game was late in the first half, when the Patriots faced a 2nd and 3 on their own 11 yard line. As the play developed, Newton had about seven yards in front of him for what would likely have been a first and goal from at the 2 yard line Instead, he stayed in the pocket and tried to hit Rex Burkhead in the corner of the end zone. Burkhead had a step, and perhaps with a lower, laser throw that’s a score...but Cam stayed at home and looked to throw first. That’s what I’m hoping to see.
  • On the flip side, my second favorite play of the game came on what was hands down New England’s best drive of 2020, early in the 4th quarter where the Raiders had pulled to within 10 and had the Patriots pinned inside the 15 yard line. Part of that 10 play, 86 yard drive that ended in a score was a 21 yard scramble from Newton where he set his feet to throw, avoided pressure, set his feet to throw again, moved up in the pocket to avoid another sack, looked to throw one more time, and then took off to the Raider 19 yard line before safely sliding and letting out a mighty bellow that I have no doubt we all would have heard even if there were fans in the stands. He wanted to pass on that play and was committed to it - but there was nothing there, so it was time to use his legs. Perfect.
  • And I’m glad the Patriots scored a TD on that drive, because there’s no reality where I’ll ever breathe a sigh of relief when the Patriots are close enough for even a chip shot field goal. I would have no problem if the Patriots decided to just go all Dallas Carter on the season and go for it every time.
  • If you had the over in how many times CBS would reference The Tuck Rule Game, enjoy your winnings.
  • I just can’t believe that that games happened almost 20 years ago. In the words of the Raiders head coach, that’s wild, man.
  • I also can’t believe that there are still people out there who think that it was a fumble. It’s just absurd. For the millionth time: the Tuck Rule made no sense. Why on Tebow’s green Earth the NFL decided to write a rule specifically designating that hand motion on a tuck back into the QB’s body an incompletion and not a fumble, we’ll likely never know. And the NFL has since changed that rule to make common, logical sense. If that game had taken place anytime after 2013, it would have indeed been a fumble. But the rules as they were written at that time clearly and explicitly stated that tucking the ball back into your body is an incomplete pass. You can’t not follow a rule in a professional sport because you deem it stupid. The refs got it right. it was the correct call on a stupid rule that probably should have never been there. Don’t hate on the Patriots for that. End of rant.
  • Ironically, the Raiders were denied recovering another fumble that they should have had, short-circuiting a pretty promising drive.
  • Offensively, I’m not entirely unconvinced that if Vegas hadn’t decided to get a little cute and just run the following three plays - power run, slant, middle crosser, in that order - they would have won this game. The Patriots remain vulnerable against power running backs, and when it’s 2nd and 6 and all you need is a quick slant to move the chains, that’s a recipe for success.
  • One thing that Cam Newton doesn’t seem to have is a high, floating, rainbow throw that sails just over the outstretched arm of the defender and lands perfectly in the receiver’s breadbasket. It’s all lasers, all the time.
  • I keep waiting for the light bulb to go off and me to come up with a funny nickname of phrase for Isaiah Zuber...but so far, nothing. The best I can come up with it “Da Zoobz.” No bueno.
  • If Raiders fans are going to die on the “it was a fumble!” hill, I’m going to die on the “yesterday John Gruden’s was using a black pair of women’s underwear as a mask, maybe he and Rex Ryan should get together and compare notes” hill
  • Darren Waller’s stat line: two catches for nine yards. And the guy who deserved a ton of credit for keeping him in check? Joejuan Williams. Never thought I’d be writing that today.
  • I should have touched on what a great job the Patriots receivers did as blockers by now, because that has been something of an issue this season. But one of the big reasons that Patriots backs were able to get to the outside and pick up chunk plays was because by the time they made it to the secondary, the DBs couldn’t shed their guys to make the play.
  • The world seems to have gone crazy for Travis Scott’s McDonald’s order. Why? Call me a grump, but a burger, fries, and soda doesn’t seem to be a wild thing to ask for at Mickey D’s.
  • One of these days, the Patriots are going to have the ball on or around the 10 yard line, and they’re going to hit Harry up the seam for a score. It’s going to be glorious.
  • Overall, though, it’s hard not to be encouraged by what we’re seeing out of N’Keal Harry. Yes, I’d still like to see him shed tacklers on the jet sweeps and quick screens, but I lost count of the tackles he broke on a crucial 27 yard pickup on 2nd and 11 when the Patriots needed to switch the field. That’s exactly what I want to see from a big, rangy, outside receiver: came out of his route perfectly, shed his first tackle, made contact, wrapped up the ball, and fought for five or six more yards. The last time I saw Harry use his bodyweight like that, his foot was on fire.
  • What’s most special about this win, other than beating a quality opponent by two scores (three if you don’t count the garbage time TD), was that through three weeks of football we’ve now seen three completely different versions of this Patriots offense. From a run-heavy RPO style that used Cam Newton as the primary back to a pass heavy aerial attack that kept Newton in the pocket to a smash-mouth, running back-focused offense that capitalized on all the big linemen and large backs on the team in order to kill clock and generate points. I don’t know if Josh McDaniels has another 13 completely different offensive schemes up his sleeve, but if he does, we may have to stop spelling the phrase “Patriots mystique” and start spelling it “Patriots Mystique.”

Big, big, bigbigbigbigBIG test coming up this Sunday, on the road against the best team in the AFC. But again, what makes this season so fun is that we’re not over here demanding a championship; we just want to see this team grow and develop, with young players getting meaningful reps and making quality strides forward. And the Patriots are 3-0 from that perspective.