FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—The New England Patriots lost two linebackers and two coaches in the offseason.
They still know how to win, thanks in large part to two stars they didn’t lose.
Tom Brady threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns and Richard Seymour helped make a game-turning defensive play as the Patriots opened their quest for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl victory by beating Oakland 30-20 on Thursday night.
In the process, they held Randy Moss, the Raiders’ new star, to one big play: a 73-yard touchdown catch.
“Richard’s so disruptive,” Brady said of Seymour, who helped force the turnover that broke open a tight game in the third quarter. “He’s the best defensive lineman in the league.”
New England’s 35th win in 39 games since the start of the 2003 season was an odd one—all offense at the start, mostly defense after intermission. One key early adjustment was made by the Patriots, switching from their traditional 3-4 defense to a 4-3 to help fill the gap caused by the loss of inside linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson.
It paid off in the third quarter, when the Patriots held a tenuous three-point lead and neither team could really get going.
Seymour, who as usual made a half-dozen big plays on defense, pushed Raiders center Jake Grove into quarterback Kerry Collins. Meanwhile, Jarvis Green, who became the fourth lineman when the Pats switched to the 4-3, came around from the right side and sandwiched Collins as he was throwing. The ball popped into the air and into the hands of 325-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork at the Raiders 20.
“We know Richard is a pretty good force inside. He has been for four years,” coach Bill Belichick said of the two-time All-Pro. “We thought we could get some force from the outside with Jarvis and Rosie (Rosevelt Colvin.)”
Said Grove: “Seymour did a twist and he caught me in an awkward angle. We were handling it pretty well until that play.”
The Patriots, who also lost coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel to head coaching jobs, led 17-14 at halftime on touchdown passes by Brady of 29 yards to Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and 5 yards to newcomer Tim Dwight. That offset a 2-yard TD pass by Kerry Collins to tight end Courtney Anderson on the game’s first series and the bomb to Moss, who at 6-foot-4, simply went over 5-8 Tyrone Poole.
Dillon’s TD after the turnover made it 23-14, and Dillon scored again in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run set up by a 24-yard pass interference penalty on rookie Stanford Routt, as the Patriots won their 21st straight home game. The call on Routt was one of 14 penalties for 139 yards by Oakland, traditionally one of the NFL’s most flagged teams.
“I thought we played a competitive game against a championship team,” Raiders coach Norv Turner said. “There’s a reason why they have won 20 straight games in this stadium.”
That wasn’t Moss’ only mistake. He also dropped a short first-down pass that could have gotten the Raiders out a hole early in the third quarter.
That eventually led to the game-turning play by Seymour, Green and Wilfork.
The Raiders, 9-23 the last two seasons, showed more improvement on defense than on offense, holding the Patriots to 73 yards on the ground. Dillon started with 11 yards on his first 11 carries before finishing with 69 yards on 23 carries.
Collins, who threw for 159 yards in the first half, finished 18 of 40 for 265 yards. Moss had five catches for 130 yards.
Overall, the Patriots were satisfied with the win, not necessarily the way it went. Belichick acknowledged he might go to the 4-3 more often, but added that “it will go week-to-week and it will depend on who we play and how the matchups go.”
“I’m glad we’re not peaking here in Week One. This is a long season, as we all realize.”
This was the ninth 300-yard passing game for Brady in his four-plus years as a starter. … The blocked extra point marked the first time Vinatieri had missed a conversion in 28 games and 82 kicks, including playoffs. … Moss’ touchdown catch was the 91st of his career. With Jerry Rice’s retirement, he is the active leader. … Collins passed 30,000 yards passing for his career. He now has 30,143.