The New England Patriots faced little resistance in Sunday’s 33-8 demolition of the Oakland Raiders, but had a play or two broken differently, they might have entered halftime with a measly seven-point lead.
After a Danny Amendola touchdown catch put the Patriots ahead 14-0 late in the second quarter, the Raiders marched all the way to New England’s 15-yard line thanks to some tough running by Marshawn Lynch and Jalen Richard.
Oakland still couldn’t do much of anything in the passing game — nor could its defense slow down Tom Brady — but it looked like the Raiders would trail by, at most, 11 points heading into the break. That’s not an insurmountable deficit by any means.
But then, some tremendously poor ball security by wide receiver Seth Roberts allowed the Patriots to accomplish something they do better than any team in the NFL: crush an opponent’s soul with a devastating double score.
Roberts caught a pass from Derek Carr at the Patriots’ 3-yard line, spun in an effort to evade a Jonathan Jones tackle and had the ball punched out by linebacker Marquis Flowers. Safety Patrick Chung pounced on the pigskin at the Pats’ 7, giving New England the ball back with 33 seconds remaining in the half.
Thirty-three seconds? Plenty of time for Tom Brady.
A handoff to Dion Lewis on first down gained 20 yards, and after throwing incomplete to Brandin Cooks, Brady hit Amendola for 18 yards and Rob Gronkowski for 10 more, bringing the ball to New England’s 45-yard line and setting up a 62-yard field-goal try for Stephen Gostkowski.
Sixty-two yards is ambitious even for a kicker of Gostkowski’s caliber, but in the thin Mexico City air, he booted a kick that would have been good from 70. It was the longest field goal of his career and the longest in Patriots history, breaking his own record of 58 yards.
“It was good execution there at the end of the half where we were able to get the field goal,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game. “Obviously, it was a great kick by Steve, but to put ourselves in that position was very much the way we talked about it and practiced it this week. That showed up in our Friday practice in Colorado Springs.”
Gostkowski’s boot sent the Patriots into the locker room with a 17-0 lead, and it took Belichick’s squad — which deferred after winning the opening coin toss — little time to add to that advantage after halftime.
After completing short passes to Lewis and Amendola on first and second down, Brady heaved a pass downfield for Cooks, who already had a 52-yard reception earlier in the game. This one went for 64 yards and seven points, with Cooks jogging across the goal line after easily outracing rookie defensive back Obi Melifonwu.
“It’s a play we’ve run before,” Brady explained in his postgame news conference. “Cookie had a tight split, and then he fakes the out, runs an out-and-go, a guy jumped it, and he was pretty wide open. So I was just trying not to blow it. If I’d have missed that one, that would have sucked. But he caught it in stride, and it’s tough to catch him from behind when he gets behind the defense.”
Cooks’ score put the Patriots ahead 24-0 less than a minute into the second half. They never looked back, tacking on three more Gostkowski field goals and allowing just one Raiders touchdown in one of their most dominant efforts of the season.