MEXICO CITY — The Oakland Raiders technically were the home team at Estadio Azteca on Sunday afternoon, but the New England Patriots had the home-field advantage. And that’s because they’re smart.
The Patriots flew to Denver last Friday to play the Broncos on Sunday night. After the game, they drove from Denver to Colorado Springs, where they spent the week practicing at the Air Force Academy. Then they flew straight from Colorado Springs to Mexico City on Sunday afternoon.
What do Denver, Colorado Springs and Mexico City all have in common? Altitude. The Patriots progressively got higher and higher in altitude. Denver is a mile high, while Mexico City is 7,200 feet above sea level.
“That’s nine days getting your body adjusted to it, practicing it,” safety Duron Harmon said Sunday. “I think it was really good for us. It might have given us a little advantage, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t going to help us win. We had to go out here and play good football, and that’s what we did.”
The Raiders, meanwhile, practiced in Oakland all week before arriving at altitude in Mexico City on Sunday night at 6 p.m. Even with the week in Colorado, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Danny Amendola both missed time in the game due to dehydration. Gilmore said he “hydrated a lot” and got an IV before the game but still cramped up.
“I think it helped,” Gilmore said about staying in Colorado. “But we still had to come out and compete and play our game to win.”
The altitude can still hit no matter how well you prepare.
“I’m not gonna lie, there was one drive there that had a lot of plays,” linebacker Marquis Flowers said. “You definitely start feeling it. I think Coach Bill (Belichick) did a great job getting us ready. The whole week in Colorado, altitude, I like to kill myself in practice, so when it gets to the game, it’s like, ‘I’ve been here. I can play through it.’ I just think we do a great job, and the coaches do a great job getting us ready to play.”
It also helped that there seemed to be just as many Patriots fans at Estadio Azteca as there were supporters in silver and black. While the Patriots’ offense was on the field and Oakland was still in the game, Raiders fans would roar before the play, and New England fans would cheer just as loud for a big play.
Harmon said he wasn’t surprised by the support.
“Our fans are great wherever we go,” Harmon said. “All Pat Nation that came out from Mexico, Mexico City today, we appreciate you.
“It’s always loud. We always got Pats fans screaming. Just want to say thank you to those people who came out to support us today. It really felt like a home game.”