Remember when the New England Patriots couldn’t stop anyone? When they were giving up 30-plus points per game? When they were letting receivers run unchecked through the secondary on play after play?
My, how things have changed.
Since surrendering 33 points in a Week 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Patriots have looked like a completely new team on defense, allowing 17 or fewer points in each of their last six games. That trend continued Sunday afternoon, with New England holding the Oakland Raiders scoreless for the first three quarters en route to a 33-8 victory at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
“They made some plays,” safety Devin McCourty told reporters after the game,” but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do (Sunday).”
The Raiders had a fair amount of success on the ground against the Patriots — Marshawn Lynch had 67 yards on 11 carries — but failed to find any consistency on passing plays until the game was well out of reach.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had just eight completions for 65 yards in the first half and didn’t pass the 100-yard plateau until late in the fourth quarter. The rest of his 237 passing yards and his lone touchdown pass came in garbage time with the Patriots leading by more than three touchdowns.
New England also forced two turnovers: a first-quarter interception by Duron Harmon off a deflection by Jonathan Jones and a fumble recovery at the Patriots’ own 7-yard line in the final minute of the first half. Marquis Flowers forced the fumble by punching the ball out of receiver Seth Roberts’ hand, and Patrick Chung recovered.
The Patriots led 14-0 at the time, and the Raiders had just put together their most productive drive yet on the back of Lynch and fellow running back Jalen Richard. A touchdown in that situation would have made it a one-score game entering halftime.
Instead, New England kept Oakland off the scoreboard, then drove 48 yards in 28 seconds to set up a 62-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski as time expired in the half. Tom Brady proceeded to connect with Brandin Cooks on a 62-yard touchdown pass in the opening minute of the third quarter, and the rout was on.
“That’s something we talk about every week,” McCourty told reporters. “Obviously, playing solid defense and executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers. Even Duron’s interception was a third-down play, so it was kind of like a punt, but the energy that brings — when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover, that’s huge.”
The Patriots now sit at 8-2 after reeling off their sixth consecutive win. They’ve allowed a minuscule 12.5 points per game during that winning streak, proving that what we saw during their brutal opening month was, in fact, a fluke. This defense, while not elite, is more than talented enough to win a Super Bowl with.
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