The Patriots overcame a slow first half that was preserved by two takeaways and found their stride on the ground in the second half as they ran away to their second victory of the season. For the third time this season, it was a unique attack that led the way, as the Patriots leaned heavily on their running backs, with Sony Michel setting a career high in yardage (117 yards) and Rex Burkhead scoring three touchdowns to go along with 98 all-purpose yards.
The Patriots avoided the critical mistakes, especially in crunch time, recording just one giveaway and two penalties on the game, while capitalizing on three Raiders turnovers and six accepted penalties.
At this point in the season a win is a win and the Patriots did what they had to in knocking off the injury-depleted Raiders. How did they do it? Here are the five plays that defined the game.
Enel Powerful Play of the Game: Calhoun forces first quarter fumble
Situation: 1st quarter, 0-0, Raiders 2nd-and-5 at NE12
On their second drive of the game the Raiders had little trouble moving right down the field, putting together seven-straight positive plays, including big gains of 18, 22 and 14 yards. They were knocking on the door of opening the scoring when Josh Jacobs took a handoff and was met at the line by a stout Patriots defensive line.
Led by Shilique Calhoun and Adrian Phillips, the Pats defense stopped Jacobs and Calhoun was able to punch the ball out as Jacobs was going to the ground. J.C. Jackson then managed to dig the ball out of the pile to recover the fumble.
A week after getting the first full sack of his career, Calhoun made not only this big play, but also recorded another half sack and forced fumble that was recovered for a touchdown late in the game by Deatrich Wise. For a defense that needed some new playmakers to step up, Calhoun is doing his part early in the season.
"I think about it more after the game," said Jacobs after the game of the fumble. "During the game, I just go to the next play. I play the next play and try to give all my effort each play. This week I am going to come in and practice and just make sure I over emphasize protecting the ball. It is definitely a learning experience."
This was a key play that enabled New England to avoid falling into an early hole as the Raiders were carving them up on this drive. Though the Patriots would turn the ball back over to the Raiders four plays later, to escape two red zone drives only allowing three total points bought the team time to get their offense going without being taken out of their gameplan by an early deficit.
Calhoun takes our first Enel Powerful Play of the Game with a powerful play in traffic.
Winovich forces second-quarter fumble, Guy recovers
Situation: 2nd quarter, 3-3, Raiders 1st-and-10 at LV48
The Raiders got another great drive starter on this drive with a 23-yard run by Devontae Booker, taking them out to near midfield. Once again the defense forced a big turnover and one that would open the door for the Patriots to take the lead and never look back in the game.
This time it was Chase Winovich, with an impressive speed rush off the edge that cleanly beat the right tackle. Winovich quickly closed and managed to force the fumble that Lawrence Guy alertly jumped on for the recovery.
"Obviously anytime you can get a turnover, it's a huge opportunity in terms of momentum and helping the team win and it's something that any good defense, in my opinion, constantly emphasizes," said Winovich of the play after the game.
Along with Calhoun, Winovich and Guy are emerging as the key players in the front seven. Winovich continues to show up in a variety of ways each week and is proving to be one of their most consistent playmakers early on.
Gilmore's 28-yard PI near end of first half
Situation: 2nd quarter, 13-3 NE, Raiders 1st-and-10 at LV39
The Patriots took a commanding 13-3 lead near the end of the first half, kicking the ball back to the Raiders with just 34 second left. Really, any number of plays from this drive could've made this list, but we'll got with the biggest gainer of the drive, a 28-yard pass interference penalty by Stephon Gilmore that suddenly put the Raiders within striking distance.
Gilmore looked like he had been beat in coverage and pulled on Nelson Agholor's arm to prevent him from securing a long touchdown catch. It was already Gilmore's third pass interference penalty of the season and it came in the midst of an uncharacteristic situational football meltdown for the Patriots defense.
Two plays later Carr would find Hunter Renfrow for 27 yards between the coverage of Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty and one play later they'd score to make it 13-10 at halftime.
This drive allowed the Raiders to salvage a nearly disastrous first half and keep it just a three-point game.
"We kind of lost a little momentum there at the half," recounted Bill Belichick after the game. "To give up a touchdown with 30 seconds to go is just not good coaching on my part, start with that, and we just didn't play the situation very well. But the players really responded and came out at halftime and kind of took it as a 0-0 game or as a three-point game. Went out and played their best 30 minutes of football in the second half, which is what we needed from all three units."
Sony Michel 38-yard rush
Situation: 3rd quarter, 13-10 NE, Patriots 2nd-and-4 at NE37
After closing the first half with an impressive drive, the Raiders took the opening drive of the third quarter right down the field, keyed by a 34-yard pass to Bryan Edwards. But the Patriots defense stiffened from that point, getting a key stop on third down with a nice tackle from Terrence Brooks to force a field goal attempt.
The Raiders would miss the 41-yarder and from that point it was pretty much all Patriots and the play that kickstarted a dominant second-half effort on the ground was the longest rush of Sony Michel's career to that point, a 38-yarder that flipped the script of the game and for many who've been long waiting for this kind of run from Michel.
As with any big run, there were multiple big blocks, including notable ones by fullback Jakob Johnson and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. Michel also had a devastating open-field cut that left safety Johnathan Abram in the dust, while Damiere Byrd's downfield blocking also helped pick up some additional yards.
Michel would top this run with a 48-yarder on the next drive as the third-year running back suddenly showed some big play ability that offense badly needed. It was a great effort from Michel.
"Just kind of reading my keys, seeing how the defensive linemen were playing, reading the end, the guys trying to block off the outside," said Michel after the game of his two big runs. "The offensive line did a great job holding on to their blocks and to kind of crease it through the gaps, and it broke open for me. The offensive line, they don't get a lot of credit most of the time for our success, but those guys, they work hard. Those guys play every play without complaining and I think that's huge."
Burkhead caps it with his third TD
Situation: 4th quarter, 29-13 NE, Patriots 1st-and-2 from LV2
Rex Burkhead's two-yard touchdown to close out the offensive scoring for New England wasn't a key moment by itself, but it was the culmination of Burkhead's best day as a Patriot and his first ever three-touchdown game. Burkhead did equal damage whether he was carrying or catching the ball and was the most valuable offensive piece for the Patriots.
With James White's absence the Patriots could've been severely shorthanded, but Burkhead's presence gives them a versatile back who can perform a number of roles both on offense and special teams. The team needed someone to step up against the Raiders and it was Burkhead's time to shine.
"Just coming in with a tough loss last weekend against Seattle, we were just looking to bounce back as a team and establish the run game," said Burkhead. "The offensive line did a tremendous job all night of course, and the receivers out wide – N'Keal [Harry], Julian [Edelman], D-Byrd [Damiere Byrd], just really finishing blocks. The blocking for us at the second level was tremendous all night and when other the guys do that, it makes our job easier."