MEXICO CITY - A long stay in Colorado preceded a quick trip down to Mexico, where the Patriots made short work of the Oakland Raiders.
Historically, the Patriots under Bill Belichick enjoy successful road trips when they stay in a remote location for a week during the regular season. This past week in Colorado, prior to traveling south of the border, was the fourth such occasion since 2008. They held a 5-2 record in those contests that bookend their weeklong sojourns, including last week's convincing victory at Denver. A win in Mexico would complete the extended road trip.
"It's a big win to come down here and beat two AFC West opponents back-to-back," safety/co-captain Duron Harmon emphasized. "It was a phenomenal team win today."
The Colorado experience also helped New England in terms of adjusting to Mexico City's thin, high-altitude air.
"It helped," wide receiver Brandin Cooks confirmed. "[The altitude]'s something we're not used to and it's a mindset, attitude-type game and I think we did a great job as a team of pushing through it."
Sunday at Azteca, after New England's defense forced Oakland to punt on the game's first series, the Patriots did their best to quiet the Raider faithful by running a mostly hurry-up, 87-yard opening drive than lasted 15 plays. They got lucky to recover a Rex Burkhead fumble in Oakland territory, and later capitalized when Brady dumped off a 15-yard TD pass to running back Dion Lewis.
Duron Harmon then picked off a Derek Carr pass that deflected off the QB's intended receiver that thwarted the ensuing Oakland possession.
Big plays continued on offense when Brady found Brandin Cooks for a 52-yard 2nd-quarter completion that set up a Danny Amendola touchdown catch that upped New England's lead to 14-0.
Having little success through the air, the Raiders looked to their ground game and found a modicum of success there. However, just when it appeared Oakland was poised to score at the end of the first half, reserve linebacker Marquis Flowers came to New England's rescue with a forced fumble that safety Patrick Chung recovered at the Patriots' 7-yard line.
With second ticking off the clock, Brady and the offense managed to set kicker Stephen Gostkowski up for a 62-yard field goal - his second franchise record-breaking boot this season. His teammates mobbed him at midfield as they headed for the locker room.
"It was an unbelievable atmosphere," the kicker recalled at his locker. "The stadium was great, the fans were unreal. It just a fun experience to have a hand in a win, and the excitement with all the guys after making that kick was really cool."
Getting the ball first at the start of the second half, Brady and Co. wasted little time getting back on the scoreboard. In less than a minute (54 seconds, to be precise), the Patriots traveled 75 yards in just three plays, the last of which saw Cooks accelerate past two Oakland defenders to bring in a 64-yard Brady pass for a third New England TD.
That play put an emphatic exclamation point on the Patriots' afternoon, as Estadio Azteca erupted in cheers from New England supporters.
The New England Patriots take on the Oakland Raiders in a regular season game in Mexico City on Sunday, November 19, 2017.
The Patriots are no strangers to playing in loud stadiums on the road, but Estadio Azteca proved next-level loud at times, and the big plays on offense, defense, and special teams only added to the fiesta-like atmosphere.
In the 3rd quarter, Gostkowski added a comparatively easy 51-yard field goal and chip-shots of 40 and 29 yards. Meanwhile, penalties - loads of them per game - had been a sore spot for the Patriots earlier in the season, yet against Oakland, they committed only two after incurring the same number in Denver - another positive trend from these past two outings.
When the season started, many of us thought the second half of the season would test the Patriots' mettle, particularly this two-game stretch, which kicks off a run of five road games over six weeks. As their winning record in these situations reflects, there's truly something special about New England's longer-than-normal, in-season road trips.
"I looked at it as a great challenge," Harmon admitted. "We want to play the best. The teams we just played are really good, talented football teams. I knew it was going to be challenging for us, but we came out, did what we had to do, played good, complementary football, and we were able to have some success the last couple of weeks."
The past 10 days, therefore, could come to define their 2017 season. The Patriots enjoyed two solid, all-around efforts on the road in hostile environments, came away relatively unscathed injury-wise, and are starting to come together at just the right time. At the moment, they are where we expect them to be at this point in the season - sitting comfortably atop the AFC and getting stronger as the year unfolds