OAKLAND, Calif. – Just when the Patriots offense looked like it was becoming one-dimensional, the running game kicked into high gear.
As a team, New England gained 183 yards on the ground, averaging a whopping 6.1 yards per carry. The effort was punctuated by two solid individual performances. Rookie Stevan Ridley led the way, coming just three yards short of 100 and averaging 9.7 yards on his 10 carries. The most electrifying one, of course, was his 33-yard touchdown jaunt early in the third quarter.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was impressive as well, with a 4.7-yard average on 16 carries, including another touchdown run midway through the second quarter.
The production generated on the ground meant quarterback Tom Brady only had to attempt 30 passes, completing just over half of them for 226 yards – by far his lowest output of the season after four games. But the balance the offense was able to attain both running and throwing the ball helped New England score more than 30 points for the fourth straight week, while keep the Raiders' defensive pressure off of Brady.
"They were huge, man. Our offensive line's doing an awesome job. Those are the biggest holes I've ever seen in my life," Ridley told reporters in the post-game locker room at O.co Coliseum. "I just have to keep running and when they're there, I have to hit them full-speed.
"I'm a downhill runner and that offensive line is working for me up front. I'm still learning as I go, so, I still have a lot of work to do. I just have to take my role one game at a time, take those carries, and do what I have to do when the ball's in my hands."
"I think the backs – Benny and Rid – they were finding the holes, getting to the edge, they were making our blocks a lot easier," said left tackle Matt Light. "They work hard each week The more we give those guys the ball, the better off we'll be, and the more effectively we can run the ball, the more success we'll have offensively.
"We were able to move the ball effectively and do some of the things we wanted to do. Obviously, you start the game throwing out some of the best stuff you've worked on all week, you hope to have some success with it. We were able to make some adjustments, too, based on what they were giving us up front. All in all, I think it was a good game."
"We had to work hard all week, and when you work hard, good things come," added Green-Ellis. "We stuck with it, played hard, ran well. Good things happened for us and we won the game."
"It's the key," wide receiver Deion Branch commented about the balanced approach, before qualifying, "but it's week-to-week. I even said this last week [against Buffalo]: 'Hey, we threw the ball a lot last week. Another week we may run the ball a lot.' Which we did today. It's always a plus when you run the football. It opens up a lot of things in the passing game, which it did [today]. We knew they could do it."
Against the Bills a week ago, the defense collapsed in the second half after the offense had built up a sizeable lead, while the offense squandered several opportunities to increase the lead by committing errors of their own. Maintaining their composure and reducing the mental errors that led to that was another focus the Patriots had going into the Oakland game.
"I think everything rolled out the way Coach expected," Branch explained. "We won the coin toss, we deferred, and first time we got the ball, we went down and scored. Our goal was to go into the second half and execute. We went out and executed our plays. Second half came our and scored on the first drive. We haven't done that in a long time, and that was one of our main goals, and we did it.
"There were a lot of good things, but a lot of things we messed up on again, with those flags that stopped the drive. Fortunately, the best thing about it, they got more flags than we did. That was a good thing, unlike last week."
While the offense took care of its job, the defense did a better job of doing theirs, despite still giving up more than 500 yards of total offense to the Raiders. Though Oakland's star ball carrier Darren McFadden gained 75 yards rushing and another 48 receiving, he didn't have the impact on the game that many expected him to coming into the contest.
"Always when you come off a loss, there's a sense of urgency, where you need to improve right now," cornerback and co-captain Devin McCourty explained.
"Any competitor, you don't want to lose back-to-back games. As a secondary, we had that sense of urgency all week, to try and come out here and play better. That was the focus today and it's going to keep being the focus each week.
"If you watch McFadden throughout the season, a guy will miss up front and then when he's in the secondary, he's made a lot of guys miss. So, we kind of took that as a challenge to help those guys up front. Our front seven does a great job against the run, but if a guy gets outside or in the open field, we have to do a good job coming up and making tackles."
But the story of the game was New England's rushing attack, which came up strongest when it was needed most.
"With our coaching staff," Ridley concluded, "whatever they ask us to do – if it's more with the run one week or more with the pass the other – they have the game plan. They just put us out there and execute what they want us to do. They know we have a great quarterback, great receivers, we have a great offense. We have to pull our load and do our job and that'll help us come together and be a better team in the long run."
In the short run, it helped garner the Patriots their third win of the season.