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Game Observations: Pats find late stride to down Raiders

The Patriots got their second win of the season riding record-setting performances by two of their running backs.


The Patriots overcame a slow start and capitalized on three turnovers and some effective and explosive runs by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead to dispatch the Las Vegas Raiders and move to 2-1 on the season. It wasn't the perfect total team effort New England might've been looking for -- there were still issues on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots got timely takeaways and big plays to slowly wear down the Raiders and get the win.

Las Vegas was effective moving the ball for most of the day, but a red zone turnover and a missed field goal kept them just far enough in New England's rearview to allow the Patriots to pull away. The Pats defense made enough plays to contain the battered Raiders offense who had key injuries across their starting lineup.

For the third-straight week it was a new look that got the job done for the Patriots offense. Against Miami it was a Cam Newton-based running attack and they took to the air against the Seahawks. But against the Raiders it was more of a conventional running attack, led by Burkhead and Michel.

Here's everything else that stood out from the Patriots win that caps off the first month of the season!

- The Patriots went three-and-out on their first possession, featuring two runs for a total of four yards by Sony Michel and then a broken up pass intended for Julian Edelman. The second possession started with two keepers by Cam Newton, neither of which fooled the Raiders, picking up just five yards. A completed pass to Rex Burkhead on third down picked up just three yards but he Raiders would jump offside on fourth-down, giving the Patriots another crack at it. Still didn't make much of a difference as the Raiders seemed well prepared for the Patriot varied runs and misdirection plays.

- Personnel notes: With David Andrews out, Joe Thuney shifted to center while rookie Michael Onwenu made his first start at left guard. Onwenwu has been one of the most impressive rookies of the 2020 class and continues gaining valuable game experience. JoeJuan Williams covered Darren Waller on third downs for much of the game and had pretty good success outside of one pass interference call. Derek Rivers served as a designated pass rusher. J.J. Taylor saw some expanded carries while Isaiah Zuber made his debut. Justin Herron would see third-quarter snaps at left tackle in place of Isaiah Wynn who popped up on the injury report with a calf injury.

- The Raiders found some success on their second possession, kicked off by a nice run by Josh Jacobs of seven yards, which was then followed by passing pays of 18 and 22 yards. They'd continue to ride Jacobs, setting up a balanced attack that had the Patriots on their heels, but soon after getting into the red zone, Adrian Phillips would force Jacobs to fumble and it was recovered by J.C. Jackson. It was a weird play because no one, at least in the press box, realized a big play had just happened. It was another example of how different a game is without fans and how much confusion is can cause.

- The Patriots wouldn't be able to counter punch after the turnover, despite a nice first play, a 14-yard reception by Sony Michel out of the backfield. On third down, Newton would throw a bad interception right to Johnathan Abram and the Raiders took back over at the Patriots 14-yard line. The Pats would hold the Raiders to a field goal, thanks in part to a third-down ineligible man down field penalty on Las Vegas, making the score 3-0 at the end of the first quarter. Penalties and turnovers kept both teams out of the end zone early.

- J.J. Taylor would enter the game at running back at the start of the second quarter and pick up a first down before drawing a facemask penalty that tacked on 15 additional yards and got the Pats into Raiders territory. Isaiah Zuber would touch the ball for the first time in his career on the drive, taking an end-around for 13 yards and picking up another first down. Newton would misfire on third down though, throwing behind N'Keal Harry on a touchdown bid and the Patriots would settle for a 33-yard Nick Folk field goal to tie the game. A week after showing great passing touch against the Seahawks, Newton could find an rhythm early against the Raiders.

- Devontae Booker reeled off a 23-yard to start the Raiders next drive but on the next down Chase Winovich would get in on Carr and force a fumble recovered by Lawrence Guy. Not much was working for the Patriots overall early on, but two takeaways can make up for a lot. Winovich continues to make plays in an expanded role during his second season.

- The Patriots would respond off of this turnover, keyed by some nifty runs by Taylor and a 17-yard run by Rex Burkhead, but they were stopped on the five-yard-line after back-to-back incompletions by Newton. They'd settle for another field goal to take a mid-second-quarter lead of 6-3.

- After the Patriots defense forced a needed four-and-out, Sony Michel showed some signs of life, taking two rushes for 21 yards, then a screen pass for nine yards. Newton would the connect with Damiere Byrd for 23 yards up the sideline to again put the Pats in business. They'd convert a third-and-four with a hurry up misdirection toss to Burkhead and then finish it off with a swing pass to Burkhead that he took in from 11 yards out to give the Patriots the 13-3 lead just before the half. After struggling to finish in the red zone previously, the Pats showed good mettle to break the streak and take a two-score lead.

- Due in part to a 28-yard pass interference penalty by Stephon Gilmore, the Raiders were able to get into striking distance before the half and would take advantage with Derek Carr finding Hunter Renfrow in between Jonathan Jones and Devin McCourty for what was initially ruled a 27-yard score with under 10 seconds left. Upon review, Renfrow was ruled down at the one-yard-line but the Raiders would still score a TD on the next play to close the score to 13-10 at the half. It was a disappointing end of the first half, especially after the Patriots offense had put together their best drive of the game and taken a fairly commanding lead. Another pass interference penalty by Gilmore, two of the best veterans in the secondary getting beat and then being unable to come up with a stop on the goal line all contributed to an ugly end of the first half.

- The Raiders would pick up where they left off in the second half, with Carr finding Edwards for a 38-yard catch-and-run that got them into New England territory after JoeJuan Williams holding penalty on Darren Waller prevented the Pats from forcing a punt. But the Patriots would get a third-down stop and then see Daniel Carson miss the field goal attempt. The Raiders were 0-3 on third downs to this point of the game, illustrating where the Patriots defense's biggest struggles came -- first and second down.

- Sony Michel would bust off a 38-yard run on the second play of the Patriots next drive, one of his nicest runs in recent memory. Burkhead would close things out with his second touchdown of the game, a five-yard run, to extend the Patriots lead to 20-10. After a dreadful end of the first half and a rough start to the second, the Patriots weathered the storm, put together a nice drive and took back control of the game. The defense fed off of this on the next drive, forcing a three-and-out, their first of the game.

- Sony Michel would then rip off a 48-yard run on the next drive, putting him over 100 for the game, setting a career high for rushing yardage and more than making up for a slow start. Michel's two long runs have been long awaited and on a day where not much was effective for the Patriots offense, Michel showed some unexpected big-play ability. Nick Folk would hit a 32-yard field goal to make it 23-10 Patriots late in the third quarter.

- The Raiders would string together a scoring drive in response, though the Patriots defense would get a red zone stop and hold them to only three points, a 25-yard field goal that made it a 10-point game. It was an 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive as the Raiders continued to keep things interesting in the fourth quarter.

- The Pats next drive was productive in large part due to a 2nd-and-11 play of 27 yards to N'Keal Harry, that featured one of Harry's more impressive runs after catch. Harry didn't have a big game that built off his performance of Week 2, but this was a key play in crunch time that was needed to help flip field position and keep the Raiders at bay. Burkhead would pick up his third touchdown of the game on the drive after adding another 27 all-purpose yards to his impressive total.

The New England defense would put a nice button on their performance, with Shilique Calhoun getting a sack and forced fumble that Deatrich Wise recovered in the end zone for the defensive score, extending the lead to 36-13, with a missed extra point by Nick Folk, and giving the defense a good play to clean the slate after a disappointing end to the first half. Vegas would add a final touchdown under two minutes to make it 36-20.

The New England Patriots take on the Las Vegas Raiders in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, September 27, 2020.

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