OAKLAND – A cloud of sorrow had been hanging over the New England Patriots this past week out here in sunny California, following news of the death of quarterback Matt Cassel'sfather.
On Sunday, actual clouds rolled into the Bay Area and the skies opened up. Rain started falling a few hours prior to kickoff, beginning as a light drizzle, eventually becoming a steady downpour.
It was appropriate, it seemed, that the weather on this particular Sunday should be uncharacteristically gloomy in this part of the country. For that is how this Patriots team might have felt all week.
For the past six days, New England – practicing out here on the West Coast for the second time this season – had to keep its emotions in check while it prepared for the business portion of this trip.
But on Sunday, like the persistent rain, the Patriots let loose.
New England's defense set the tone immediately, forcing the listless Raiders into three 3-and-out drives. After the first one, the Pats offense started their first drive on Oakland's 40-yard line. Three times, New England faced third-down and long, but Cassel, looking sharp, got his team out of trouble each time. On the last third-down, he found running back Kevin Faulkcrossing over the middle of the field from right to left for a 7-yard touchdown.
On their next offensive series, the Pats had to drive only 35 yards to the Raiders end zone. With Cassel guiding them, they needed only three plays to hit pay dirt (a TD strike to WR Randy Moss).
The third Patriots drive started at their own 17, but ended in the Oakland end zone when running back Sammy Morris, following some great blocks and making a nice cut or two, scampered 29 yards for the score.
Just like that, New England had a 21-0 lead. And there were still three-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter. For all intents and purposes, however, the outcome had been decided then and there.
The Raiders, to their credit, showed glimpses of life from time to time. A big play in the passing game and another on special teams gave Oakland its first two scores of the day. But the Raiders just couldn't match the Patriots emotionally.
Given the unique circumstances this past week – staying out west for back-to-back games, then dealing with the shock of Greg Cassel'spassing – New England looked like a team that couldn't wait for the game to start. Oakland, for the most part, looked like a team that couldn't wait for it to end.
It would have been nearly impossible for the Raiders to match the Patriots intensity regardless of these factors. Oakland has no chance at the post-season, while New England is still fighting for its playoff lives.
The Raiders certainly couldn't draw any inspiration from their fans (colorful as they always are in The Black Hole with their creative costumes) who seemed to be outnumbered by the scores of seagulls that encircled Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum all afternoon.
No, the Patriots dominated this day. And it was exactly what they – and their grieving quarterback – needed. Indeed, the 49-26 final score wasn't nearly indicative of how lopsided this contest actually was.
The Pats scored through the air, with Cassel hitting former Raider Moss twice for touchdowns and league-leading pass-catcher Wes Welkeronce for his second score of the season.
They scored on the ground, thanks to the fancy footwork of Morris and the powerful legs of another Oakland alum, running back LaMont Jordan.
They scored on special teams, when kick returner Ellis Hobbsanswered a Raiders kickoff return for a touchdown with one of his own on the ensuing kickoff.
And New England nearly had a chance to score on defense in the third quarter after Raider QB JaMarcus Russellfumbled the slippery football in front of defensive lineman Mike Wright. Had Wright been able to recover the loose ball, he had nothing but green grass between him and the black Raiders end zone.
Yes, the Patriots played with emotion on a very emotional day. Typified by Cassel, who set a personal-best by throwing four touchdown passes.
Afterward, the players spoke openly about how the week's events and their QB's performance moved them.
"He came out here and played a heck of a game," said wideout Jabar Gaffney. "After what he went through this week … he played his heart out today."
"Today was very, very special for us," added nose tackle Vince Wilfork. "You know, to play with something on your heart like that … he pulled it out today. I tip my hat off to him for doing that."
Defensive lineman Ty Warren, playing for the first time in several weeks due to a severe groin injury, empathized with Cassel. Warren played one time in college after losing a loved one.
"I commend Cassel, coming out given the circumstances and performing the way he did. It's a tough thing. I had it happen to me in college. I know it's on his mind. It was probably on his mind during the game. You talk about pressure … there's no more pressure than that."
Welker, on his touchdown grab, reached the 100-catch mark for the season and then surpassed it later in the game. He noted how Cassel appeared to play inspired football in honor of his late father.
"He came out and focused throughout practice and everything else. He put everything aside and went out there for his dad and played well for him and his family. He's a guy that's gonna bring it week in and week out no matter what the circumstances.
"He took care of business today," Welker continued. "He's gonna spend some time with his family now and take care of business there."
Greg Cassel will be laid to rest on Tuesday. He was 57.
Had he been able to see how well his son played on Sunday, he would have no doubt been proud. Matt Cassel's Patriots teammates certainly were.
"To deal with what he's dealing with, and to come out here and play the way he did," Hobbs concluded, "I think it inspires everyone."