By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — That was a weird one.
For the entirety of the first quarter and much of the first half, it looked like the Patriots were in for a grind of a game against the Las Vegas Raiders. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Pats had themselves a comfortable victory all but sewn up.
In the end, the Patriots won 36-20 — and it wasn’t even that close, as the Raiders mounted a late touchdown drive that didn’t affect much of anything outside of fantasy matchups.
Here’s who shined and who slipped in the Patriots’ win. There may be a few extra Ups this week.
This was really cool. Plain and simple.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 27, 2020
You do that … you’re an Up. Literally. And figuratively.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that score was the first step in Burkhead becoming the player of the game. He was a threat as a runner and a pass catcher, finishing with exactly 49 rushing yards and 49 receiving yards, which is a pretty remarkable statistical quirk. He also scored two rushing touchdowns, giving him the first three-touchdown game of his career.
The running back got off to a slow start, as the offensive line without David Andrews appeared to be figuring itself out. There was some unease in New England living rooms about the third-year back, no doubt.
But Michel broke out in a big way, breaking free for a 38-yard run in the third quarter (to help set up a Burkhead touchdown) and then broke free on a 48-yard run up the gut on the Patriots’ next drive.
1. Set a career-high.
2. Break it.
3. Top the 100-yard mark for the game.
48-yard run for @Flyguy2stackz!
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 27, 2020
Michel finished with 117 yards on just nine carries, and he also caught two passes for 23 yards in what was by far his best game since his rookie season in 2018.
Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Deatrich Wise
As mentioned, offense was hard to come by for both teams early on, so the defense needed to make some game-changing plays. Chase Winovich took care of that when he bullied his way into the backfield and delivered a clubbing to Derek Carr’s throwing shoulder. The hit jarred the ball free, and Lawrence Guy recovered it at the Las Vegas 42-yard line.
The ensuing drive led to a field goal that gave the Patriots a 6-3 lead.
That was just part of what was a huge day for the defensive line. Shilique Calhoun stripped the ball from Josh Jacobs in the first quarter, and the Patriots recovered to stifle a Las Vegas drive. And in the fourth quarter, Calhoun combined with Deatrich Wise for a sack of Carr in the end zone. Wise recovered it for a touchdown, which gave the Patriots a 36-13 lead.
Are we going a little too running back-heavy here? Well, that’s what happens when the home team rushes for 250 yards.
But they didn’t start out on a roll. In fact, the Patriots’ offense was completely stuck in the mud for the first quarter. J.J. Taylor then stepped in and saved the day.
OK, maybe that’s a slight overstatement, but the undersized rookie nevertheless provided a much-needed spark with a couple of runs — one for nine yards, the other for five — and by getting the Patriots 15 free yards by drawing a facemask penalty.
The super-short undrafted rookie ran for 43 yards on 11 carries. He did drop a screen pass late in the third quarter that would have gone for a big gain and potentially a touchdown, so the rook left himself some room for improvement.
OBVIOUS BONUS: The Offensive Line
In the first quarter, when the Patriots struggled to move the ball, it made sense. David Andrews is out, Joe Thuney is at center, and a rookie in Mike Onwenu is in at guard. You can’t just mix and match an O-line and have a 250-yard rushing day.
But then … they did. It was an impressive showing from the unit coached by Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo, and it was one that’s certain to build some confidence for that group.
Bonus: Nick Folk
Kicking was a big part of this game, and Folk was pretty good. He did miss a PAT, but he was 3-for-3 on field goals, which helped keep the Raiders at a safe distance through much of the game.
Gilmore And Jones Before Halftime
The Patriots were all set to head in to halftime with a comfy 10-point lead. It shrunk in an instant though, thanks to some brutal secondary play.
First, Stephon Gilmore got beat up the right sideline by Nelson Agholor. Rather than give up what potentially could have been a 61-yard touchdown, Gilmore grabbed a hold of Agholor to ensure there would be no completion, taking the 28-yard penalty for pass interference instead.
3rd DPI called on Stephon Gilmore already this season. Agholor just pulls away. And for those who want DPI to be a 15 yard penalty, really??? Spot foul. As it should be. #Patriots #Raiders @nflnetwork @AroundTheNFL pic.twitter.com/82C9EyUAnc
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) September 27, 2020
Two plays later, Hunter Renfrow got behind Jonathan Jones and hauled in a catch at the goal line. Jones appeared to have gotten caught peeking into the backfield when Renfrow broke up the field, and it was only Devin McCourty’s hit on Renfrow that kept the receiver from scoring a touchdown (it was ruled a touchdown initially but was overturned on replay review).
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 27, 2020
The Raiders, though, scored a touchdown on the next play, cutting the Patriots’ lead to a field goal.
Those two plays by Gilmore and Jones just aren’t the types of plays the Patriots can afford this year — especially from the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. It ended up being a comfortable win, but that much could have been made clear even earlier if not for those two quick breakdowns on defense.
It was a good game for the Patriots’ defense overall but oddly, the Patriots seemed to have trouble getting themselves in order before some plays, leading to the burning of four timeouts on defense. Bill Belichick burned his second timeout of the second half in the third quarter, and then used up his final timeout with 12:30 left in the game.
That’s very out of character for a Belichick-coached team, to say the least.
The Newton-Edelman Connection
Last week, Julian Edelman set a career high in receiving yards in a game. This week … wasn’t quite so good.
Cam Newton threw six passes in Edelman’s direction, completing just two of them for a mere 23 yards. One of those throws was a poorly planned toss into triple-coverage, one which Newton is fortunate to not have intercepted.
Edelman was an effective blocker, something he mentioned on Friday as a point of emphasis for himself this week, and he was quite chipper after the victory. But the Patriots won 36-20 and we need to fill out four downs, so here we all are.
Not Capitalizing On Gifts
The Raiders were polite guests in the Patriots’ home by bringing gifts. The first came when Maxx Crosby jumped offside when the Patriots were lined up for a punt on fourth-and-2 on their second drive of the game. Gifted a free set of downs, the Patriots ended up gaining just one more yards before punting anyway.
The second gift came when Jacobs coughed up the football later in the first quarter. Newton threw a pick just four plays later, essentially giving the Raiders the same field position they had before the fumble.