Before the NFL season began, New England was one of a handful of AFC teams expected to challenge for a spot in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are exactly where they want to be after last Sunday’s 31-19 pasting of the Oakland Raiders at the Alameda County Coliseum.
This was classic New England football with a mixture of quarterback Tom Brady, supported by a dose of the super-speedy Stevan Ridley (97 yards on 10 carries), who scored on a 33-yard run early in the third quarter that made it 24-10, and a dash of the hard-running Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis (75 yards on 16 rushes).
But let’s make one thing clear: Brady, who sliced and diced his way to 226 yards on 16 of 30 attempts, including a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions, is the face of the franchise.
Brady, a former University of Michigan product via the Bay Area, tied and broke the career touchdown passing total of Joe Montana, a boyhood idol who paced the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl victories.
Brady will one day join Montana in Canton, Ohio, and may equal or surpass Montana’s four titles.
Under Brady’s guidance New England is 3-1 in the Super Bowl with wins over the St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, and the Philadelphia Eagles.
New England’s only loss came during a 16-0 regular-season, but dropped a heartbreaker to the New York Giants.
Against the Raiders, Brady continued to locate his favorite target, Wes Welker, who hauled in nine catches for 158 yards.
After Oakland (2-2) jumped to a 3-0 lead on Sebastian Janikowski’s 28-yard field goal early in the first quarter, Brady made it 7-3 when he drilled Welker with a 15-yard pass as 6:07 remained in the opening stanza.
Michael Bush momentarily gave the Raiders a 10-7 edge with a one-yard run and 10:20 showing in the second quarter, before Green-Ellis cracked the end zone with a one-yard blast less than three minutes later to make it 14-10.
It swelled to 17-10 when Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 44-yard field goal with six seconds left before the half as Brady moved the Patriots 54 yards on 11 plays.
Brady made it 31-13 with 13:38 showing in the fourth quarter when he found Deion Branch with a four-yard dart as the Patriots (3-1) drove 80 yards on eight plays.
In Oakland’s upset win over the New York Jets, running back Darren McFadden had 171 rushing yards, but was limited to 75 yards on 14 carries.
The Raiders are the NFL’s top ground attack and McFadden is ranked No. 1 in yards.
New England held Oakland to 160 yards on the ground, 25 yards below its average, while the Patriots totaled 183 rushing yards.
McFadden played his college ball at Arkansas and is a splendid inside runner. McFadden is even more dynamic when he’s able to get outside.
New England bottled up McFadden (four catches for 48 yards), who did have a 41-yard run.
Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell completed 25 of 39 passes for 344 yards with two picks, and had a six-yard toss to Denarius Moore with 28 seconds left to get within 12 points.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.