FOXBORO — In a contest that was remarkably similar to their narrow escape against the Browns last year, the Patriots hung on down the stretch against the Raiders Sunday, coming away with a 16-9 win in their home opener at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots jumped to a 10-3 halftime lead, but couldn’t shake a pesky Raiders team, who hung around throughout the afternoon but escaped when Vince Wilfork picked off a Derek Carr pass with less than a minute to go to in the New England red zone, ending the late Oakland threat.
Tom Brady was 24-for-36 for 234 yards and one touchdown. Stevan Ridley had 19 carries for 54 yards, while Julian Edelman had 10 catches for 84 yards. On the other side of the ball for Oakland, Carr was 21-for-34 for 174 yards with one interception.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Patriots Sunday afternoon:
It was a mildly underwhelming performance for Brady.
A strange afternoon for the quarterback, who was 3-for-5 for 0 yards after one quarter. The quarterback was able to lead a steady, consistent drive in the second quarter, when the Patriots assembled a 15-play sequence — their longest of the season to this point — and cashed in when Brady found Rob Gronkowski on a 6-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead. But he was uneven at best the rest of the afternoon, missing a few throws (including a wide open Gronkowski on a pass play in the second quarter) and leaving some plays on the field as a result.
He didn’t appear to get much help from his offensive line.
It’s tough to quantify successful offensive line play — especially without benefit of the all-22 — but it appeared the Patriots struggled up front for a sizable chunk of the afternoon. That could have been one of the reasons why New England shuffled up its offensive line early in the fourth quarter, moving Dan Connolly from center to right guard, inserting rookie Bryan Stork at center and benching Jordan Devey. One other thing that appeared to help in the second half was the sight of Brady going to noticeably quicker throws in an attempt to get the ball out as fast as possible. (He also showed some improved pocket awareness, particularly on a 12-yard pass play to Brandon LaFell on a fourth-quarter drive that helped keep a play alive.) In the end, Brady was sacked twice.
Stevan Ridley is still doing well when it comes to hanging on to the ball.
The running back, who came into the contest with a streak of 98 straight touches without a fumble (including last season, the 2013 postseason and the first two games of the year), kept that string alive with 20 touches on the day (19 carries, one catch) to stretch his streak to 118.
Rob Gronkowski continues to ramp back up to 100 percent
The Patriots tight end increased his overall participation level Sunday against the Raiders, ending up with 43 snaps against the Raiders (not including kneeldowns). He finished the game with three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, his second of the day and the only one of the game. (The biggest gain of the afternoon came when Brady found Gronkowski over the middle on a 22-yard connection.)
Julian Edelman is still — far and away — the No. 1 option in the passing game.
The former college quarterback had another impressive day, and was maybe the most consistent offensive skill position player on the field. Edelman was able to consistently move the chains. He had 10 catches on 13 targets, marking his fourth career game with 10-plus receptions. Through three games, Edelman has caught 22 of the 28 passes that were sent in his direction. (If you including preseason, that number swells to 32 for 38.) In terms of the rest of the offensive targets, Danny Amendola had no catches (on one target), Brandon LaFell had four catches (eight targets) for 46 yards and Kenbrell Thompkins had one catch (one target) for 16 yards.
Matthew Slater might have been one of the best players on the roster Sunday.
Slater did a terrific job on punt coverage in the first half, popping TJ Carrie when the Oakland return man failed to signal for a fair catch on a first-quarter punt. He added a nifty 26-yard kick return late in the third quarter. Other special teams standouts on the day include Stephen Gostkowski, who connected on three field goals (from 21, 20 and 36 yards).
They moved Darrelle Revis around.
It was interesting to see Revis moved around to multiple spots on the field, working on both the left and the right side against different receivers. At first glance — and this needs to be confirmed with another look at the film — it appeared that he spent a sizable amount of the afternoon working against James Jones, who didn’t do much damage at all over the course of the afternoon. Logan Ryan appeared to struggle in coverage, getting beat a couple of times in man coverage (one particularly egregious error came in the second half against Andre Holmes). One other note, as it relates to the secondary: safety Nate Ebner was on the field for a fair share of the third down situations for the Patriots, and appears to be growing into some sort of role as a third-down specialist, working in place of a linebacker.
The defense played well when it needed to.
Despite the fact that the Raiders controlled the tempo for much of the afternoon — and rookie quarterback Derek Carr was better than advertised — it’s important to note that the New England defense kept the Raiders out of the end zone all afternoon, limiting Oakland to three field goals and helping pick up an occasionally sluggish offense.
The penalty situation was better Sunday, but still not ideal.
The Patriots were flagged for 24 penalties in their first two games — including 15 last week against the Vikings — but things were a little better Sunday against the Raiders. New England was hit with six penalties (not including calls that were declined or offset) and 59 yards worth of calls. (One tough flag came when Brandon LaFell was hit with an offensive pass interference call on a big pass play from Brady to Danny Amendola. It marked the second straight week where a sizable gain from Amendola was called back because of a LaFell penalty.)
They didn’t stay completely healthy.
Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga left with a foot injury in the first half, and did not return. Siliga has struggled since the summer with a hand/wrist problem, and has had issues when it comes to staying on the field. Chris Jones and Dominique Easley appeared to get the bulk of the reps in his place.