With a 31-19 win over the Oakland Raiders, and a Buffalo Bills loss, the Patriots find themselves back in familiar territory in a tie for the lead in the AFC East.
The Raiders weren't able to challenge them much on the scoreboard, but they did manage to further expose the defensive struggles of this New England defense, especially against the pass. The normally unimpressive Jason Campbell threw for 344 yards and a touchdown; though it's worth mentioning that he also added two interceptions to his stat line.
Tom Brady countered by going for a dependable if unremarkable 226 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Contributing to his lower numbers was the Patriot's much improved running game, with Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combining for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
The balance of their offensive attack was a breath of fresh air for Patriots fans, as their ability to run down the clock with productive rushing plays throughout the game served them well, keeping their depleted defense off the field and preventing Campbell, Darren McFadden and co. from developing momentum.
The Patriots led 7-3 after the first quarter, but the lead was anything but comfortable. Their first possession started with an overthrown Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski and a 10 yard penalty for offensive holding against Dan Connolly, forcing a 1st and 20 situation from their own 20 yard line. It took two major penalties from Richard Seymour to help them get down the field, including an unnecessary roughness penalty on Brady and a facemask call. The shaky drive culminated in a 15 yard touchdown pass to Brady's safety blanket Wes Welker.
The rest of the game went mostly along that same plotline: Patriots' defense didn't stop much, but the Raiders managed to commit enough penalties and make enough mistakes to keep themselves behind the eight ball, and Brady and Welker carried the offense by being spectacularly in sync just about all of the time. Supporting cast members included BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley and Deion Branch who all made their way into the end zone as well.
With 11 minutes left in the game, it felt as though the Patriots were lucky to have a comfortable 31-13 lead, considering another atrocious defensive performance in which Jason Campbell had practically matched Tom Brady pass for pass, minus a Kyle Arrington end zone interception that stole some major momentum from Campbell and his offense.
But he's still just Jason Campbell, and the Patriots' defense is apparently still not bad enough to let him look like anyone else. The Raiders drove the ball down the field to the Patriot 30 yard line on 7 plays, aided largely by a careless helmet to helmet hit by Pat Chung on a defenseless receiver. But on the next play Campbell, looking for Darren McFadden on a short pass down the middle, was intercepted by none other than 2011 interception machine Vince Wilfork.
After a few unimpressive possessions from both teams, Stevan Ridley hit the open field for a 15 yard run and the Patriots ran the clock down as they forced the Raiders to make several goal line stands four attempts to rush the ball into the end zone.
In what was definitely the smartest thing to do, the Patriots defense played it safe during the Raiders final possession, knowing they already had the game won and couldn't afford any unnecessary injuries to their already depleted line up. Campbell completed a touchdown pass to Denarius Moore, but failed on a two-point conversion to end the game.
Perhaps one of the Patriots' biggest accomplishments was keeping McFadden to 75 yards rushing on 14 carries. Although they allowed 160 total rushing yards, that number is inflated by an insane 30 yard run by Jacoby Ford on his only carry of the game. If the Patriots can continue to stop the rush as well as they have, their defense might just have a chance surviving this season.
The Patriots will take this win and no doubt "put it behind them" in their usual Belichick-ean manner, as they prepare for the first of their two highly anticipated meetings with the New York Jets next Sunday.