FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Trailing after a sloppy first quarter, the New England Patriots seemed to rethink their offensive game plan for Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders. Seven of the Patriots’ first 13 plays from scrimmage were pass plays that netted only 25 yards and resulted in an interception, a sack and two incompletions.
When the first drive of the second quarter also began with a pass attempt that gained no yards, Josh McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator, had seen enough. The next five plays were rushes that gained 37 yards, and while they led to only a field goal, a tone was set for the Patriots the rest of the way.
Behind an offensive line rebuilt and maneuvered by injury, the Patriots (2-1) focused on a multidimensional rushing attack that generated 250 yards to overwhelm the visiting Las Vegas Raiders (2-1) in a 36-20 victory at Gillette Stadium. New England’s Rex Burkhead scored three touchdowns, rushing for two, as the Patriots outscored the Raiders 16-10 in the second half. Burkhead’s backfield mate Sony Michel ran for 117 yards on nine carries.
“We got good blocking and the backs made a lot of good cuts,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “The backs got what was there and then got a little more. And there was some moving parts on the line — we shuffled some things there.”
The Patriots were playing without starting center David Andrews, who is sidelined with a thumb injury. Pro Bowl left guard Joe Thuney took Andrews’s place. Other parts of the line were rearranged as well, including getting considerable playing time for the rookie Justin Herron at tackle.
New England quarterback Cam Newton had an uneven start to the game, throwing a costly interception deep in Patriots territory and making some questionable decisions on other passing attempts. But as New England increasingly focused on its running attack, Michel in particular burst free for two third-quarter runs of 38 and 48 yards that directly led to led to two third-quarter touchdowns and a 23-10 Patriots lead.
The Patriots’ final points were scored after a sack of Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr in the end zone, which resulted in a fumble recovered by New England’s Deatrich Wise Jr.
The Raiders opened the game’s scoring, capitalizing on a poor decision by Newton. Scrambling on a third-and-8, Newton appeared to be running around his right end then suddenly tossed a pass in the direction of tight end Devin Asiasi. Raiders safety Johnathan Abram stepped in front of Asiasi for the pick and returned it to the New England 14-yard line.
With the turnover, Las Vegas took a 3-0 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Daniel Carlson with 18 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Patriots bounced back after a sack of Carr by Patriots defensive end Chase Winovich caused a fumble recovered by New England’s Lawrence Guy at the Raiders’ 42-yard line. The Patriots turned to reserve running back J.J. Taylor for three successive runs that gained 15 yards. Rex Burkhead then busted up the middle for 17 yards. Taylor picked up five more yards to advance to the Las Vegas 5-yard line where the drive stalled after two failed Newton passing attempts. Folk’s 23-yard field goal gave New England a 6-3 lead with 7:56 remaining in the first half.
Two scores in the final minute of the first half brought some life to a what had been a desultory game at Gillette Stadium. Continuing to mix a variety of running plays and short, precise passes, the Patriots put together a 12-play, 86-yard drive that put them ahead 13-3 with 42 seconds left in the second quarter. A 7-yard pass from Newton to N’Keal Harry moved the Patriots to the Las Vegas 11-yard line, and on the next play, Newton, who settled down to compete 17 of 28 passes for 162 yards, tossed a swing pass to Burkhead.
Burkhead eluded several Raiders with a powerful move upfield then dove over a trio of defenders at the goal line for a touchdown.
Taking over at their own 39-yard line with 34 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Las Vegas benefited from a 28-yard pass interference penalty and a 26-yard pass from Carr to Hunter Renfrow that was initially signaled a touchdown. A replay review showed that Renfrow’s knee was down just before the goal line. On the next play, Carr threw to tight end Foster Moreau in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown that cut the Patriots’ lead to 13-10 with six seconds left in the half.
The Patriots’ first-half adjustments toward a more running-heavy attack were accelerated in the second half as New England confidently began to impose its will on the Raiders in the third quarter, pulling ahead 23-10 on Burkhead’s 5-yard spinning, diving touchdown run and a 32-yard field goal by Folk.
Both scores were set up by brilliant dashes by Michel, whose open-field running had the Raiders’ defensive backs out of position and chasing from behind repeatedly. Newton also contributed the occasional run, including a 21-yard scamper when the passing pocket collapsed, though he mostly focused on handing off the football and concentrating on throwing short passes to his backs and outside receivers.