Following the unfortunate road loss to the vibrant Buffalo Bills last week, the Patriots on the road again this week had to respond with a big performance in the hostile environment against not just the Oakland Raiders teams, and their loyal fanbase.
Not just performances from Tom Brady, who threw for a career-worst four interceptions but also the ranked last defense that could not stop Ryan Fitzpatrick in the last drive of the game, as he easily went 74 yards allowing the easy chip shot of a field goal to win the game 34-31 and avoid overtime.
Who is to know that the Patriots might have won in OT but the chance was gone. Gone was the chance to make a 3-0 start, instead they were 2-1 reliniquishing AFC East supremacy to the Bills who own a tiebreaker already.
But the Patriots needed a performance from their defense and in spite of giving up 504 total yards this was an improved showing. It is no coincidence that the return of Patrick Chung helped matters. Chung is in his second year with the organisation but already he looks like a leader on the field when having to win the ball back.
Chung had his moment in the second quarter when the Raiders were knocking on the door trailing 14-10, the chance was there to go in at the half ahead. Alas, Jason Campbell threw straight at Chung with no receiver near him allowing an easy pick. The Patriots marched down the pitch and kicked a field goal to take a 17-10 lead, and then on the first possession of the second half scored on a Steven Ridley rushing TD. So following his mistake, Campbell went from four points down to 14 by which point the game was up and even a faltering defence like the Patriots could not give such a lead away again.
Brady meanwhile was faultless, throwing for at least 2 TD's in a game for the 12th consecutive game (tying a record with Peyton Manning), but he again relied totally on the work of Wes Welker who had 9 catches for 156 yards and 1 TD, the over-reliance on Welker may come to haunt the Patriots as the other catches from other receivers were 7 combined, Ochocinco had 2 catches.
There was a nice balance between the run and the aerial route as the two punch of Ridley and Green-Ellis led to two TDs; but the lack of Aaron Hernandez for another week meant that Welker had to be seeked out and the run game was necessary to kill the clock and keep McFadden out of the game for the Raiders. So long as they had to chase the game, Campbell would have to throw (25-39, 344 yards but 2 picks).
Next for the Patriots are the Jets in a big divisional clash. The Jets lost again to the Ravens in a defensive match-up but one in which Mark Sanchez had no protection from his O-line, hopefully the Patriots will be able to call upon Albert Haynesworth to do more of the same, but with the loss of Jared Mayo the injury curse hits the Patriots again.
The defense may be the worse in the league and having Tom Brady may cloud those numbers but one day they will have to step up and make a good account of themselves, but the lack of cohesion and constant injuries may mean the identity may be lost in the shuffle.
Other notes and thoughts:
The Lions are for damn real, coming back from 24 points to win at Cowboys Stadium, where Tony Romo threw two interceptions run back for touchdowns. A huge momentum change in the third quarter led to Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson in the fourth for the winner.
The Eagles lost again (1-3) to the 49ers at home, more questions even without Michael Vick to blame.
The Carolina Panthers punted to Devin Hester, why kick to a man who can return and did so for the 12th time in his career setting an NFL record.
Problems are fermenting in Minnesota who are 0-4 and lost to the equally terrible Chiefs (1-3) and now lead the Andrew Luck sweepstakes although the Colts look likely to lose on the road to the Buccaneers.
Aaron Rodgers continues his impressive form as he tore up an awful Denver Broncos team throwing for 4 TDs and running for 2 personally in an allround effort.
Is it just me or is there just a handful of good teams this year - Patriots, Packers, Saints, Lions,
Some good sides still with question marks - Ravens, Texans, Bills,
The fair to middling - Steelers, Bucs, Jets
And then the rest with no level of consistency or form what so ever.
Three weeks to the game at Wembley, cannot wait. Should be a good win with two explosive running backs - Forte v Blount. A sharpshooter with Cutler and a growing pedigree of Freeman.