New England's quest for an unprecedented three straight Super Bowl victories is in good hands with two stars the Patriots didn't lose: Tom Brady and Richard Seymour.
Brady threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns and Seymour made a game-turning defensive play as the Patriots beat Oakland 30-20 Thursday, holding Randy Moss, the Raiders' new star, to one big play, a 73-yard touchdown catch.
New England's 35th win in 39 games since the start of the 2003 season was all offense at the start, mostly defense after intermission. One key early adjustment was made by the Patriots, switching from their traditional 3-4 defense to a 4-3 to help fill the gap caused by the loss of inside linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson.
The Patriots, who also lost coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel to head coaching jobs, led 17-14 at halftime on touchdown passes by Brady of 29 yards to Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch and 5 yards to newcomer Tim Dwight. That offset a 2-yard TD pass by Kerry Collins to tight end Courtney Anderson on the game's first series and the bomb to Moss, who at 6-foot-4 simply went over 5-8 Tyrone Poole.
Anderson also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 3:04 left set up by Randal Williams' block of Josh Miller's punt. But Moss was called for offensive pass interference on the 2-point conversion play.
That wasn't Moss' only mistake. He also dropped a short first-down pass that could have gotten the Raiders out a hole early in the third quarter.
That eventually led to the game-turning play with just under six minutes left in the period, the kind of play that has marked the Patriots' run to three titles in four seasons.
Seymour, who as usual made a half-dozen big plays on defense, was the catalyst, pushing Raiders center Jake Grove into Collins. Meanwhile, Jarvis Green, who became the fourth lineman when the Pats switched to the 4-3, came around from the right side and sandwiched Collins as he was throwing. The ball popped into the air and into the hands of 325-pound nose tackle Vince Wilfork at the Raiders 20.
Three plays later, Corey Dillon ran 8 yards for a score that made it 23-14 after Adam Vinatieri's extra point attempt was blocked by Langston Walker as the Patriots thwarted Oakland's hope for a strong start.
Dillon scored the final touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter set up by a 24-yard pass interference penalty on rookie Stanford Routt, as the Patriots won their 21st straight home game. That was one of 14 penalties for 139 yards by Oakland, traditionally one of the NFL's most flagged teams.
The Raiders, 9-23 the last two seasons, showed more improvement on defense than on offense, holding the Patriots to 73 yards on the ground. Dillon started with 11 yards on his first 11 carries before finishing with 69 yards on 23 carries.
Collins, who threw for 159 yards in the first half, finished 18 of 40 for 265 yards. Moss finished with five catches for 130 yards.
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