Patriots vs. Raiders thumbs up, thumbs down: Rex Burkhead scores the win!

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A week after what was almost universally labeled a “good loss” in Seattle on Sunday night football, the Patriots returned to Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon and took care of business in a 36-20 win over the previously undefeated Raiders.

The win improved Bill Belichick’s team to 2-1 on the season while Las Vegas fell to 2-1 on the year.

Before turning the page to next Sunday’s much anticipated trip to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs, here’s a final look at the Patriots personnel highs and lows from the win over the Raiders.

Thumbs up

JJ. Taylor – The undersized undrafted rookie gave the running game a boost with his burst, as well as an ability to finish runs. Taylor picked up 9 yards on his first attempt late in the first quarter taking over for what had been a lackluster run game to that point. Taylor finished the game, including some scampers around end, with 11 attempt for 43 yards and his effort seemed to inspire his backfield teammates as both Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead made major contributions after the rookie’s early effective snaps.

Rex Burkhead – Generally considered the best all-around talent in the Patriots backfield when he can stay healthy, Burkhead displayed his running and pass-catching skills against Las Vegas on the way to a three-touchdown day. Burkhead had a pretty catch-and-run 11-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, going airborne to reach the end zone. He then capped New England’s opening drive of the second half with a 5-yard rushing score before adding his third score on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. Burkhead finished the day with six carries for 49 yards and the two scores. He also had a game-high seven receptions for 49 yards and the touchdown.

Sony Michel – The most productive of the running back trio in terms of yards, Michel shook off a slow start and seemed inspired by Taylor’s work to put him big numbers. Running for the biggest chunk runs of his career – notching new career-long runs of 38 and 48 yards in the third quarter – Michel recorded his first 100-yard rushing day since the postseason of his rookie year. Though Michel didn’t have the speed to finish off either run, a guy who had a 3.3-yard average through two weeks ran it nine times for 117 yards against the Raiders.

Joe Thuney-led offensive line – Despite missing captain and starting center David Andrews to a broken thumb, the Patriots line settled in with a new-look lineup and got the job done. Thuney bumped inside to make his first career start at center while rookie Michael Onwenu made his first career start, taking the left guard spot after his playing time over the first two weeks came at right tackle and as a jumbo tight end. The group led the way for more than 250 yards rushing on the way to victory, the second dominant ground day in as many games at Gillette this season.

Third down defense/turnovers – The Raiders moved the ball with efficiency against New England early, especially on the ground. But thanks to a couple first-half takeaways and impressive third down defense that held Las Vegas to 0-for-3 conversion in the first two quarters, the Patriots had a 13-10 lead at halftime. New England also forced a pair of fumbles in the first half, the second of which was a Chase Winovich strip sack recovered by Lawrence Guy that the home team turned into a field goal. The Patriots defense added another strip sack in the fourth quarter that resulted in a Deatrich Wise touchdown recovery. Las Vegas didn’t have a third down conversion until late in the second half, going just 3-of-9 on the day. In the tight games the Patriots have been playing in 2020, third down defense and turnovers can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Darren Waller defensive scheme – Late in the week Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson declared that New England “had something” planned to deal with Waller, by far the Raiders leading receiver. The tight end didn’t have a catch or a target in the first half, with New England throwing different looks at the veteran who broke out with 90 catches a year ago and had 12 receptions in Week 2 against New Orleans. JoeJuan Williams, Stephon Gilmore and others took part in a multi-faceted approach to taking Waller away. And it worked to near perfection as Waller didn’t have a catch until the game was well in hand with less than five minutes to play.

Thumbs down

Run Defense – Despite the fact that the Raiders offensive line was without a pair of key starters in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, Las Vegas dominated on the ground at times early on against New England’s suspect run defense. Josh Jacobs picked up 12 yards on his first rush attempt, kicking off a productive day that saw the second-year back notch nine carries for 54 yards by halftime. Jacobs finished with 16 rushes for 71 yards as the score got away from the Raiders in the second half, but New England’s run defense still needs to be tightened moving forward.

Defensive communication – The Patriots had to call three timeouts on defense to avoid potential substation penalties on defense. It was not the kind of thing you see too often from a Bill Belichick team. Certainly it will be a focus for Steve Belichick, Jerod Mayo and the players this week in an effort to clean up personnel issues and communication that led to possible 12 men on the field.

Cam Newton – After two very different but very productive weeks, Superman was a bit more human against Las Vegas. Newton completed just 10-of-19 passes in the first half for 90 yards with an interception. He had poor decisions and some inaccurate throws. He also had just 6 yards on three first-half runs. Newton was good enough to guide the Patriots to victory thanks in large part to the line and his backfield, but finished completing just 17 of 28 passes for 162 yards with one score and one pick for a 73.8 rating. He ran it nine times for 27 yards (with kneel downs), including a key 21-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. Iceman in Top Gun would have described Newton’s day at times against Las Vegas as dangerous. But, it didn’t cost him in the end.

Stephon Gilmore – The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year had a pair of penalties in Week 1 and was beaten in a Week 2 matchup in Seattle with D.K. Metcalf. Late in the second quarter against Las Vegas Gilmore was flagged again, this time a 28-yard pass interference call when he was beaten down the field by Nelson Agholor. The play pushed the Raiders into range of picking up a touchdown just before halftime. He also whiffed on a tackle on a 34-yard gain early in the third quarter. Gilmore hasn’t been horrible, but he’s far from playing at the near-perfect level he did a year ago. Too many catches allowed and too many penalties through three weeks for a guy who got a $5 million bump in pay on an already large contract heading into the new season.