FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England’s 15-game winning streak over the Buffalo Bills is over. Now the Patriots are preparing for another improving team that struggled the past decade.
The Oakland Raiders are 2-1 after going eight seasons without a winning record. The Bills have just one winning season in the past 11 but snapped that long slide against the Patriots last Sunday with a 34-31 win.
So the Patriots have plenty to prepare for against a team they haven’t played in three years.
“We studied them quite a bit in the offseason to become familiar with them because we hadn’t played them since ‘08,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “That’s a good football team and it looks like they’re getting better.”
Sunday’s game matches the NFL’s top passing offense, led by Tom Brady’s 442.3 yards per game, against the No. 1 rushing attack with Darren McFadden, who leads the league with 131 yards per game.
“They definitely like to run the ball,” Belichick said. “They throw enough deep balls and they do enough in the passing game to make you worry about that, too. You can’t just stop one thing. They’re certainly a very good running team, one of the best that we’ll face.”
McFadden ran for a career-high 171 yards and two touchdowns in last Sunday’s 34-24 win over the New York Jets. One week earlier, the Raiders built a 21-3 lead at Buffalo but lost 38-35 on a touchdown pass with 14 seconds left. Then it was the Patriots turn to blow a big lead against the Bills, who overcame a 21-0 deficit last Sunday.
That left the Bills at 3-0. Belichick knows it could have been the Raiders with the unbeaten record.
They’re “really a couple of seconds away from being 3-0,” he said, “very explosive, got a lot of big pass guys, playing with a lot of confidence and we’re going out there on the road.”
The Patriots also had a good shot at a 3-0 record when they built their 21-0 lead. It was 31-31 when the Bills got the ball at their 20-yard line after a touchback on a kickoff with 3:25 remaining. They needed just three plays to get to the 1, then worked the clock down until Rian Lindell’s winning 28-yard field goal on the final play.
New England couldn’t stop the Bills from marching downfield. In fact, the Patriots have given up more total yards and yards passing than any other team. Their defense against the run is ranked 10th best — one promising sign against a run-oriented attack like Oakland’s — but that’s deceiving since teams have had to pass more to try to overcome deficits.
Jason Campbell is the NFL’s 10th-ranked quarterback but has thrown only 82 passes in the Raiders’ three games.
“They mix in some gadget plays, some reverses, some things like that, along with their power running game and do a good job in their passing game of getting the ball down the field and also getting it to their backs and underneath people, too,” Belichick said. “They make you defend the whole field and any time you can be successful running the ball that opens up the play action and th e passing game and everything else.”
The Patriots are a pass-first team. When they run the ball, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead get most of the work, although rookie Stevan Ridley led them with 44 yards on seven carries against Buffalo.
“Last week was basically the first game that he had played a decent amount,” Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said. “He’s got a long way to go, just like any rookie, as it relates to the overall scheme and knowing what to do and things like that. I think that whole position has been good for us this year.”
For the second straight game, the runners will have to contend with big defenders.
“Buffalo has the biggest team in the league,” director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. “The Raiders are a big team. … They are strong and physical and also have fast and athletic guys.”
Against the Bills, Brady completed 30 of 45 passes for 387 yards and four touchdowns. But he also threw four interceptions, matching his total for all last season, with one returned for a touchdown.
He should do better against the Raiders, who have allowed more yards passing than all but four teams.
Wes Welker burned the Bills with 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns. But Chad Ochocinco hasn’t made an impact in three games with his new team. He caught two passes for 28 yards but dropped a perfect pass near the end zone. In three games he has just five catches.
“Chad, just like everybody else in that game — me included — would probably wish to have a couple of plays back,” O’Brien said.
The Patriots get another chance on Sunday against another team trying to leave behind a history of futility.
“Each week presents new challenges,” Belichick said. “Sometimes the matchups from one week are more or less favorable than the week before. Again, a lot of times you never know exactly how a team is going to play anyway so you have to be ready to make adjustments during the game.”