There is plenty of talk this week about the Raiders and New England Patriots renewing their fierce rivalry, the Tuck Rule Game, quarterback Tom Brady’s first game at the Coliseum in nine years, defensive tackle Richard Seymour facing his old team and the Raiders primed to send shockwaves through the league with another surprising victory.
However, it’s one of the smallest players from both teams that is garnering the most attention. That would be Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, the league’s leading receiver in terms of receptions (31) and yards (458).
“Oh, my, god!” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “He is uncoverable. He is uncoverable! He had 16 catches last week. Are you kidding me? Man! Can we can get him not to show up this week? He is one of the catalysts for this team. We got to get this guy slowed down. He is as good as there is. And he’s not a big guy. But he plays big. And I respect that.”
Welker caught 16 passes for 217 yards against the Buffalo Bills last Sunday, and he is in the midst of another prolific season as the focal point of the Patriots’ top-ranked passing attack.
Jackson wouldn’t say how the Raiders intend to cover Welker. However, it’s a safe bet that cornerback Stanford Routt will be lined up on Welker a fair amount of the time.
“All I know is, that I play left corner,” Routt said. “And whoever lines up out there, that’s who I got to cover.”
Actually, left corner is where Routt lines up most of the time. He has a history of playing against the slot receiver from his days as the nickel back.
He guarded Patriots receiver Deion Branch in the slot when the Raiders played the Patriots in the regular-season opener in 2005, Routt’s first-ever NFL game.
Routt said whoever covers Welker is going to have his hands full because of the way Welker and quarterback Tom Brady are so in synch.
“The main thing is that he and Brady got such a connection,” Routt said. “It’s tough because he’s Brady’s favorite target. … They’re all on the same page, so it’s tough. You definitely got to get your hands on them and play up close to the line of scrimmage against guys like that. But, no matter what, anytime they’re feeding somebody extensively the way they do him, it’s always going to be a tough task to handle.”
RAIDERS REELING FROM INJURIES
The Raiders welcomed back wide receiver Jacoby Ford from a hamstring injury after a two-week absence and safety Mike Mitchell, who missed most of the past two months with a knee injury.
However, they are far from healthy, as evidenced by Jackson taking quite awhile to read off the injury report at the start of his post-practice news conference.
“Injury report. One for the ages for me:
Ford, hamstring, limited
Murphy, groin, (did not participate)
Mcfadden, groin, full
Reese, ankle, DNP
Campbell, heel, limited
Brown, concussion, DNP
Groves, quad contusion, full
Shaughnessy, shoulder DNP
Boyd, knee, full
Chekwa, hamstring, limited
Guardano , shoulder, full
Huff, concussion, ankle, body, everything, limited
Johnson, hamstring, DNP
Mitchell, knee, limited
Van Dyke, knee, full.”
It’s difficult to gauge which of those players will be available for the Patriots on Sunday. Jackson said he won’t rule out using Mitchell, even though Mitchell will get in only three practices and hasn’t played in a game of any kind this season.
“He is one of the toughest competitors I have ever been around,” Jackson said. “I know he likes to play football. It was great to see that 34 out there running around and making plays. But we’ll be smart. We’ll see where he is. We just have to monitor it as we go along this week.”
TUCK RULE GAME REVISITED
Raiders defensive tackle Richard Seymour finds himself the center of attention most games as the dominant figure on Oakland’s defensive line.
He is in even higher demand by the media this week for his former ties to the Patriots and his participation in the AFC Playoffs game between the Patriots in Raiders during the 2001 season, when Seymour’s Patriots beat the Raiders in overtime, in part because of a controversial ruling that turned a fumble the Raiders recovered into a Patriots incomplete pass.
“I was on the opposite side of it, so I don’t have a comment on it,” Seymour said. “I don’t have a comment. What’s funny is that me and Wisniewski, coach (Steve) Wisniewski, we were lined up against each other that whole game.”
Wisniewski was the Raiders left guard in what turned out to be his final NFL game. He now is the Raiders assistant offensive line coach.
In general terms, Seymour said he has fond memories of the game that launched the Patriots dynasty.
“Well, it was a fun game,” Seymour said. “It was back and forth. In the snow, a playoff game. Obviously, it’s a big game, and I was just fortunate to be on the right side of it. But it’s a play that will always be in NFL history, and I can say I was a part of that game.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady laughed when asked about the play in a conference call with Bay Area media.
“You’ll never get the right answer out of me that you’re looking for,” Brady said. “So, that’s the way it goes.”
Speaking of Brady, he and Seymour are close friends. That brings about the awkward possibility of Seymour crossing paths with Brady in the Patriots backfield Sunday.
Sure enough, Brady and Seymour discussed the possibility during the offseason and reached a gentlemen’s agreement of sorts, according to Brady.
“I was hoping that day would never come when he was here because I know what kind of player he was for us,” Brady said. “I saw him this offseason. He promised me that if he got to close to me, he wouldn’t take me down too hard. I’ll see if he lives up to that.”
BELICHICK ON SEYMOUR
Seymour says he was blindsided by the Patriots trading him to the Raiders just before the 2009 season. It’s no secret that Seymour has had this game in his crosshairs since the schedule came out.
“It’s hard to get a win in this league,” Seymour said. “It’s a competitive, tough, league and we just want to follow up last week with a win. And that’s our ultimate goal. It isn’t me against New England, it’s the Raiders against New England. I just want to have the Black Hole rocking again.”
Belichick said in a conference call that Seymour is the kind of player that you don’t replace.
“Top-level players, you never get the same guy,” Belichick said. “You construct other parts of your team. Even if you find a guy to play that position, they play it a little bit differently, so I don’t think you replace those kind of players. You add players in other areas or players with different skills. Obviously, we did that with the draft choice we got this year, but they’re different players.”
As for what he thinks of Seymour’s play this season?
“He played some pretty good football for us here,” Belichick said. “He’s playing well for the Raiders. I don’t know. He’s a good player.”
PATRIOTS AND RAIDERS TRADES
In recent years, the Patriots and Raiders have become favorite trading partners. The numerous trades involved the Raiders trading or acquiring players such as Seymour, receiver Randy Moss, defensive end Derrick Burgess, offensive tackle Mario Henderson, Doug Gabriel, and a slew of others.
It’s nothing more than the Patriots and the Raiders having a good relationship and trusting each other when it comes to moving players and draft picks, according to Belichick.
“I guess it just worked out for both teams that way,” Belichick said. “No really set formula on that. I’m sure, we worked with other teams, they’ve worked with other teams. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. There’s open lines of communication and if there is something there where both clubs feel like they can help each other and there’s a deal to made, and if there isn’t you just move on. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
The Patriots selected offensive tackle Nate Solder with the 2011 first-round pick they received from the Raiders in exchange for Seymour.
Yet, that’s not how Belichick views the trade.
“We didn’t know we were getting him when we traded Richard,” Belichick said. “We knew what the value was; we didn’t know what the player was. In both cases, we did what was best for our football team. That’s really what it came down to. I know they’re related, but in a sense they’re independent, too.”
CAMPBELL’S COMFORT LEVEL WITH O-LINEJackson says he was confident all along in the players that comprise his offensive line.
Never mind that it took him until late in training camp to announce that Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes were the starters. He wants everyone to believe that he knew all along who his five best linemen were.
Maybe so, but he rotated other linemen in and out of the first-team in practices and games before settling upon his starting unit. That made it difficult for Campbell and others to get a strong feel for what to expect.
Campbell said Wednesday that it took him until late in camp to feel comfortable with the current group of linemen.
“I would say probably the third preseason game, when we got a chance to play against the Saints and all the different multiple looks that they were giving us, the different blitzes, and we were able to pick a lot of them up,” Campbell said. “That’s when you see, as a quarterback, that we’ve definitely improved as an offensive line unit.”
Center Samson Satele sets the tone as the person who barks out the signals. The others do their part by relaying their intentions to each other, especially when they see the defense back out of a particular look and into a new one.
“The one thing they do very well is communicate,” Campbell said. “That’s very important because everyone has to be on the same page, from the linemen to the running backs to the tight ends and to the quarterback, as far as having a complete communication and knowing, who’s got their guy.”
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