LAS VEGAS (AP)It’s Patriots East against Patriots West on Sunday, teams with a lot of similarities in desperate need of a victory.
The New England Patriots are 1-4 and looking for any kind of spark after losing by a combined 72-3 the past two weeks. Quarterback Mac Jones was benched in both games, and it’s the most adversity New England has faced in coach Bill Belichick’s 24 years on the job.
The Las Vegas Raiders have been a landing spot for former Patriots under coach Josh McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler, both ex-members of that organization. The Raiders’ situation isn’t much better than New England’s, but at 2-3 they found some breathing room by beating the Green Bay Packers 17-13 on Monday night. They need to win Sunday to salvage realistic hopes of a playoff berth as the schedule weakens.
“This is a team we certainly have a good level of familiarity with – eight guys on the coaching staff, five scouts, nine players, whatever it is,” said Belichick, who remains stuck on 299 career victories. “A lot of guys that have been here that I’ve worked with, we’ve worked with. Josh has done a good job here molding the team together.”
Belichick is sticking with Jones at quarterback, but another subpar performance could send him back to the bench permanently and prompt the Patriots to look for a different answer at that position in next year’s draft.
The Raiders could be in a similar spot, even with veteran and former Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo taking snaps. He hasn’t elevated the offense the way coaches hoped after they moved on from nine-year starter Derek Carr last season. Garoppolo has thrown an NFL-high seven interceptions. Las Vegas does have rookie Aidan O’Connell, but it’s unknown if the fourth-round pick is its quarterback of the future.
As for the present, the Raiders need something to get their offense going. They are on a six-game stretch without scoring 20 points.
Somehow, Las Vegas has won twice even with that poor production, but wide receiver Davante Adams said the team can’t be satisfied with “just squeezing victories.”
“I feel like there’s more to take from a game than just the win or loss,” Adams said. “Obviously, you’d rather win, but you can win a game and look (expletive), and we’ve done that too many times. So you have to start changing the way it looks.”
ABOUT THAT ENDING
The Patriots also came to Las Vegas last year, and the result was the season’s wackiest ending.
With the game tied late, New England appeared prepared to run out the clock and play for overtime when Rhamondre Stevenson took the handoff and suddenly found himself running free and picking up 23 yards. He lateraled to Jakobi Meyers, who then explicably threw back across the field.
Waiting there was Raiders defensive end and former Patriot Chandler Jones, who snagged the ball out of the air, shoved Mac Jones to the ground and ran 48 yards for a touchdown and a stunning 30-24 victory.
Meyers now is in Las Vegas, where he is the No. 2 receiver to Adams. Chandler Jones was played on the non-football illness list in September and was released two weeks ago after being arrested for violating a protective order.
BANKING ON DEFENSE
As bad as the Patriots’ offense has been in recent weeks, New England’s defense has remained mostly consistent.
It comes in ranked eighth in the NFL, allowing only 298 yards per game. The Patriots have the league’s sixth-best passing defense (190 yards per game).
They also come in with 12 sacks on the season, having recorded a sack in 24 consecutive games. That streak is tied with Carolina for the third-longest in the NFL, behind Kansas City (25) and Baltimore (26).
This will be the second straight game the Patriots have played without linebacker and sack leader Matt Judon (four), who is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his biceps.
BANKING ON DEFENSE, PART II
Who had the Raiders relying on defense for success this season?
Just about no one, of course.
Las Vegas ranks 14th in total defense, which isn’t overwhelming, but is a major improvement from last season when the Raiders were 27th. They made some notable changes in the offseason, but one of the returning players, end Maxx Crosby, has remained the clear standout.
He was named AFC defensive player of the week after registering four tackles for loss and a sack against the Packers. His constant pressure on quarterback Jordan Love threw Green Bay’s offense out of sync.
“Every time I go out there, I want to be at my absolute best,” Crosby said. “I write in my notes every single day, it’s me versus me.”
Belichick enters Sunday having recorded at least one victory in 50 stadiums (including the playoffs and neutral-site games) across the NFL.
The only two current venues home to NFL teams where he hasn’t won are Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium and Minnesota’s U.S. Bank Stadium.
Kansas City’s Andy Reid is second among NFL coaches, winning games in 43 stadiums.
AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed to this report.
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