This, ladies, gentlemen and undecideds, is why there is a difference between football, and fantasy football.Football is how the New England Patriots controlled the Oakland Raiders from stem to stern, won clinically and were never truly threatened.Fantasy football is how the Raiders played the Patriots nearly even. And the second really is a fantasy.
The Patriots 31-19 victory is only close if you include the Raiders final drive, a 99-yard, 49-second drive in which New England largely gave only the most infinitesimal of damns.Without it, you get: Jason Campbell throwing for 20 more yards, two less touchdowns and two more interceptions than Tom Brady. The Raiders outgaining the Patriots, 409-405, and an extra 40 yards in penalties. The Raiders a mediocre 1-for-4 in the red zone. The Patriots a comfortable three-touchdown winner, which is what you would have figured them to be anyway.But theres more. Darren McFadden broke one play for 41 yards early in the second quarter, and was otherwise 13 for 44 on the ground. Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a 58-yarder on the last drive but would otherwise be 3 for 57. While some folks would still find Richard Seymours rash of first-half misdemeanors vexing, he wouldnt be listed as a reason the Raiders lost.And nobody would be asking Hue Jackson to explain any of his not-even-close-to-the-edge play-calling, especially punting on a fourth-and-three with 6:45 to go down 18. It was the call of a beaten coach, not one who says he lives on the edge, and may well die with that quote every time his nerve fails him.Without that, this game would be viewed as what it was, a cold-blooded performance by the masters of cold-bloodedness, over a team of upstarts who are merely starting to consider up.Were there lowlights? The most obvious one was Campbells hilariously bad interception throw to Patrick Chung, which killed a potential go-ahead touchdown and got the Patriots on their roll -- by the time Oakland touched the ball again, it wasnt 14-10, but 24-10, and over.Seymours two personal fouls on New Englands first possession, a 15-yard score from Brady to Wes Welker, were also crushing, and nearly simultaneous head-butts by Mike Mitchell and Jarvis Moss on the first play of the Patriots second TD drive, plus an illegal contact call on cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, also jumped out.But for the most part, the Raiders showed that they are still learning how to be a more explosive version of the typical Raiders -- error-prone at the worst times against the best teams. They exposed New York the week before by showing what they can do with error-free football, but two picks, nine penalties and one meaningless end-of-game drive showed how much they still have to do.This was not a shameful performance by any means, but it did cool the ardor of those who saw in the win over the Jets a team ready to burst from its shell as a fully-grown pterodactyl. The New York game was a sign of what can be on the best days.This? This was a sign of what will be when their superiors play like they are the superiors.If you really must know what this game means, it means that the Raiders have now been put in proper perspective. A middle-of-the-road-team in a middle-of-the-road league in which the real battle will be played at the back end of the playoff chase. Unlike the NFC, in which the meek are inheriting the earth at a breakneck pace, the power in the AFC remains the power.Well, if you exclude Indianapolis, which has a hall pass this year, that is.Houston has fully matured. Buffalo is making points out of straw. But New England, Baltimore and San Diego have already carved out their piece of ground, and only Miami, Kansas City, Denver and the Colts look like they cannot be saved.In that middle muddle, you find the Raiders -- capable of big things and small ones, on alternate weekends. As you thought they would when the season began. They are, as they say, in the debate.Just not the debate that you thought they were included after the Jets game.