Patriots

Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

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Pace of play key as NFL players return from lockout

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
The suits and briefcases portion of this offseason should end in about 10 days. That will bring on the whistles and shoulder pads stage. And that's when the 2011 season will get very interesting and a possible war of attrition begins. Coaches haven't had hands on their players in nearly five months. Thesmoking desire to cram knowledge, technique and conditioning into men who ensure the coaches' continued employment and professional success can finally be released. But will the players be ready? "It's important that players have the proper time to prepare mentally for what they're about to go into with training camp," former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel saidFriday on WEEI's Big Show."And by that I mean, 'What's expected of them? What plays that are going to be run? What's the packages? What's the installation?' and then go out there and execute it in practice. But I think to just go suit up and throw pads on and go play isgoing tobe a detriment to the players and one that will probably get some guys injured."Consider the various dynamics coaching staffs face once the owner-player battle ends. Physical evaluations: The fact that players could visit team doctors during the lockout will help smooth the return of guys coming back from injuries in 2010. Still, who's gotten stronger? Faster? Who is woefully out of shape and simply won't be suited to be on the field? Scheme tweaks: For the last few months, coaches have had little else to do other than self-scout -- throwing out plays that didn't work or weren't used and installing improvements. How do you get the new stuff in to the established players in this compressed time? How do you get the rookies and new acquisitions versed in every single thing that your team is about? Practice adjustments: Two-a-days as we've known them are going away. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, teams will be allowed a helmet-less, non-contact practice in place of a second full-pads workout. Bill Belichick alters his schedule every year. The past two, he's been heavy with two-a-days and having the players in pads often. That'sprobably been because of the team's relative youth. There's little doubt that Belichick is going to hate having the standard physicality legislated out of camp. Health concerns: Between dehydration, muscle pulls and the inevitable contact injuries, the attrition is going to come early. There's talk of expanded training camp rosters which will give teams more cannon-fodder and allow principal players to take fewer reps. For instance, the Patriots are going to have to add a kicker or two immediately because Stephen Gostkowski -- coming off quad surgery last season -- is not going to be in a position to kick all day long. Time management and delegation: Head coaches who also wear a personnel hat -- like the Patriots -- are going to see their leader splitting his time between free agent negotiation and acquisition, rookie contract progress, assistant coach oversight, scheme implementation, planning, and so on. This could be one of the most challenging seasons ever for coaches. Vrabel said that the move from negotiation to actual football has been a topic discussed. "It's been called it the 'transition phase' into the season," he explained. "You have to have time for a new league year to begin. And with a new league year comes free agency. Then there's a learning process from the players that are on your roster before training camp. There's a lot that goes into it and guys like (Chiefs GM and former Patriots personnel man) Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick that are used to being general managers are going to feel the crunch of this process. But they'll live and they'll be able to survive."Survive? No question. Thrive? It will be fascinating to watch unfold. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Wins have been so hard to come by for the Oakland Raiders that it took three tries at the final play for them finally to pull this one out and possibly save their season.

Derek Carr threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on the final play after the game was extended by two straight defensive holding calls and the Raiders snapped a four-game losing streak with a 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

"We didn't give up," Crabtree said. "We got a team full of fighters. We believe. ... No matter how hard the game was, we believed. We came out with the W and I'm excited. It's a good way to win, a great way to win."

With their season on the line following the recent slump, Carr led an 85-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:25 to give the Raiders (3-4) the thrilling comeback in a game they trailed by nine points heading into the fourth quarter.

Carr finished 29 for 52 for 417 yards and three touchdowns, with Amari Cooper catching 11 passes for 210 yards and two of the scores. The Raiders had struggled to get the ball downfield while being held to 17 or fewer points in four straight games but Carr repeatedly beat the Chiefs with deep passes.

"No. 4 kept making plays," coach Jack Del Rio said. "This is a special, special win."

Alex Smith threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns but it wasn't enough for the Chiefs (5-2). They lost consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 11-18, 2015, and had their 12-game winning streak in the AFC West snapped in a thrilling finish.

"I've never been part of a game that came down so dramatic," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "But, still had a chance to win. Period. Just have to make a play. One play. One play."

The Raiders had an apparent go-ahead touchdown pass to Jared Cook with 18 seconds left overturned when replay ruled he was down at the 1. An offensive pass interference on Crabtree wiped out another touchdown on the next play.

But holding calls on Ron Parker and Eric Murray set the stage for the final play. Carr hit Crabtree in the front corner of the end zone to tie it at 30. Giorgio Tavecchio won it with the extra point , setting off a celebration on a wild night that included Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch getting ejected in the second quarter for shoving an official.

HOT TEMPERS: The game took an odd turn midway through the second quarter after Kansas City's Marcus Peters hit Carr late, angering the Raiders. Offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn confronted Peters and Lynch sprinted off the Oakland sideline to join the fray. Lynch, a close friend of Peters, ended up shoving line judge Julian Mapp and getting ejected . Peters also was called for a personal foul on the play. Lynch congratulated his teammates in the locker room after the game but didn't speak to reporters.

"I was disappointed he ran out because I knew we had a 15-yard penalty and we'd be in good shape," Del Rio said.

LONG DRIVE: After Marquette King pinned the Chiefs at their own 1 with a perfect punt early in the second quarter, Kansas City needed little time to turn the momentum. Smith hit Demarcus Robinson on a 33-yard pass on the first play of the drive. After a short run, Tyreek Hill beat David Amerson for a 64-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chiefs their first 99-yard drive since doing it Dec. 3, 2006, against Cleveland.

DEEP CONNECTION: Carr had not connected on a single deep ball to Amari Cooper all season before the two teamed twice for long TDs in the opening quarter. On the first, Cooper appeared to push Terrance Mitchell but the officials picked up the flag and gave Cooper the 38-yard TD . Later in the quarter Carr and Cooper connected on a 45-yard score, making Cooper the first Raiders receiver with two TD catches in the first quarter since Mervyn Fernandez in 1989.

KICKING WOES: The Raiders were hurt last week when a bad snap by Jon Condo led to a missed extra point by Giorgio Tavecchio in a 17-16 loss to the Chargers. That was Tavecchio's first missed kick of any kind this season but he then had a 53-yarder blocked and missed a 45-yarder wide left in the second quarter. Tavecchio also had a false start on an extra point in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Chiefs: Host Denver on Oct. 30.

Raiders: Visit Buffalo on Oct. 29.