Patriots Get Hearty Welcome, and Win Over Raiders, in Mexico

Patriots Get Hearty Welcome, and Win Over Raiders, in Mexico


It gave a jolt of momentum to the Patriots (8-2), as if they needed it in a blowout that laid bare Oakland’s anemic defense. Oakland, trailing by 30-0, finally scored in the fourth quarter, when Amari Cooper scored a touchdown on a pass from Derek Carr.

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Danny Amendola’s 5-yard catch gave New England a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

Credit
Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The win improved the Patriots chances for the top seed in the A.F.C. playoffs. As the game wound down, thick storm clouds menaced, mirroring the increasingly gloomy postseason outlook for Oakland (4-6).

No matter.

The announced crowd of 77,000 treated this event like a Super Bowl nearly the entire time: The fans’ excitement was palpable; their face paint, jerseys and carousing inside and outside the stadium a testament to their anticipation for this game.

“If I were in Oakland, I would care more if they won or lost, but just that they are playing here, I cannot describe how that feels,” said Emilio Carreño, 28, a government accountant and Raiders fan. “To see the Raiders here in Azteca is something I will remember for a long time.”

Just about everything on the field drew an emotional, throaty response: the unfurling of giant flags of the United States and Mexico for the anthems before the game; the halftime salute to rescue teams — in their protective gear and with their search dogs — from the earthquakes in September that killed more than 450 people, most of them in and around Mexico City; even dropped balls and middling runs from both teams.

The grounds crew surely would have been cheered, too, if the workers were seen.

Even as New England was running away with the game, the crowd stuck with it, doing the wave so vigorously the stadium shook.

Another regular-season game will be played here in 2018, the third since 2016, when Oakland beat the Houston Texans, 27-20. Shortly before this game, the N.F.L. and its broadcast partner here and stadium landlord, Televisa, announced that three more regular-season games will be played from 2019 to 2021.

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Before the game, a ceremony honored emergency personnel for their work after a Sept. 19 earthquake in central Mexico.

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Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

The N.F.L. is striving to expand its presence internationally; it has played regular-season games in London since 2007, with four games there this year. Its first game outside the United States was played at Azteca in 2005.

The players said they fed off the fan energy.

They ran through a gantlet of fans from their locker rooms into the stadium, giving high-fives along the way, close contact rarely seen in the United States.

“That was super neat,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “The way fans were interacting, it was actually unbelievable.”

The Patriots sought to brush off the special preparation for the game, which included extra oxygen tanks on the sideline and a week of training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, to help them adjust to the altitude.

The teams arrived Saturday evening and planned to fly home right after the game.

“We came a long way to win a football game, but that’s what we did,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

Easy win. No serious problems to report from the trip. The playoffs in sight.

The only matter left to discuss was Brady’s jersey. It went missing after the Super Bowl in February and was recovered months later in Mexico, taken from the locker room by a Mexican journalist and memorabilia collector. He turned over the jersey and was not charged.

So, was this jersey safe and sound?

“Is my jersey safe?” Brady replied when asked about it. “Oh, I was not worried about it last time,” he said with a smile as he left the interview room, not really answering the question.



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