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A good show of hands

Patriot receivers shared the wealth

FOXBOROUGH -- Of course there was no need for panic, probably not even apprehension, but you could not help but hear concern in the voice of Patriots offensive players during training camp.

Poor pass routes, bad throws, and apparent miscommunication were more prevalent than perfect execution. Tom Brady even pointed out -- only a touch facetiously -- that the goal of winning three consecutive Super Bowls should take a back seat to putting together three straight quality practices.

However, when the lights came on -- the regular-season lights, that is -- the Patriots' passing attack was once again efficient, and at times spectacular in a 30-20 win over the Raiders.

Some notables:

Brady threw for 306 yards, just the ninth time in his career that he has thrown for more than 300 in a regular-season game. And his 105.8 rating gives New England a perfect 27-0 record when his passer rating tops the century mark.

Deion Branch, who didn't play during the preseason, pulled down a team-high seven passes for 99 yards. Only once last year did he have more than seven receptions in a game -- the Super Bowl, when he was named Most Valuable Player with 11 catches for 133 yards. In fact, the seven catches ties for the second-most by Branch in a regular-season game.

Troy Brown had six receptions (for 51 yards), more than a third of the total he managed a year ago while sharing time with defensive back Troy Brown. The last time Brown had six catches in a regular-season game was Oct. 19, 2003.

Benjamin Watson matched his career total with two catches -- on one drive. The second-year tight end played in only one game before a knee injury cost him the remainder of the 2004 season.

An offensive line that should only get better throughout the season did not allow a sack, despite Brady's 38 pass attempts. Only once last season (at Buffalo) did Brady not get sacked in a game.

Offseason addition Tim Dwight, here more for his punt-return ability than pass-catching skills, even added a touchdown grab, just the 15th of his eight-year career.

And consider also that the Patriots' passing attack was not at full strength against Oakland. Because of injuries to Bethel Johnson and Andre' Davis, just four of the six wideouts on the roster were active for the contest.

Yet the Patriots, who made inquiries about adding then-free agent Peerless Price a week before the season, clicked anyway. Much of the credit goes to Brady, who was very sharp early on, and was one of only two NFL signal callers (with St. Louis's Marc Bulger) to throw for more than 300 yards on the first weekend.

Brady seemed to shred the Raiders surgically, with the individual completions coming in tidy groups.

David Givens, the team's leading receiver last season, had both of his two catches in three plays; Watson's grabs came in just four plays; and half of Branch's receptions were in a five-play scoring drive that he finished off with an 18-yard touchdown catch.

Branch, who said he was wary of being too excited in his first action of the season, ran crisp routes and had his way with the Raiders' secondary, giving the Brady-Branch connection the look of one of the league's top combinations.

Branch might have established himself as the clear No. 1 option in the passing attack last season had he not been sidelined by a knee injury. His fluid play against the Raiders is an indication he is in line for a huge year.

''I always said the receiver I like is the guy that's open," Brady said after the game. ''Whoever gets open I like, and Deion seems to get open a lot."

Watson was open a lot during preseason -- he led the team in receptions for the second straight exhibition campaign -- and seemed to be headed for a good night against Oakland with catches for 20 and 35 yards on New England's first possession. He didn't have another catch, but demonstrated he could be a force.

''We have a lot of weapons on offense," Watson said. ''There are a lot of places to spread the ball around, so it might be one guy's quarter to catch the ball or it might be one guy's game to catch the ball. Then the next week it could be someone totally different. That's one of our strengths."

Eight pass catchers figured in the offense against Oakland, including running backs Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon, who combined for five catches for 48 yards, and tight end Daniel Graham, who contributed a 17-yard reception.

That balance should serve the team well at Carolina, which allowed New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks to complete 18 of 24 passes on Sunday.

''I think the real key to having a good offense is having balance throughout your entire unit, not just one guy who can do something," said coach Bill Belichick. ''You need a lot more than that to make it go in this league."

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