- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) - With the offense sputtering and looking for production, the New England defense has stepped up to lead the Patriots to wins the past two weeks.

After getting hit with 23 unanswered points in the second half of the opener at Miami, then getting run over for a first-drive touchdown at Minnesota, the defense has settled down. It hasn’t allowed a touchdown in 115 minutes, 54 seconds, and has taken its place among the NFL leaders on that side of the ball.

“Defensively, any time you can keep a team out of the end zone, you have to feel good about that,” coach Bill Belichick said after the Patriots allowed only three field goals in Sunday’s 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The defense shut down the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings completely after their first drive. Then, Oakland, another team no one would put into the offensive behemoth category, got three field goals. The competition wasn’t great, but the group got it done.

The New England defense bent as rookie quarterback Derek Carr led his team downfield trying for a late tying touchdown. The Raiders actually scored from the 6, but the play was called back for a holding penalty. Then Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork wound up with a deflected interception as the game entered its final minute.

Wilfork got his third career interception, his second against the Raiders. He later said “it was a team play.” He noted he doesn’t come down with the ball if the other 10 guys hadn’t forced the throw underneath.

“The credit doesn’t go all to me,” Wilfork said.

He added: “I’m not worried about our offense.”

The overall defensive effort came on a day that saw Carr throw the ball effectively at ace cornerback Darrell Revis. The Patriots rank second in the AFC and third in the NFL, in total defense, and the interception was the eighth takeaway in three games.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday. “But I will say that our guys work extremely hard, they study very hard, they practice very hard, and they are great as far as that mentality of trying to be better than we were the day before, the play before, the game before.”

One of the early standouts has been third-year end/linebacker Chandler Jones, a 6-foot-5 disrupter. He blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown at Minnesota, and was chosen NFL defensive player of the week after eight tackles, including two sacks. He knocked down a couple of passes against Oakland.

Jones is third on the team with 14 tackles, 11 solo. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower lead with 30 and 16, respectively.

“Chandler’s got good physical skills, does a good job,” Belichick said. “He’s long, he has good playing strength, he’s able to use his length to his advantage. He’s certainly gotten better at that each year since he’s been here.

“He’s been durable, tough, been out there, played a lot of plays, and has good durability and stamina. He has the ability scheme-wise - he’s a smart player. He has the ability to do multiple things for us defensively in terms of playing on the tackle, playing on the tight end, playing on space, playing in coverage. He’s been a versatile player. He’s done a real good job.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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