By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots travel to Baltimore for their final regular season road game to take on Ravens in a very important game for both teams as the 2013 season winds down. The game, originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football on NBC has been flexed to 4:25 p.m. and will be carried by CBS.
It is expected that CBS’ top announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will again be on the call doing the play-by-play and color commentary duties.
The Patriots (10-4) lost to the Miami Dolphins 24-20 as the Patriots had five shots inside the 20 yard line as time ran out to get the winning touchdown but couldn’t come away with a fantastic finish this time. A win will clinch the Patriots a play-off spot and the AFC East division title.
The Ravens (8-6) beat the Detroit Lions 18-16 as Justin Tucker kicked six field goals; his last with 38 seconds remaining was a 61 yarder just inside the right goal post. With the win, Baltimore has wrested the 6th and final playoff spot away from the Dolphins for the time being.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker celebrates his 61 yard field goal against the Detroit Lions on Monday.
(USA TODAY Images)
Sunday will be the fifth year in a row that the teams have met at least once and the Ravens swept two games last season including a beat-down of the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro last season.
Here are Five First Impressions on the Baltimore Ravens:
Never Count Out the Champs: After being left for dead just four weeks ago and with the playoffs seemingly out of reach, the Ravens have won four games in a row and have not only climbed back into the playoff race but still have a shot at winning their division.
Their playoff fate now rests in their own hands, if the Ravens win their final two games, at home against the Patriots and on the road in Cincinnati, they will win the AFC North and host a playoff game. And amazingly if both Baltimore and Miami win out, the three way tie would oust the Bengals from the playoffs completely due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with each of those teams beating Cincy….so all the remaining games are very important for all teams.
Once again the Ravens are getting hot at precisely the right time and will be a dangerous, tough out if they reach the playoffs. One thing is for certain, no one wants to play them in a first round playoff game regardless of the location.
Pitta Returns at a Key Time: Baltimore lost TE Dennis Pitta early in training camp with a fractured hip and his return will help the 20th ranked passing offense which has been averaging only 227.0 yards per game.
Pitta suffered the injury in July and was initially thought to be a career ender, but the tight end threw himself into the rehabilitation process and was amazingly has been able to return this season. In his first action against Minnesota last week, he snagged 6 passes for 48 yards. He added two more receptions for 24 yards against Detroit.
Pitta provides QB Joe Flacco with a reliable big target that can stretch the field horizontally and provide big matchup nightmares with opposing linebackers. Look for him to have an increased role on Sunday.
Ravens Defense Has Issues Finishing: Something that may sound familiar to Patriots fans is the fact the Ravens defense; at times a dominant one has had issues finishing games and has had problems stopping opponents in the fourth quarter.
Late game lapses early in the season led to losses against the Browns, Steelers and Packers and nearly cost them an important game against Minnesota last week as they allowed two late scores before the offense rallied for a win.
On Monday night in Detroit, they again allowed a late touchdown by the Lions that with just under two minutes remaining, gave the Lions the lead. So with a close game on the line, it is a problem that opponents as well as the Ravens brass are aware of.
“I’m concerned about it,” Coach John Harbaugh said to ESPN earlier last week.
“In those situations, we haven’t been as good as we have the rest of the time,” Harbaugh added. “That’s something that we’ve got to clean up. To me, that’s not a hard fix, that’s just something we have to put our mind to and get it done.”
Running Game Showing Signs of Life: On the season the Ravens have had issues running the football averaging only 82.9 yards per game, good for only 29th in the league with Ray Rice averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry.
But in the last two games against Minnesota and Detroit, Rice has gained 123 yards on 29 carries, good for a 4.24 yard average and with Bernard Pierce adding some tough running in short yardage, the Ravens rushing game is seemingly turning a corner.
And against a Patriots team without Wilfork, Kelly and Mayo inside, it may be just enough for QB Joe Flacco to use play-action passing to take deep shots down the field.
Suggs, Dumervil Will Be Keys This Week: Facing a beat-up and depleted New England offensive line, the Ravens will be looking to pressure Tom Brady and with outside rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, they have the bookend pass rushers to do it.
“He’s a great player. I was watching him last night,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said. He’s still the great player that he’s been for a long time. He always sets the tone for that defense. He and (Elvis)Dumervil can really rush. It’s going to be another tough game on the road.”
Suggs was off to a hot start in 2013 with nine sacks in the first games, but hasn’t had a sack in six straight. What better way to get untracked for him, than to get some pressure on the player he loves to spew hate about in the media.
Now that the Monday night game against Detroit is in the books, expect some good sound bites from Suggs this week. But as he has in the past, look for him also to back up his play on the field Sunday in Baltimore.
We’ll have much more later in the week concerning specific breakdowns and matchups including the Ravens dangerous WR duo of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as well as QB Joe Flacco. Stay tuned….