By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots put an exclamation point on an impressive victory over with a couple of defensive touchdowns in the last two minutes and clinched the AFC East for the fifth consecutive year and 11th time in the last 13 with a 41-7 pasting of the Baltimore Ravens.
After a quick start by the offense and Tom Brady, the Patriots defense held Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense at bay and off-balance all game long. The Ravens were only 5 for 14 on third downs and 0-3 on fourth downs. Brady didn’t have a huge day, passing only 26 times, completing 14 for 172 yards and 1 touchdown, but his pass protection was very good and most importantly, they didn’t turn the ball over once.
LaGarrette Blount had a big day for the offense carrying 16 times for 76 yards and two big rushing touchdowns and even gave a little Ray Lewis shake after his 2nd touchdown. Julian Edelman had another big game for the offense with 7 catches for 77 yards. Edelman needs only four more catches in the final against Buffalo to reach 100 catches for the season.
The defense got big performances from Logan Ryan (2 INTs), Brandon Spikes in the running game and the pass rush which was much improved and sacked a hobbled Joe Flacco four times. And the underrated (except in NE) Rob Ninkovich made a bunch of big plays when the defense needed them.
Big Physical Win: Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the game was the way the Patriots won; against a big physical team on the road, New England was able to out-physical the Ravens for the first time in the past few meetings. Something few were willing to admit (this writer among them) could happen.
Perhaps the biggest positive was the play of the banged up secondary and it seemed like a revolving door back there at times on Sunday, but the Patriots secondary stayed physical and stayed in man coverage for much of the day, not afraid of the deep ball ability of Baltimore and contested every play.
They made key stops on a couple of big fourth downs, especially with the Ravens facing 4th and 2 inside the red zone in the fourth quarter. Flacco went from the shotgun to under center, and the Patriots recognized this and rotated the defense with Sealver Siliga clogging up the point of attack and Rob Ninkovich was able to stop Ray Rice short.
It wasn’t all pretty however and we’ll get to that later, but to go into Baltimore and hold them to seven points is some great work by the Patriots defense.
Turnovers Reappear At A Perfect Time: On the subject of the defense, one the facets missing this season has been the timely turnovers that the defense feasted on in years past. And things didn’t start off to well as the team had opportunities for a couple of early interceptions of Joe Flacco.
Devin McCourty, who left the game after being injured making a tackle had a chance to make two interceptions but couldn’t haul in either one. However, the defense ended up forcing four turnovers, two Flacco picks, one more from Tyrod Taylor and botched snap fumble that was recovered by Chandler Jones in the endzone for a touchdown.
Tavon Wilson, who has been the forgotten man in the secondary put the finishing touch on the day when he picked off Taylor and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown. With the injuries to Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib, rookie Logan Ryan got extended playing time again and turned in another excellent performance with two interceptions.
Big Boy Drive Caps Off the Game: With the game at 20-7, the Patriots got the ball back with just under seven minutes left and the ground game made a big statement with a drive that didn’t throw the football once.
After taking over on downs at the Baltimore 48 yard line, the Ravens knew the Patriots were going to run the football and weren’t able to stop them. New England ate up 4:32 of the playclock before LaGarrette Blount powered in from the seven yard line to put the game away with 2:05 left.
This is the type of drive the offense has wanted to make all season, putting a team away with the running game when they know you’re going to run and still be successful. And against the Ravens, one of the more physical defenses in the league, it was a not only a big statement but it got this team over an emotional hurdle as well.
Red Zone Improvements: A week after going only 1 for 4 in the red zone against Miami, the Patriots went 3 for 3 against on the better red zone defenses in the NFL. They did it on the ground for two touchdowns by Blount and one on a pass from Brady to Shane Vereen.
They have to be very pleased with the work in the red zone especially with the beat up offensive line. And on an already good day for the defense, the Pats defense held the Ravens to only 1 for 3 in the red zone.
Too Many Penalties: The Patriots entered the game as one of the least penalized teams in the league and whether it was just a case of being over-aggressive or just that the officiating crew was having a rough day (ok they were awful), the Patriots ended up with seven penalties on the day and a few which were declined.
While it is nothing to worry about at this juncture, I’m sure Bill Belichick will be preaching to the troops this week about playing cleanly and not taking unnecessary flags. But this crew today, missed too many calls and couldn’t make up its collective minds on more than one occasion.
Third & Long Conversion Again Haunts Defense: While it’s hard to find much fault with the defense when they gave up only 7 points, one particular sequence will most certainly get plenty of film reviews this week.
On a Ravens drive that started on the ten yard line, after a sack and a penalty the Patriots had Baltimore backed up to the two on a 3rd and 17 and couldn’t get off the field. The end result was a 90 yard Ravens drive that culminated in their only seven points of the day.
It has been happening too frequently this season and needs to be addressed but overall, the coaching staff has to be thrilled with the performance of a very banged up unit.
The rush defense continues to improve by small increments, holding Ray Rice to just 40 yards on 11 carries and Bernard Pierce to only 31 yards on 10 carries. Tyrod Taylor had 39 yards scrambling out of the backfield at garbage time, but the rush defense was pretty good on Sunday.