By: Derek Havens
The 23 – 20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens proved to be special in many ways. I thought this game would be a measuring stick type of game for the Patriots and they measured up to one of the better teams in the NFL on Sunday.
Even though the team started slow in the beginning, they were resilient and refused to go away. Finally, when they needed too, they made the crucial plays to win in all three phases of the game. Here is the team’s report card from the match-up.
While this was not the offense’s most stellar performance, the team adapted to adversity. The offense was forced to evolve quickly in two weeks after Randy Moss was traded to the Minnesota Vikings.
For the 30th time in his career, Tom Brady led the Patriots to victory from a fourth-quarter deficit. Brady was clutch down the stretch, finishing 16-of-24 for 156 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Deion Branch proved he could still be productive in this offensive system, linking up with Brady 9 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. Also, Danny Woodhead was a huge factor again with 11 carries for 63 yards and five catches for 52 yards.
Overall, even though the offense put up enough points to win, I felt through the entire game they left plays and points on the field. Their clock management is one aspect I was interested to hear Belichick talk about Monday; I have not seen a game in recent memory that the coaching staff did such a poor job in that category.
They might have won the game in regulation if they had punched it into the end zone instead of tying with a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Patriots played excellent down the stretch. The Patriot’s defense shut down the Ravens on their final 5 possessions of the game. Earlier in the off-season, I had said that this defense would not be able to get stops when they need too, that argument was thrown out, as the defense became a dominant force at the end of the game.
Now, lets not forget about the first 3 quarters. This defense was once again frustrating fans and forcing me to replace my carpet after I paced in front of the TV for an hour. Some how, almost every time I looked up at the score, the patriots were in striking distance. The game always-felt much more out of hand than the score dictated, yet the team stayed competitive.
The defense held the Baltimore offense to only 20 points after they had been allowing over 26 in the previous three games. Also, going to back to those five stops late in the game, they had to keep the Ravens from scoring or they would have lost.
Defensive captain Vince Wilfork certainly had a lot to say about the game after, here is one of the many statements he made post-game. “That was awesome. Big win. Probably one of the biggest wins around here in a long time. It was the most physical game I’ve ever played in and my hat goes off to my teammates, coaching staff [and their] preparation.”
I agree with Vince whole-heartedly and while the rollercoaster of emotions will continue with this defense moving forward, the facts are the defense made the plays when the game was on the line. That is an encouraging sign moving forward.
Special Teams: B+
The Patriots strong special teams unit showed up again against the Ravens and the team needed them to. Zoltan Mesko’s 65 yard punt in overtime to change the field position when the team needed him most, Gostkowski’s three FGs including the game winner, and the multiple punt returns by Wes Welker improving the teams field position.
Brandon Tate was unable to impact the game because of Billy Cundiff and his ability to kick the ball deep into the end zone.
Barring a touchdown, this was a solid performance by the special teams unit and has proved to consistent and reliable part of the game. Having a great special teams unit showed not be overlooked (i.e. San Diego Chargers). Hopefully they can keep this up moving forward.
Overall game grade: A
Overall a solid win coming off the bye for the Patriots. They beat one of the best teams in the NFL with contributions from all three phases of the game. But most of all, they measured up and are now in the mix of AFC elite teams.
While not each of these phases received an “A” grade, this win should not be taken for granted. Emotionally and physically the Patriots put a lot into this game. The Ravens embarrassed them when they met in the play-offs last year. That is why a victory for these players could build some confidence and momentum moving forward.