November 29, 2004
Baltimore Hit Hard By Patriotic Squall
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- Sometimes, Ray Lewis is not as tough as he says or thinks he is.
On Sunday, every member of the Patriot defense could talk tough like Lewis is given to, and this time they would be dead on. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens were just dead. And the Patriots did a terrific job of protecting their house.
Amidst a driving rainstorm for much of the late afternoon at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots mistreated Kyle Boller and the Raven offense, and Corey Dillon mistreated Lewis and his dangerous gang of defenders. The result was a 24-3 Patriot win which was a spanking a tough team like the Ravens don’t often get.
The Patriots continue to express to the rest of the league that the loss they suffered at Pittsburgh was the biggest aberration of the new millennium. This win was the most convincing of them all, as they were able to literally manhandle the Ravens in a way where few, if any, teams in the league are capable of doing. The Ravens average 14 points allowed per game; this was only the third time this season the Ravens allowed 20 or more.
And this game truly should have been a shutout. An odd succession of penalties on a punt return late in the first half helped set up the only Raven points on the afternoon. Otherwise it was a complete Patriot domination. It smacked a great deal of the Miami affaire de neige last December, only that you can’t throw gobs of raindrops in the air after a Patriot touchdown. But the Patriots put the clamps on the Ravens in much the same way as they did on the Dolphins.
There was nothing fancy about the win. Basically, the Patriots went after Boller hard all game long, rushed him, hit him, and forced him into a few mistakes. He was sacked four times, threw one interception, completed only 15 of 35 passes for 93 total yards, and was hit by Tedy Bruschi early in the fourth quarter at his own eight yard line, resulting in a fumble which Jarvis Green recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
That drive which ended in that fumble put the exclamation point on the afternoon for the Patriots, and it exemplified Boller’s poor day. On first down at his own 30, Ted Johnson, whose forte is run defense, sacked Boller for a ten-yard loss. On the next play, Mike Vrabel came in from the left side and flushed Boller out of the pocket. Bruschi came in from the other side, fended off two blockers, and hit Boller on his passing arm. The ball rolled towards the end zone and in before Green covered it for the score to make it 24-3 Patriots.
The drive which preceded it exemplified what the game had morphed into for the Raven defense. The drive covered 48 yards on nine plays. Seven of the nine plays were Dillon runs, all of them were between the tackles (read: right at Lewis). The runs totaled only 16 of the 48 yards (12 of the yards came on a pass interference call). But Dillon had made a statement facing his former division nemesis. Running mainly behind Richard Seymour in at fullback (and one has to wonder if Seymour has had a better season at fullback rather than defensive end), Dillon helped chew up four and a half minutes and give the Patriots the first touchdown of the game.
And that wasn’t even the true exclamation point. The Patriots, leading 15-3 at the time, went for two. The play was a simple run up the gut by Dillon. Seymour once again led the way, and Dillon once again ran right at Lewis. He blew right by the franchise linebacker, and the Patriots were up 17-3. Much more important, the Ravens were a slain beast. To put it fancifully, Dillon ripped Lewis’s heart out of his chest with a long sword, then ran over to Bill Belichick and presented it to him.
It was a huge macho statement by the Patriots against a team which you need to do that to in order to win, and perhaps make them think long and hard if these two should meet in the playoffs. Dillon finished with 123 yards rushing and a 4.1 average. Dillon once again proved what a valuable pickup he was, leading the way against a team which has known him well over these years.
For most of the game, the Raven defense was playing as advertised. Tom Brady was only able to muster 15 of 30 passing for 172 yards and a 67.6 rating. The Ravens gave ground grudgingly most all game long, at least until the running game found holes late in the third quarter. The rain had a lot to do with it, as neither quarterback could really get good grips on the ball. But the game had been a defensive stalemate for at least the first half. Six of the first eight drives for each team ended in punts.
One area that the Ravens were not able to take advantage of was in the punting game. Nick Murphy, filling in for the injured Dave Zastudil, punted ten times for a 44.4-yard average. On the other hand, Josh Miller averaged only 32.1 yards on eight punts, which included several mishits. But one punt which went only 29 yards pinned the Ravens back at their own 3, as Miller executed a perfect pooch punt with the Patriots at the Ravens 32 and Belichick not wanting to risk a 50-yard Adam Vinatieri attempt while leading 24-3 in the fourth quarter.
If it’s raining, then it must be Vinatieri weather. The Patriot kicker, who thrives in lousy weather conditions, was three of three in field goal attempts, including a 48-yard field goal in the third quarter. Vinatieri might have emerged as the top star of the game if it were not for the two fourth quarter touchdowns which followed. In a rainy defensive struggle like this one, Vinatieri’s talents are at their most attractive to the Patriots, or at least right up there with walk-off kicks needed to win Super Bowls.
The win puts the Patriots at 10-1, and keeps pace with all the teams which are acting like miserable pests in the summertime. The Patriots remain two games ahead of the Jets (who won at Arizona), and remain even with the Steelers (who also won against the Redskins). The Patriots have five games remaining, only one of which is against a team with a winning record (at the Jets in four weeks). 15-1 is not at all out of the question.
Especially when you look at the Patriots and how they totally manhandled a tough Raven team on Sunday. Should these two teams meet again in January, the Ravens may know better how to approach the Patriots, but they may also be mumbling to themselves if it will matter at all if they know their opponent better. Would having a healthy Jamal Lewis be the difference maker? Let the speculation begin.
Right now, the Patriots continue to blast their opponents, and the rest of the league is wondering how in blazes the Steelers were able to bust up that streak.
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