December 04, 2007
Flawed Patriots Still Manage To Survive
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
BALTIMORE -- The underdog smashes you across the chops, but you the champ come up with the haymaker to register the knockout anyway.
Still undefeated at this hour, the Patriots took another shot from an inferior team on paper and withstood it, and the Patriots are now 12-0 and three-quarters of the way to NFL history. The Patriots, making their first visit to M&T Bank Stadium and their first visit to the city of Baltimore in eleven years, endured a tough battle from a Baltimore Raven team which seemed like its 2000 incarnation, and held on for a 27-24 win on Monday night. It was won thanks to an eight-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds left, and it was sealed when Mark Clayton was tackled at the three-yard line after catching a 53-yard Hail Mary pass with no time left on the clock.
The Ravens brought an incredibly physical game to New England, a punishing style on both sides of the ball which was sustained for most of the game. The trouble is that the Ravens needed to sustain it for all of the game, and that plus a hail of untimely mistakes helped the Patriots sneak by in their most tenuous contest of the season.
Last week against Philadelphia, the Patriots were exposed as a team which cannot defend the slant routes. On Monday night, the Patriots might also have been exposed as a team which can be run on up the middle. With Adalius Thomas having to play outside linebacker due to the fact that Rosevelt Colvin was placed on IR during the week, leaving Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau (aggregate age of the two: 72 years) as the main run stoppers up the middle, the results were predictable.
First of all, Kyle Boller, who was not at all supposed to duplicate what A.J. Feeley did last week, completed an unbelievable 15 of 23 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 105.3. Yes, we did say Kyle Boller, one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. He found Derrick Mason six times for 67 yards and a touchdown, and Daniel Wilcox caught the other touchdown pass.
Then there was old friend Willis McGahee. As a Buffalo Bill, he angered many Patriot fans by proclaiming himself as the best back in the league, bragging about how he was going to punish the Patriots. On Monday night, he did just that, bludgeoning the Patriot defense to the tune of 138 yards and a touchdown, a 17-yard third quarter run thanks to a killer block by Jonathan Ogden and missed tackles by Thomas and Rodney Harrison. McGahee punished the Patriots with a physical style he never really showed in Buffalo, and the Patriots were stymied through three quarters because of this.
Meanwhile, Brady was being harassed most all game long. On one offensive possession in the fourth quarter, Brady was sacked on two consecutive plays, a six-yard loss by Haloti Ngata, and a nine-yard loss by Antwan Barnes. Brady was sacked three times in all, and hurried a lot of throws. He finished only 18 of 38 passing for 257 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of only 76.3.
This was a game that had a Baltimore win written all over it. So, how did the Patriots manage to escape?
The first sign that the Patriots might somehow pull through occurred late in the first half. Ed Reed picked off a Brady pass intended for Watson and ran it back 32 yards. But Kevin Faulk pulled a Troy Brown and stripped the ball from Reed, and Watson was able to make the recovery and allow the game to be tied at the half.
The defense finally came up with some key stops. On three straight possessions in the fourth quarter, the Ravens went three and out, the first of which was actually ended by a James Sanders interception at the Patriot 2 which effectively worked like a punt on third and 14. The Patriots were able to score ten points off of those defensive stops, before the Ravens were halted for good on that final Hail Mary pass to Clayton as time expired.
By holding off Baltimore in the final quarter, the Patriots were then able to find the time to methodically pick apart the Raven defense, but they had some help. The Ravens were flagged 13 times for 100 yards, and some of the penalties were of the damaging variety, especially on the final game-winning drive for the Patriots.
With 3:30 left and trailing, 24-20, the Patriots began at their own 27-yard line. A 23-yard pass to Ben Watson (who dropped a sure touchdown pass on the first possession of the game for the Patriots) put the ball at midfield. A nine-yard run by Kevin Faulk and a keeper by Brady put the ball at the Baltimore 39. It was fourth and one at the 30 and the Ravens seemingly ready to put the lock on this game when buzzard luck struck.
Brady took the snap on fourth down and tried to sneak it, but was stopped for a yard loss. Game over. Not. The officials were waving their hands over their heads, saying that Baltimore called a timeout. When asked after the game who called the timeout, Brian Billick said "We did", adding that "We didn't like the formation we were in!" When he was asked about it, Brady, who seemed rather prickly during his press conference, said "I would have had the first down…I stopped when I heard the whistle!" The Patriots had new life and another shot at fourth and one.
On the next play, Heath Evans was stopped for another one-yard loss. Again, officials were waving their hands in the air. False start on Russ Hochstein. No play. Fourth and six. Brady, given still another life, scrambled for 12 yards and a first down. In the end zone, Samari Rolle was guilty of holding Wes Welker, so the ball advanced another five yards. It was first down at the Baltimore 18 with 1:38 to go.
It was later fourth and five at the 13. Brady tried to hit Watson in the end zone, but the pass was broken up in double coverage. But Jamaine Winborne was called for holding Watson during his route, and the Patriots had first and goal at the eight with 55 seconds left to play.
On the next play, Brady was able to find Gaffney in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown pass to put the Patriots ahead. After the play, linebacker Bart Scott was called for not one but two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (the second of which was for throwing an official's flag into the stands). An offside penalty on the conversion meant that Stephen Gostkowski got to kick off from the Baltimore 35-yard line.
The Ravens started their final drive at their own 20, and made it to the 45 with eight seconds left. Boller heaved one towards the end zone, and somehow Clayton came up with the catch. Fortunately, he was grabbed right away by Eric Alexander and dropped at the three as time expired.
The Patriots were again fortunate that they had enough material in the end to outlast an inferior opponent. Next week, when 9-3 Pittsburgh comes to town, the Patriots will have their hands full. Ben Roethlisberger will try and find as many in-cuts as he can, and Willie Parker will look forward to pounding away at Bruschi and Seau. If the Patriots are to run the table, it may come down to next week and how well they do against the current third-best team in the AFC. At least the Patriots will have the game at home.
For now, the Patriots are 12-0 and still on top of the NFL mountain. They once again found a way to win against a team which played their best game of the season against them. Down the road, the Patriots have defensive flaws which must be fixed when better and more consistent offenses go up against them.
Here's hoping Las Vegas smartens up and stops making the Patriots 20-point favorites. That doesn't exactly butter up your opponent.
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