October 04, 2009
Patriots Hang On, Pull Off Big Win
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- These Ravens can actually play offense, and fortunately, the Patriots were able to handle it.
The Baltimore Ravens wound up scoring their first three touchdowns in Foxborough in franchise history (since moving from Cleveland). They have a quarterback who can actually throw the ball, unlike Trent Dilfer or Kyle Boller. Anthony Mason and Ray Rice should have been enough to win the game for the Ravens, who were ranked number one in several media power polls in the entire NFL.
But the Patriots showed that they can actually play good football this year. If this was the best the NFL has to offer in terms of opposition, the Patriots can be awfully proud of coming out of Foxborough with a 27-21 win on Sunday. Guys like Darien Butler and Brandon Meriweather had arguably their best games as pros, and the Patriots were able to overcome some brief flashes of brilliance by Joe Flacco and a devastating blocking error by Matt Light to win. This game will go a long way to help the Patriots in terms of tiebreakers in December, but for the short term, this was a richly satisfying win and enough evidence for the fans to believe that yes, the Patriots can still play good football and beat the iron of the NFL.
Flacco, who as a rookie last year took his team to within one game of the Super Bowl, gives the Ravens the offense they have lacked, even in their Super Bowl season of 2000. They have had great running backs over the years, but never great passers until now. Flacco came out firing on the first Raven offensive possession, but the Patriots were able to react, adjust, bring pressure, and eventually have just enough in the end to come away victorious.
The Patriots broke on top quickly, as Chris Carr took the opening kickoff and was blasted by Eric Alexander, and Brandon McGowan recovered the fumble at the Raven 12-yard line. But the Patriots gained only minus-2 yards, and had to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal from 32 yards out only 1:26 into the contest.
Flacco took over at the Baltimore 19 and marched his team 81 yards in 15 plays, eating up 6:35 of the clock. Mason was the featured guy, catching six passes for 77 of the 81 yards. Four of his catches were on third down, the last of which covered the final 20 yards for a touchdown. He made a leaping grab over Jonathan Wilhite and landed hard on the turf, getting up slowly. But Mason and the Ravens caught the Patriots' attention early.
From that moment on, the Patriots were able to contain Mason. He had only one more catch on the afternoon after that first drive, an eleven-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Flacco was pressured for most of the rest of the game by the Patriot defense, was sacked twice and completed only 27 of 47 passes for the game. He threw one interception, to Leigh Bodden just before halftime.
Meriweather had a terrific game overall, showing off his speed and actually saving a touchdown on one play. On their second offensive possession early in the second quarter, Flacco tried to hit Mason on a deep left sideline route. Mason did slip behind the coverage, but Meriweather came all the way over from the middle of the field to bat the ball away at the last second to force a Raven punt.
The Ravens hurt themselves with penalties at key moments. On two occasions the Ravens committed roughing the passer penalties which kept drives going. Haloti Ngata was caught roughing Tom Brady in the first quarter on third and nine. In the second quarter, Terrell Suggs was caught hitting Brady at the knees, and Sammy Morris ran it in from 12 yards out two plays later. Carr was called for illegal contact early in the second half, but Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh was so incensed with the call that he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct two plays later.
If offensive coordinator Cam Cameron could do this game over, he might think more about featuring Rice more, as he was the one offensive player the Patriots could not stop consistently. Rice gained 103 yards on 11 carries for a 9.4 average per carry, most of that coming on a 50-yard gallop late in the third quarter which led to a Willis McGahee touchdown on the second play of the final quarter. Rice was able to make a lot of hay with power runs between the tackles, and at times showed a great burst on the outside. Rice could have helped neutralize the blitzing Patriot defense, but Cameron instead tried to win the game with Flacco's arm.
The Patriot offense didn't do too badly, either. Brady finally looked more like his old self, with fewer overthrows and more Brady-ish throws. Nine different Patriot receivers caught at least one pass, and Wes Welker made his return after missing the last two games successful with a team-high six catches for 48 yards. But Brady was in supreme control all game long, with excellent command of his passes and some nifty catches by his receiver corps (without Joey Galloway, who was a healthy scratch for the game).
Yet there was one play where Brady was not in command. Midway through the third quarter, the Patriots took over on their own 14 after holding the Ravens to a punt on their first drive of the second half. On the first play, Suggs came in from the right side, blew by Matt Light and strip-sacked Brady. Light was totally overmatched on the play as his blocking technique was flawed and Suggs was able to move right in on Brady. The ball rolled into the end zone and was covered by Dwan Edwards for a Baltimore touchdown. It made the score 17-14 Patriots at the time, and it seemed to signal a change in momentum.
But Brady got the momentum right back, and rather quickly. He led the Patriots on a six-play, 79-yard drive and regained a ten-point lead at 24-14. Five of the six plays were passes, including a nice slant pattern by Sam Aiken for 26 yards and a terrific leaping catch by Randy Moss for 20 yards. Moss hauled in the scoring pass from 13 yards out after putting a terrific fake on Domonique Foxworth in the left flat.
The game came down to one final Raven drive. With 3:32 left, Flacco was able to take the Ravens from their own 20 to the Patriot 13. Butler left his indelible impression on this game with two key defensive stops, one on Mark Clayton and one on Mason. On Baltimore's final offensive play, Butler left Clayton open in the right flat which would have given the Ravens a first-and-goal at the Patriot 9 with 25 seconds left. But Clayton let the fourth down pass bounce off his hands, and the Patriots had their win.
Brady was 21-of-32 for 258 yards and a 100.8 passer rating. This was more than enough to overcome the running game, which against Baltimore is hard to establish anyway. Laurence Maroney continued to show that his running style is all wrong with only six yards on seven carries, and that Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are much more effective even in minor roles.
The Patriots have to head to Denver next week, which despite being a much different Bronco team still figures to be tough to beat at home against a Patriot team which usually does crummy in Denver anyway. Former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will be there to greet his former team and mentor, but he will take good not of how the Patriot defense is improving with each week.
This was a big win no matter how you look at it. Baltimore figures to be right there playing for the conference title at year's end like they were last year. The Patriots are finally starting to figure things out, and understand better what they can and cannot do well.
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