SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME — Yogi Berra, the baseball equivalent of the recently deceased Boston area comic Norm Crosby, once said this of baseball: “In baseball, you don’t know nuthin’.”
Now we know that the same holds for football. Sometimes, you don’t know nuthin’.
The Patriots, 6-½ point underdogs to the Baltimore Ravens, the same Ravens who ran roughshod over the 8-0 Patriots last year at Baltimore, went out and stuck it to the visitors, something that nobody could have foreseen or expected. Not much of a big deal was made with the Patriots finally snapping a four-game losing streak last Monday night against an 0-8 Jets team. You can make a big, huge deal out of this game, a 23-17 victory over Baltimore in a driving rainstorm at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.
Trying to explain this win won’t be easy. Lamar Jackson got his yards but never hurt the Patriots. Marquise Brown, Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards never got untracked and their damage to the Patriots was minimized. Cam Newton threw for only 118 yards passing, and threw fewer touchdown passes than Jacobi Meyers. How did such a delightfully unexpected win like this happen?
First of all, the Patriot rushing attack is perhaps the best of its kind seen around here since the late 1970s. This writer has a clear memory of Steve Grogan, Sam (Bam) Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun. The current Patriots are not that good, but they are making older fans remember those days when the Patriots should have won their first Super Bowl. If this is what the Patriots are truly morphing into, it will be interesting to see if, or rather how long, Bill Belichick can sustain this sort of offensive attack. Maybe the mid-1980s combo of Craig James and Tony Collins is a better comparison, but time will tell what the Patriots really have here.
Damien Harris is clearly emerging as the best Patriot running back at least since Corey Dillon, and maybe even further back. Other than appearing hurt at times, and not until Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale finally closed the turnstiles in the fourth quarter, Harris bludgeoned the Ravens with power running tinged with speed. Harris finished with 121 yards rushing on 22 carries and a 5.5 average per carry. Those are terrific numbers that, if they are sustainable, will take the Patriots farther this year than might have been previously thought.
Complementing Harris is Rex Burkhead, a holdover from Super Bowl LIII. Burkhead complimented Harris with 31 yards on six carries, and four catches for 35 yards. That’s 68 yards from scrimmage and a 6.8 average per touch. It’s the 6.8 yards per touch that really makes a big difference for the Patriots.
Then there’s Meyers. He has become Newton’s go-to receiver, but it goes beyond that. Meyers had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Only that his touchdown wasn’t a reception. Meyers beat the Ravens on a play which the Patriots have used to beat the Ravens before.
Towards the end of the first half, the Patriots, down 10-7, started at their 25 and drove to the Baltimore 24. Harris had six touches on the first nine plays of that drive. On the tenth play, Newton threw a backwards pass to Meyers in the left flat. On the other side of the formation, Burkhead ran a wheel route and took off to the end zone with linebacker Patrick Queen in pursuit. Meyers tossed a perfect lollypop throw towards the right rear corner of the end zone. Burkhead made a diving catch for the touchdown and the Patriots led at the half, 13-10 (Nick Folk missed the extra point). Meyers was a quarterback in high school, which more or less puts him in Julian Edelman’s category. Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State University.
In the second half, weather became more of a factor. Heavy winds soon gave way to heavy rains, but the Patriots were totally unfazed. To open the second half, Harris ran 40 yards on the first two plays, then Meyers caught a 26-yard pass from Newton. A personal foul put the ball at the Baltimore 4, and Newton scored on the next play on a roll right with literally nobody in his way. Suddenly it was 20-10 Patriots, and after a muffed snap on a Wildcat formation on fourth down by Ingram, the Patriots scored on a Folk field goal on the next drive to make it 23-10 Patriots.
The Ravens responded with a 75-yard, 11-play drive with Jackson hitting Willie Snead IV from 18 yards out to make it 23-17, setting up what should have been a spectacular fourth quarter.
Instead, Mother Nature came to play and unleashed a driving rainstorm on things as the game moved into the fourth quarter. What had been a quick and snappy game turned into a taut defensive struggle in the fourth quarter. Both teams had problems moving the ball, but it was Baltimore that was behind and needed to make the plays.
The weather and the Patriots would not allow that to happen.
The Ravens began the fourth quarter with a three and out, with Ingram slipping on first down for a two-yard loss. On their second drive, Jackson scrambled for a first down but was then nailed for a sixteen-yard loss following a mishandled shotgun snap. On the ensuing Patriot drive, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh burned all his timeouts, and the Patriots gained two critical first downs to get the game inside the two-minute warning when the Ravens got the ball back for one last time at their own 17.
The Patriots wound up holding Baltimore to a three and out. By now, the rain was torrential. It might remind those same old folks who remember the 1970s Patriots to recall the final College All-Star Game in 1976, which was called off in the third quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago due to monsoon conditions. This game had no fans to run on the field and a better playing surface. This game wasn’t stopped early.
On first down, a holding penalty moved the Ravens back ten yards. Mark Andrews caught a short pass but failed to get out of bounds. Jackson scrambled for eight yards, then J.K. Dobbins caught a pass in the right flat for one yard. On fourth down, unable to spike the ball, Jackson tried to hit Dobbins at the right sideline, but he dropped the wet ball and the Patriots were two seconds away from victory.
Jackson finished 24 of 34 passing for 249 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 98.8. Jackson also led the Ravens with 55 yards rushing. Andrews caught seven passes to lead the Ravens; Snead had the most passing yards with 64 and caught both touchdown passes. Newton had 13 of 17 passing for 118 yards, one rushing touchdown and a passer rating of 114.3.
The Patriots get to avenge another 2019 loss as they travel to Houston next week to take on the 2-7 Texans. You the Patriot fan might feel better about next week, especially after how well the Patriots contained Jackson Sunday night, and Deshawn Watson on deck for next week.
Meanwhile, all of sudden you feel better about the 2020 Patriots. Beating the Jets last week was nothing to brag about. Beating the Ravens this week definitely is.
Posted Under: 2020 NFL Season