The Patriots suddenly find themselves one game away from getting back to .500 after beating the Ravens Sunday night. It was a solid effort on both sides of the football in an absolute downpour at Gillette Stadium as New England won their second-straight game and here are a few thoughts coming off the victory.
1) The star of the game was running back Damien Harris, who continues getting better each week and Sunday night’s performance highlighted how instrumental he’s been to the Patriots’ turnaround over the last two games.
Harris went out and inflicted his will on Baltimore’s defense, hammering them all night long as he punished defenders on a cold rainy night in Foxboro. Harris averaged an impressive 5.5 yards per carry as he finished the game with another 100+ yard performance, this time finishing with 121 yards on 22 carries.
But the thing that’s been the most impressive about Harris is how hard he runs and what an absolute physical back he is. While Baltimore’s defense is typically known as a group of players who like to inflict punishment on the opposition, it was Harris who delivered the blows on a night where the Patriots needed their ground game.
Thanks to the second-year player’s performance, the Patriots did a good job of sustaining drives and giving their defense a break, which was big. Baltimore put together a few long drives and Harris did a good job of helping New England respond as he fought for some tough yards and gave the defense time on the sideline to make adjustments and regroup.
Overall, he’s currently tied for 6th in the NFL for average yardage with 5.5 yards per carry, having run for 471-yards on 85 carries. Sunday night was another great showing and the biggest thing that stands out is the fact the kid just keeps getting better each week. That’s obviously great news as Harris is quickly becoming a key piece to a Patriots team that is suddenly on a 2-game winning streak heading into next Sunday’s game in Houston.
It was a terrific night for Newton, who helped his team win their second-straight game.
2) There’s not much more you can say about quarterback Cam Newton, who put together another solid outing Sunday night. It wasn’t flashy by any means, but he made a lot of smart decisions on a rainy, miserable contest where ball security ended up being so important.
Baltimore didn’t exactly make it easy, with the Ravens blitzing Newton throughout the game but he did a good job making his reads and getting the ball out of his hands. Overall, he finished 17-of-13 for 118-yards including a touchdown pass, missing just four passes during the contest. He was also 6-of-7 throwing the football on 3rd down for 22-yards, including 3 first downs while also rushing for another.
But more importantly, Newton avoided giving the football away and making key mistakes, which was something the Ravens couldn’t avoid. Lamar Jackson was picked off once and dealt with a couple of bad snaps that completely killed drives and helped keep the Patriots in the game. Newton helped his team do the little things and he definitely deserves plenty of credit for that.
What stands out about Newton has been his perseverance and his continued determination after a tough stretch that could have completely derailed him. However, for any fan who may have had questions about his mental toughness and his work ethic, so far Newton has certainly done enough to convince fans that the baggage he seemingly brought with him from the Panthers was left in Carolina and Bill Belichick has gotten the best out of him. Even better, there’s an arc of improvement that’s continuing to grow and that’s a good sign for a team that seems poised to make a final push over these final 7 games.
3) Jakobi Meyers continues to endear himself to fans in New England and Sunday was another good example of how far he’s come. He went out against a tough defense and hauled in 5 receptions for 59-yards, including 3 receptions on 3rd down, two of which moved the chains.
But his biggest highlight in this one came right before the end of the first half when his number was called on a double-pass play, which saw Meyers throw a perfect strike to Rex Burkhead for a 24-yard touchdown with just over 1-minute left to play.
Meyers, who is a former quarterback, caught the quick throw from Newton and then rolled out before planting his feet and throwing a beautiful high arcing pass to Burkhead, who ran underneath it and slid into the end zone for the touchdown. Meyers watched the play from the ground, as he was hit hard as he released the ball but by then, the ball was already on its way to his teammate, with Burkhead making a terrific reception.
Sunday night’s performance now gives him the team lead in receptions with 28, along with 353-receiving yards. With Julian Edelman sidelined the Patriots needed someone to step up and take advantage of their opportunities and Meyers has definitely done that. It’s been fun to watch, and seeing him fill in with his arm was definitely one of the best moments of the night.
Belichick has seen his defense become one of the best in the NFL at points per-game and interceptions.
4) One of the biggest discussions this week centered around the Ravens defense, which many thought would come in and stifle a limited Patriots offense and potentially run up and down the field. Instead, it was New England’s defense who made a statement. They held the Ravens to just 17 points and snapped a NFL record streak that had seen Baltimore score 20-points or more in 31-straight contests heading into Sunday night. They also snapped a Ravens 10-game road winning streak.
Baltimore had their moments and didn’t make it easy, but New England’s defense made some key plays when they needed them. One of those plays included a huge interception at the end of the half after the Patriots had taken the lead thanks to Meyers’ TD throw, with Jackson throwing deep to Marquise Brown but Jackson ran down the pass and picked it off, setting a new Patriots record with what was his 5th straight game with an interception. That play was big, as it killed any momentum the Ravens might have been able to put together and sent them into the locker room at the half completely frustrated.
In the fourth quarter, they held the Ravens scoreless, forcing the Ravens to punt on two of their final three possessions, the last of which saw them turn the football over on downs.
For New England, they’re now 5th in the AFC in points allowed per game and they’re tied for 2nd in the league with Pittsburgh in interceptions with 11. They’ve really done a good job up to this point and it’s obvious that when they can score points and not turn it over, this unit is more than equipped to keep them in football games. If they can continue improving on offense, it should be interesting to see how much better this group might become to close out the year. Given their personnel losses with opt outs and injuries, it’s slowly becoming a pretty good story for this club.
5) Speaking of the defense, it was a big night for Chase Winovich, who played all but one snap in this game. He finished the evening third in tackles and was spotted flying around the field and making some pretty good hits.
Winovich has shown some pretty good quickness for his size and on Sunday night, he did a pretty good job of pressuring Jackson and making his life difficult. While Winovich didn’t register a sack or a QB hit, he did a good job of flushing Jackson out and opening up opportunities for his teammates.
One of the things he was known for at Michigan was his high-energy style of play and that was definitely on display, especially for a Ravens team that makes things so difficult on the ground. But the second-year player did his part in disrupting things and it was great to see a frustrated group of Ravens players leave Gillette Stadium completely miserable and making excuses after New England completely blew up their playoff seeding after the loss saw them fall to the third and final wild-cart spot in the AFC. The pressure remains on as Baltimore is now one of six teams who currently sit at 6-3 and they’ll face another 6-3 team this weekend against Tennessee.
As for the Patriots, they’ll now get set for a battle with the Texans out in Houston next Sunday afternoon at 1:00pm.
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