The much-anticipated matchup between the Patriots and Ravens lived up to its hype with the Patriots taking a hard-fought physical battle 30-23 at Gillette Stadium. After a slow start, Tom Brady made short work of the #1 defense in the NFL passing for 400 yards and three touchdowns and the Patriots running game with LeGarrette Blount pounded out the yards when they needed them as the Patriots rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense.
After winning three in a row over the 49ers, Jets, and Rams, there were questions of how good this Patriots team is because of the level of competition. Wait until after Baltimore the critics said. Well, the Patriots physically dominated a team that “is not afraid of them” and despite the return game making this a lot closer than it needed to be, showed the mettle to close out a tough game and opponent.
With the win, the Patriots are 11-2 with the best record in the AFC and have a 1-game lead over both KC and Oakland in the conference and are tied with Dallas for the best record in the NFL. It is looking like the playoffs will go thru Gillette. While there’s still plenty of time for things to change, the Patriots firmly hold their own destiny in their hands.
Here are some observations from tonight’s game:
Maybe Baltimore Doesn’t “Have Brady’s Number” After All: Much of the talk (including here) prior to the game was how difficult the Ravens had made life for Tom Brady. Maybe it is time to change that narrative. Perhaps it’s time to say how difficult Brady makes life for the Baltimore defense. In the last three meetings with the Ravens the Patriots have scored 106 points which comes out to 35.3 points per game.
Brady and the offense started slowly going just 3 for 8 with a couple of drops and one deep route by Julian Edelman where it seemed like the WR stopped running. But Brady heated up and started hitting big chunk plays all over the field. Brady ended up completing 25 of 38 passes for 406 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The one pick was an ugly one, facing 3rd and goal from the two, Brady should have thrown it away, but instead, he floated a gift to Eric Weddle in the end zone.
However, he more than made up for that gaffe with some beautiful throws including a laser on a slant where James White rolled for a 61-yard gain, a nice drop in the bucket to Martellus Bennett for a big 19-yard touchdown, and the beautifully thrown deep ball to hit Chris Hogan in stride to put the game away for a 79-yard score.
Brady entered the game, facing the #1 defense in the NFL at home six times in his career with a record of 6-0. Make that seven now. In Brady’s last two games against Baltimore, he’s completed 58 of 88 (65.9 %) for 773 yards, good for 8.78 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and two picks for a QB rating of 106.8. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a team that has his number eh?
Defense Was Very Good and Had a Great Game plan: Kudos to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia for coming up with a very good game plan slowing down the Ravens offense and Joe Flacco. Entering tonight’s game, the Patriots were primarily a man-coverage team and Baltimore was expecting more of that. Flacco said as much in his postgame comments.
But the Patriots mixed in a ton of zone coverages and where mixing their pass rush up, dropping defensive ends out in the flat and bringing linebackers or corners. As a result, they got good pressure on Flacco all night, but without sacrificing their coverage integrity.
The vertical passing of Baltimore was limited for most of the game. Flacco was forced to check down to the shorter stuff underneath where the Patriots were making the tackles short of the sticks. Flacco’s average yards per attempt was just 5.7 on the night. Other than two short field touchdowns were the Ravens had to go a total of just 25 yards because of a pair of special team gaffes, Baltimore had a total of just three field goals.
The Ravens managed just 42 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
Offensive Line Won the Battle: One big matchup entering tonight was the Patriots offensive line against the physical, front of the Ravens. Well, the crew of Dante Scarnecchia passed this test, doing a phenomenal job of keeping Brady upright and opening holes for the running game.
Baltimore has an impressive pair of bookend edge rushers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. They like to bring pressure on A-Gap blitzes and at times overload one side. While it wasn’t perfect, it was good enough.
Suggs and Dumervil did bring some pressure at times but the only Ravens sack was from Eric Weddle on a safety blitz. And their edge rushers each finished with just a single tackle.
And the Patriots running game churned out 95 tough yards on a night when Brady threw for over 400. Most impressively, they were able to grind out the final first down needed to close out the game when they needed to with Blount. Speaking of which…
Blount sets New Career Milestones: One can’t speak enough about what a solid season LeGarrette Blount is having. Having turned 30-years old this week, this is the time when running backs tend to break down. Instead, Blount is playing some of the best football of his career.
Blount’s previous best season was his rookie year with Tampa Bay where he gained 1007 yards. He went over the 1000-yard mark tonight and now has 1029 yards on the season with a 4.1-yard average.
His touchdown run in the first half gives him 14 scores for the season which ties the Patriots team record set by Curtis Martin (twice). With three games remaining, two of which are against teams struggling to stop the run, he’s in good shape to break the team record for rushing touchdowns down the stretch.
Cyrus Jones Struggles Dampens a Great STs game: The Patriots are going to have a problem down the stretch until Danny Amendola returns. Cyrus Jones has been an unmitigated disaster in the return game. The Patriots top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft was brought here specifically because the return game was supposed to be his strength. His struggles have the team searching for answers. He can’t hold onto the football and his boot of a punt turned the game around.
With the score 23-3, and the Patriots cruising, Jones dropped back once again to receive a punt. Sam Koch’s kick was short and bounced in front of him. Rather than move to the side away from the ball, Jones allowed the ball to hit his foot and the Raven recovered at the Patriots three-yard line. After a score, the team put Matthew Slater back for the kickoff, not trusting Jones and Slater, who missed the previous few games with an injury, coughed it up. A rout became another close game, much like the loss in Denver last year.
Other than that, the STs were excellent. Shea McClellin channeled his inner Jamie Collins, leaping over the line of scrimmage and blocking a chip shot field goal from Justin Tucker. McClellin also played a solid game again at linebacker.
Ryan Allen dropped two punts inside the five-yard line, the first becoming a safety for the Patriots defense. Stephen Gostkowski hit on all four of his extra point attempts.
No Rest Now, Short Week to Denver Awaits: The Patriots will have very little time to savor this one. Because of playing on Monday night, they now face a short week of preparation before heading to Denver to play the Broncos.
After putting a damper on the Ravens’ chances of a playoff berth, the Patriots can do the same thing against their rivals from the West this week. Denver has always been a house of horrors for the Patriots but this will be a great chance to erase some of those memories this week.