BALTIMORE RAVENS 31 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 30
September 23, 2012
This time there was no distracting, last-second chaos after quarterback Joe Flacco had moved the offense down the field in the final two minutes and the Ravens ran their kicker onto the field.
This time Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did call time out in an attempt to ice the kicker.
This time the kick sailed through the uprights, barely.
And this time the Ravens beat the Patriots, barely, 31-30, thanks to a last-second field goal by rookie Justin Tucker. It was their first regular-season win against New England in seven tries.
What a wild, wild, game. The Ravens put themselves in a 13-0 hole and then fought their way back into the game, which then sea-sawed it’s way through the rest of the night. At times, the Ravens defense could not stop the Patriots passing attack — not until the final two drives. But the offense put up more than 500 total yards to will the team back on top.
Throughout, both teams brawled on the field, and then bawled from the sidelines about the horribly erratic officiating, which randomly hurt and helped both teams down the stretch.
In case there is any doubt that revenge was on the minds of the Ravens in this rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game loss to the Patriots, consider this. During practice in the week leading to this game, the team blasted a song called Revenge. And then after the game was won, the players carried commemorative footballs marking their special victory.
The win was made more special by virtue of the fact it occurred on head coach John Harbaugh’s 50th birthday. But mostly it was because one of the game’s heroes, Torrey Smith, weighed on the minds of his teammates and of a stadium full of fans who were well aware of the family tragedy that had befallen the young receiver early in the same morning when he received a phone call that his younger brother, Tevin, had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Virginia. Smith somehow played, and played spectacularly.
What an emotional and redeeming game this was, in every sense of the word.
Joe Flacco got off to a rough start, forcing the ball down the middle to Dennis Pitta for an interception against two-deep coverage. Although he would force a few more throws, and at times was far off target on deep throws, he did settle down, adjusting to the coverage, and finding success in the safe areas outside the hashes.
He also spread the ball around to different receivers – seven different receivers had at least two catches. He finished 28 of 39 for 382 yards, three touchdowns to the one pick – good for a QB Rating of 117. Most importantly, he was poised under pressure, bringing the team back from the brink twice, at the start and end the game.
Now he just needs to show he can play this well on the road, in front of hostile crowds.
Running Backs: A-
Ray Rice ran the ball 20 times for 101 yards and a touchdown, and he snared all five passes thrown his way for another 49 yards. More than the statistics, however, Rice–behind effective blocking to the left side–provided balance and gave the Ravens an inside running attack while forcing New England to defend honestly, which opened up passing lanes on the back end.
Bernard Pierce rotated in frequently and provided a nice change of pace. He showed patience smoothly choosing running lanes and was effective, averaging more than four yards a carry on his four attempts. Vonta Leach was not quite as effective as a lead blocker and did drop a pass in the flat.
Wide Receivers: A-
It was quite a night for Torrey Smith, who instantly made national headlines not just for his off-the-field hardship, but for his on-the-field heroics. He averaged over 20-yards a catch, with 127 yards and two touchdown grabs. Both of his touchdowns were difficult grabs in traffic. And he flashed a nice spin move in zone coverage on a skinny post to break for extra yardage after the catch. And he even played defense effectively to prevent an interception on a badly thrown deep ball. It was a memorable night all around for Smith.
Jacoby Jones provided the speed the Ravens needed opposite Smith and was key to punishing New England for dropping their safeties down to stop the run. Most encouraging, Jones showed an explosiveness with the ball in his hands, fueling a near 30-yards per catch average on three catches, and drawing a key 27 yard pass interference call after he beat Devin McCourty down the right sideline with 52 seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal.
Anquan Boldin was a little more up and down, catching four of seven passes and at one point missing an audible to execute a go-route, nearly leading to an awkward interception. He was also flagged for holding, which brought back a long run by Rice. On the plus side, Boldin gained a key first down by tight-roping down the sideline and fully stretching past the sticks as he went out of bounds.
Tight Ends: B
Dennis Pitta caught five balls for fifty yards. His key contribution was a twenty-yard touchdown catch and run on a third and four play. He leapt over Stephen Gregory to rumble in for the touchdown with just 1:47 left in the first half, temporarily putting the Ravens up by one before Tom Brady and the Patriots drove back down the field to take the halftime lead.
Michael Oher employed a bend-don’t break pass-blocking approach that was able to keep Flacco on his feet most of the night. The team ran to the left more frequently than not and he was effective sealing the edge. He was a bit less effective blocking downfield on a screen. Bryant McKinnie joined him on the left on failed a fourth and one rushing attempt and Oher and McKinnie did not provide much push. Kelechi Osmele was solid on the right side, including a nice seal block to allow Rice to run for seven.
Interior Line: C+
Marshal Yanda had a rare off night. Drawing Vince Wilfork, the Ravens-killer from the AFC Championship game, Yanda struggled at times, including two holding calls trying to stop Wilfork. He made a poor decision to jump up out of his stance much too late to draw an off-sides flag against the Patriots, penalizing his team.
Ramon Harewood was impressive moving the pile, including a key block on the opening possession of the second half to move the team into the red zone. He is still a work in progress keeping his feet at the second level. Credit Matt Birk for a pancake block on Jerod Mayo for Rice’s TD run.
New England game planned to attack Cary Williams, and teams will continue to do so until he proves he can cover move effectively. Brandon Lloyd had a field-day against Williams, getting most of his nine catches and 108 yards to that side. Williams put himself in difficult coverage situations by not pressing receivers, and he allowed catches by not showing an awareness of the ball in the air. He led the team with 10 solo tackles, which in this case is not a good thing. And he and Ed Reed continue to struggle with communication issues.
Jimmy Smith was more solid on the opposite side, mostly against Deion Branch, who had just two catches for 11 yards. Smith applied a big hit on Branch on a screen pass for a loss of yards. Lardarius Webb did a nice job neutralizing tight ends and slot receivers. He made a key tackle on Wes Welker shy of the goal line to force a field goal.
Rarely has Ed Reed closed to make tackles so quickly with hard hits. He seemed to make a statement about owning the middle of the field, including a penalty for hitting a defenseless Deion Branch in the head as he attempted a catch up the seam. He made a nice stop against tight end Michael Hoomanawanui for no gain in the red zone. Bernard Pollard was back from a rib contusion the week prior and was an effective run stopper when playing near the line of scrimmage.
Dannell Ellerbe had a nice game, showing a lot of speed to split gaps and get into the backfield, with 1.5 sacks, two more quarterback hits, and two tackles for a loss. He seems to have surpassed Jameel McClain on the inside next to Ray Lewis. Lewis was beating New England’s guards to the holes. The linebackers were a big reason New England running backs averaged less than three yards a carry on 28 attempts.
Courtney Upshaw continues to play more effectively each week, getting upfield and disrupting plays from the backside as well. Paul Kruger took snaps from Albert McClellan. Kruger set the edge well, but none of the outside linebackers contributed much as pass rushers and the combination of no pass rush and ineffective coverage on the corner by Williams allowed the Patriots to move the ball at will at times.
Defensive Line: B
Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee proved difficult to stop on the defensive line. Ngata in particular made big plays chasing down ball carriers and getting a key sack late in the game to get the ball back to the offense. Terrence Cody played sparingly but was steadier than Ma’ake Kemoautu. The defensive line at times looked worn out chasing Brady as he used the hurry-up offense and continually dropped back to pass. They need to be more consistent when rotating in fresh down linemen.
Special Teams: B
Justin Tucker appeared to be most shaky in making his shortest, most critical field goal kick of the young season. The young kicker booted a perfect 27-yarder just after New England had called timeout to ice him. And then he barely knocked the game winner inside the right upright as time expired. It was so close that Wilfork ripped off his helmet to accost the official who called it good, and Bill Belichick chased down the replay official as he sprinted off the field, grabbing his arm to no avail and surely inviting a fine from the league for his antics.
Tucker boomed his kickoffs high and deep, mostly for no returns. Corey Graham made a nice downfield tackle on a rare kick return by New England. As a returner for the Ravens, Deonte Thompson showed good patience to set up blocks and nice moves to get extra yardage, getting 81 yards on three returns.
Jacoby Jones gracefully returned one punt straight up the middle but muffed his final opportunity and nearly booted the game away for the Ravens before falling on the ball.
Credit Cam Cameron with making adjustments to swing the game back to the Ravens by mixing in the run with the Patriots playing their safeties back, forcing them to draw the safeties up into the box, and then countering to throw deep on single coverage.
Defensively, Dean Pees needs to find an answer for the lack of pass rush and the lack of communication and coverage on Cary Williams’ side of the field.
John Harbaugh did a nice job forcing the skittish officials to bring out the sticks and measure a spot that was clearly well short of the first down. It gave the Ravens time to see the replay of Boldin successfully stretching for a first down well past the sticks as he went out. The Ravens won the challenge while safe-guarding what would turn out to be a critically needed timeout.
Harbaugh’s decision to attempt to convert a fourth and one rather than try a long field goal looked like it could have lost the game for the Ravens. But credit the team for attempting to run the ball after critics blamed the play calling for going 0-for-six on third and fourth and short calls a week ago when the coaches insisted on attempting to pass the ball for a first.