FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather launched himself into the air, delivering a vicious, dangerous helmet-to-helmet hit that left Todd Heap lying prone on the ground for a few minutes.
Meriweather was flagged for a personal foul in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime loss at Gillette Stadium for hitting a defenseless receiver and is expected to be fined by the league office.
Heap suffered a shoulder stinger on the play.
Unlike his teammates, Heap declined to characterize the collision as a cheap shot.
“Obviously, a lot of guys felt like it was one of those shots that shouldn’t be taken,” Heap said. “I don’t know. I can’t really comment on it. I haven’t seen it yet.
“I don’t know how he hit me. I didn’t see him coming obviously. I’ll be able to make more comments on it after I’ve seen it.”
Heap wound up returning to the game after shaking off the effects of the hit, which happened after the pass was already broken up.
“By the time I figured everything was fine, I went back in,” Heap said. “I was just trying to make sure everything was all right with me at the time.”
Ravens nose guard Kelly Gregg thought the infraction deserved immediate punishment in the form of an ejection.
“That’s football, but that penalty, I thought he would get kicked out of the game,” Gregg said. “That’s the game of football. There are going to be hits that you don’t like, but you roll with it and move on.”
Heap caught three passes for 49 yards, including a touchdown pass where he beat safety Patrick Chung with an inside move after lining up outside.
Heap also took a shot from Meriweather on the 16-yard score.
The personal foul happened two series after Heap’s touchdown.
CHANGES: Trading wide receiver Randy Moss and trading for wide receiver Deion Branch worked out pretty well for the Patriots, at least so far.
The former Patriots Super Bowl hero caught a game-high nine passes for 98 yards and one touchdown in his first game since being acquired from the Seattle Seahawks.
“He runs some different routes,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He runs some intermediate routes really well. He’s a different kind of receiver. It’s different, but every bit as effective.”
Besides getting Branch reacquainted with quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots also increased the involvement of running back-receiver Danny Woodhead.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pounder rushed for 63 yards on 11 carries, hitting the perimeter to average 5.7 yards per carry.
He also lined up as a slot receiver and caught five passes for 52 yards.
“The bye week helped them,” cornerback Fabian Washington said. “They got Deion back in the system. They did more things with Woodhead than we’ve seen all season.
“The bye definitely gave them a chance to make some changes. I think we came into this game pretty prepared, but they made some plays.”
Ultimately, Brady was too much for the Ravens to overcome during the fourth quarter and overtime.
“He made some big plays at the end,” Gregg said. “Anytime you have a quarterback that good with the ball in his hands, it’s always tough. Especially when it’s sudden death.”
Brady was intercepted twice as the Ravens’ secondary grabbed their first two interceptions of the season. Cornerback Chris Carr and safety Ken Hamlin picked off Brady.
The Ravens intercepted Brady three times in a playoff win last January and forced a fumble.
“We’re a good enough defense that we should have been able to stop him, but we weren’t obviously,” Carr said. “The playoff game, we stopped him every single time. [Today] was just different.”
TEMPER FLARED: McClain lost his temper in overtime after being shoved first and taunted by Patriots rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.
McClain reacted angrily by shoving Cunningham after the whistle had blown and was flagged for a personal foul.
McClain got shoved by Patriots rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, who appeared to be taunting him. Then, McClain responded with a shove that the referees saw as they flagged him for a personal foul.
“He got a little cheap shot on me,” McClain said. “I was killing dude, all day. I guess he got frustrated and took a little shove, and they saw my shove on him. He was talking all game.”
The penalty downgraded a 3rd-and-9 situation into a 3rd-and-19 that Flacco was unable to convert into a first down.
“That was a selfish play by me,” McClain said. “I put us in a predicament. I ain’t going to put that game on that one call. Stuff happens.”
Sam Koch punted, and the Ravens never touched the ball again as Brady got the Patriots in position for Gostkowski’s field goal.
“Retaliation always gets called,” Harbaugh said. “There’s something else happening there. Retaliation always gets called, and he’s got to understand that.”
INJURY UPDATE: Besides Heap’s shoulder stinger, the Ravens reported one other injury.
Free safety Tom Zbikowski bruised his heel and didn’t finish the game.
He was limping noticeably afterward.
“Yeah, I messed up my heel,” Zbikowski said. “I’ll get it checked out by the docs. I got to make a smart decision. I took it as long as I could. It could have been something serious.”
Outside linebacker Edgar Jones was helped off the field in the fourth quarter, but emphasized that the injury wasn’t serious.
NO MCGAHEE: Running back Willis McGahee rode the bench, an unexpected development.
He didn’t play for the entire game. It was a mystery decision from the coaching staff.
“That’s all coaching,” McGahee said. “I got nothing to do with that. They going to go with who they want in there. All I can do is watch. I don’t know. It is what it is, man.”
McGahee hadn’t failed to see action in a game where he wasn’t deactivated in two years.
Ray Rice rushed for 88 yards on 28 carries.
Harbaugh didn’t shed much light on why McGahee didn’t play.
“It wasn’t part of the plan or anything like that,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not sure as far as a rotation. This is a kind of game that Ray can excel in with the type of plays we were running and the surface of the field. Ray was doing OK, too.”
RECORD ECLIPSED: Joe Flacco passed for 285 yards as he completed 27 of 35 passes for two touchdowns.
He also eclipsed Kyle Boller’s franchise record for all-time passing yards with 7,985 passing yards.
Flacco entered the day 147 yards shy of Boller’s record.
Flacco achieved the milestone in 38 games. It took Boller 53 games to do so.
With 42 career touchdown passes, Flacco is now four short of moving past Boller for the second-most in franchise history behind Vinny Testaverde’s 51 scores.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Derrick Mason caught eight passes for 100 yards to pass Keenan McCardell for 13th all-time on the NFL career receptions chart. Mason has 887 career catches, four more than McCardell.
BIG STOP: In the fourth quarter, the Ravens got stuffed on 3rd-and-1 when they sent Flacco up the middle on a quarterback sneak.
Big nose guard Vince Wilfork and defensive end Gerard Warren stuffed Flacco for no gain.
“We called it and I went with it,” Flacco said. “They did a good job and brought some guys over the top and had it balled up right over the middle. I really couldn’t get my feet going at all and they did a good job.
“They stopped it. If we convert there, you never know. Obviously, you see the ball short and you might want to go for it on fourth down, but our defense was playing well.”
After the punt, the Patriots capitalized with a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 24-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to send it into overtime.
The Ravens decided not to go for it on fourth-and-short.
“In hindsight, you could say you should have,” Harbaugh said. “But right there the smart play was punting them right down in there and putting defense out there to try to get a stop and get the ball back with good field position. I think that was a pretty solid decision.”
ROUGH GAME: Offensive tackle Michael Oher committed a pair of false start penalties.
He was also flagged for holding, committing a total of three penalties.
He also allowed a sack to Cunningham.
“Miscommunication on one,” Oher said. “It wasn’t anything but that. I just got to do a better job with crowd noise.”
TOUGH ASSIGNMENT: The Ravens struggled to control the charge of Wilfork, one of the top nose guards in the league.
Wilfork is a powerful interior force at 6-foot-2 and perhaps as heavy as 360 pounds.
He recorded six tackles, two for losses.
“He’s an NFL player like everybody else and you got to give him credit,” offensive guard Ben Grubbs said. “He’s one of the best defensive tackles out there.”
LINEUP CHANGE: The Ravens started Brandon McKinney at defensive end ahead of veteran Cory Redding. Redding played in the game, but came off the bench.
QUICK HITS: The Ravens scratched cornerback and kickoff returner Josh Wilson due to a strained hamstring suffered last week against the Denver Broncos. With Wilson sidelined, Jalen Parmele and Zbikowski handled the kickoff returns. Wilson declined to comment when asked about his leg. “I don’t know,” he said. “You got to ask coach Harbaugh.” … The Ravens’ game captains were offensive tackle Marshal Yanda, linebacker Jameel McClain and cornerback Fabian Washington… The Ravens also deactivated offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disc injury), defensive end Paul Kruger (sprained left medial collateral ligament), offensive tackle Scott Kooistra, defensive tackles Arthur Jones and Lamar Divens, wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth (broken foot) and inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder). … The Patriots deactivated safety James Sanders (hamstring), defensive lineman Kyle Love, running backs Fred Taylor (toe) and Thomas Clayton, offensive linemen Rich Orhberger and Mark LeVoir, cornerback Terrence Wheatley (foot) and wide receiver Taylor Price. … Patriots inside linebacker Jerod Mayo was credited with 18 tackles, the second-most of his career.