AFC East: 2013 Week 16 NE at BAL

Rookie CB Logan Ryan sparks Patriots

December, 23, 2013
BALTIMORE -- The first sign Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens might be different for rookie cornerback Logan Ryan was when fellow cornerback Alfonzo Dennard went through a pre-game test in front of the team’s medical and athletic training staff. Dennard’s knee continues to be an issue to manage, and while he was ultimately deemed healthy enough to dress, the Patriots hoped to limit his time on the field.

So Ryan got the start. And boy, did he make the most of it.

The third-round draft choice from Rutgers had two interceptions and a pass break-up on fourth down (essentially another turnover) as the Patriots got back to their turnover-producing ways after a recent drought.

“Ever since the first game, I’ve always wanted to be prepared. Whatever my opportunity is, I want to make the most of it -- whether it’s starting the game or coming in sub, I want to make an impact in the game,” Ryan said as he donned an AFC East Championship hat.

Ryan’s first interception, in the first quarter, came on a tipped pass by linebacker Dont'a Hightower. The second came on a play in which Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta couldn’t corral a Joe Flacco pass in the third quarter.

Ryan credited the coaches’ call in putting him in position to make the play, as well as Hightower’s athleticism. He also said one of the primary points of emphasis was “don’t let those guys get going with their deep shots.”

Ryan now has five interceptions on the season, which leads all NFL rookies. Asked how he’d like to be viewed as a player, he said, “Hard worker. Not [just] on Sundays, but during the week. I want to be consistent. It’s great to have interceptions, but you have to be consistent 50 other plays in the game. I just want to be known as someone who works hard each and every day and is consistent out there.”

As for the Patriots’ resounding victory, Ryan said: “I don’t know if it was a statement or not. We know we have a big one next week. We continue to control our own destiny. We’re going to enjoy this one and then focus on the Buffalo Bills.”

Belichick: Patriots earned division title

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick was naturally pleased with the team's 41-7 victory over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, as well as the team clinching the AFC East title.

“I thought it was a really good job from our team today," he said in his opening remarks. "We had a lot of guys banged up coming into the game, lineup changes and all of that, but we had a good week of practice. I thought our players really prepared hard and played hard, and played well.

"I'm really proud of the way they played; that they competed. Being able to finish and play 60 minutes is good. They earned it today and that's a good football team we played. I'm happy to win the AFC East and hopefully we can build off this game. It was a good one for us."

Belichick repeated multiple times that it took a full-team effort. There was another part of the performance that was a relief.

“It was kind of nice to be in a game that didn't come down to the last seconds," he said. "That brings out excitement. When you can win in this league on the road, beat a good football team, they deserve the excitement."

As for clinching a playoff berth, he said: “That's what we work for all year. We started with the offseason programs, OTAs, and training camp. We worked to put ourselves in position to have a chance to compete at the end of the year, and we did that. We got ourselves in position to qualify for the playoffs; that's good. We'll see what happens going forward, and that's what we play for -- to be able to play in the postseason. Fortunately, we have that opportunity and now we'll see what we can do."

Ups and downs for the Patriots

December, 22, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at those who were "up" in Sunday's game against the Ravens, and also those at the opposite end of the spectrum:

LeGarrette Blount -- Running back brings a hard-charging style to an offense that achieved the desired balance.

Julian Edelman -- Receiver rolls 7s with seven catches for 77 yards as he continues to be one of the club's most reliable players.

Rob Ninkovich -- Defensive end records a sack and crashes down on fourth down to make the tackle and turn the ball over on downs in the third quarter.

Offensive line -- With Logan Mankins starting at left tackle and undrafted rookie Josh Kline at left guard, this was a stellar effort.

Logan Ryan -- Rookie cornerback has two inteceptions and a pass-breakup on a fourth-down play in the third quarter.

Steve Gregory -- Called for pass interference in the fourth quarter to set up the Ravens' first touchdown, and also can't corral Torrey Smith on a long third-quarter gain down the sideline.

Devin McCourty -- Safety can't corral two would-be interceptions.

Ron Winter's officiating crew -- Too many penalties contribute to a game that is long and has little flow.

Expert picks -- Any chance we can get a re-do?

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: This day couldn’t have gone much better for the Patriots. Before they took the field, they clinched the AFC East by virtue of the Dolphins’ 19-0 loss to the Bills. Then they produced their best road win of the season -- and maybe their best in years -- against a Ravens team that had a lot of momentum with four straight wins. This was a complete team win, arguably the Patriots’ best of the season. The Patriots will earn a first-round playoff bye if they win their season finale at home against the Bills.

Physical approach stands out: The way the Patriots won was impressive, as they proved they could meet the physical match. Particularly, when they turn to the running game like they did with success in the first half, it’s a different brand of football from the spread-it-out, pass-first style we’re used to seeing from them.

Turnovers return for the defense: Simply put, this was a sensational effort by the Patriots’ undermanned defense. While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco appeared to be affected by his injured left knee, the defense came through with stops on third down, and the much-needed turnovers returned after a two-week hiatus.

Stock watch: Up -- Logan Ryan. The rookie cornerback was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Alfonzo Dennard, whom the team had dressed for emergency purposes but preferred to keep on the sideline because of a knee injury. Ryan made the most of his extended reps, with an interception in each half and also a pass breakup on fourth down in the third quarter.

Injuries to monitor: Running back Shane Vereen (groin) left the game in the first half, retreating to the locker room. Vereen returned to the sideline but didn’t play again in the game. ... Safety Devin McCourty left the game in the third quarter with a head injury and did not return. ... Linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower and safety Steve Gregory all left the game at various points but returned.

A word on the referees: The Patriots entered the day as the NFL’s least penalized team, but one wouldn’t have known it after this one. Referee Ron Winter’s crew was flag-happy, with both teams benefiting from the heavy number of penalties, as this was a long game that had little flow. The third “team” was a bit too involved for our liking.

What’s next: The Patriots have their season-finale at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (1 p.m. ET).

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Sharing some halftime thoughts of the New England Patriots' game against the Ravens (New England leads 17-0):

One of Patriots' best halves of the season: This has been, across the board, some of the best football the Patriots have played this season. All three phases are getting it done. On offense, a commitment to the ground game has stood out. On defense, the turnovers are back. And the special teams coverage has been outstanding, sparked by captain Matthew Slater. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't look completely comfortable.

Replay review critical for Patriots: Danny Amendola's late second-quarter fumble was overturned on replay, which was crucial for the Patriots because it could have been a momentum-swinging turn of events -- the Ravens getting the ball on a short field and then at the start of the third quarter. Turnovers are such a big part of the action, as we saw in the first quarter for the Patriots (Logan Ryan interception sets up the second touchdown).

Red-zone struggles corrected: One of the big storylines entering the game was the Patriots' red-zone performance (1 of 4 vs. Miami). They are 2 of 2 today, with a power running game (LeGarrette Blount) and then a well-designed pass play (Shane Vereen) the successful formula.

A lot of penalties: Ron Winter's crew has been busy tonight. It's always difficult to tell while watching live if all the calls are warranted, but our general preference are games with fewer flags. It seemed like a long half because of it, with little flow. This reminds us of the 2009 Patriots-Ravens regular-season game, in Foxborough, in which Winter was also the referee.

Injuries to monitor: Vereen left in the second quarter with a groin injury and has not returned. Brandon Bolden has assumed his role as the top "passing back." ... Safety Steve Gregory left in the second quarter with what looked like a right knee/leg injury. It looked signficant, and rookie Duron Harmon took his place. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned.

Ravens get the ball: The Patriots had called heads at the opening toss and it came up tails, with the Ravens deferring the choice to the second half. So the Ravens get the ball to open the second half.

Unique sight as players go to movies

December, 20, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In shutting down the laptop and packing up the work bag around 12:15 p.m. today, it turned out to be good timing to see a most unique sight in departing Gillette Stadium:

Patriots players, as a group, were heading to the movies at nearby Patriot Place.

One by one, they walked out of the large blue gate that separates the pavilion area outside of the team Hall of Fame from the Gillette Stadium playing field, before proceeding to elevators that brought them to the level of the nearby cinema. The theater itself is essentially a long Tom Brady touchdown pass away from the team's locker room.

Many of those shopping in the area quickly took out their phones to snap pictures, and one image stood out above all else -- head athletic trainer Jim Whalen pushing injured tight end Rob Gronkowski in a wheelchair, with Gronkowski's right knee/leg elevated.

As colleague Field Yates noted, sometimes trips like this can serve as a bonding experience, as long as they don't come at the expense of work. And at this point of the week, most of the Patriots' work is completed. Then again, the Jets tried something similar the night before a November game against the Bills, with a team excursion to Dave & Busters, but it didn't produce the desired result.

In the end, the idea of breaking routine, ever so slightly, comes down to a head coach's feel for his team.

Bill Belichick was expansive and engaging in his morning news conference, going into detail on a variety of topics. Players relayed in the locker room early this morning that Belichick has generally been pretty positive with them this week as well.

That seems to be a theme of the past few days.

After a tough loss to the Dolphins, and now a challenging road game at Baltimore on Sunday, the out-of-the-norm vibe has been notable at Gillette Stadium. This could, among other things, be geared toward keeping a younger team loose as the playoff stakes get higher.