Report card: Patriots-Ravens
The obvious blunder here came at the end of the first half, when the Patriots burned more than 14 seconds off the game clock before deciding to call a timeout near the goal line. It forced them to kick a field goal, which proved to be their final points of the game. On that note, the lack of second-half adjustments is also glaring, with the Patriots' defense unable to find an answer for the Ravens' offense in the final two quarters. In recent seasons, much was made about Bill Belichick not allowing his team to lose twice to the same team in the same season. It's now happened twice in two years, ending their season both times.
Brady's stats don't tell the whole story here. While his two interceptions came late in the game when he couldn't hold anything back, his 320 yards were hardly part of a productive evening for the passing game. The rhythm they needed just wasn't there, characterized by Wes Welker's drop on third down early in the third quarter, just a few plays after Welker had a 24-yard catch. Pressure didn't seem to be a major issue here; Brady wasn't sacked in the game, and wasn't under duress very often. Something just wasn't quite right.
Statistically, the Patriots bucked their trend from their first 17 games, rushing for over 100 yards and still losing for the first time this season. The running game, like last week, suffered from too many negative plays, while it also lacked explosiveness. The longest run for the Patriots was 9 yards, shortly before Stevan Ridley fumbled on a crushing hit from Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. It's difficult to blame Ridley on that play, obviously, but it was the first turnover of the game and came at a critical time.
There were several positive plays from this unit, and the play of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard specifically may have prevented Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco from putting up big numbers. The Ravens, known for their prolific deep game this season, instead attacked the Patriots in the shorter area, winning favorable match-ups between running backs and tight ends against linebackers and safeties. The Patriots just didn't have an answer for this in the second half, while their pass rush, aside from two sacks, didn't give the secondary much help.
While all eyes were on Ray Rice in the week leading up to this game, it was backup Bernard Pierce who provided the spark that the Ravens needed. His 52 yards on nine carries tell a story about the Patriots' run defense that Rice's stats -- 48 yards on 19 carries, a 2.5 yard average -- do not. The key play here came late in the third quarter, when Pierce scampered for 11 yards -- the longest run by either team's running back -- on a third-and-2 play, setting up a Ravens touchdown. That's a stop the Patriots need to make if they want to go to the Super Bowl, and one they've made more often than not this season.
After committing two penalties on their first punt return of the game, this unit settled down and didn't affect the game as it did last week against the Houston Texans. They held the NFL's best kick returner, Jacoby Jones, to just a 10.7 yard average, an overlooked aspect of the game. Meanwhile, Wes Welker returned a punt for 28 yards while Devin McCourty averaged 22.3 yards on his kickoff returns. This time around, special teams held up their end of the bargain.