Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
7:53
PM ET
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).

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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