NFL Nation: 2013 Week 16 NE at BAL

Joe FlaccoAP Photo/Nick WassJoe Flacco said Baltimore was "ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs ... and we just didn't do it."

BALTIMORE -- The ugliest loss in the six-year John Harbaugh era cost the Baltimore Ravens a shot to win the AFC North and control their playoff destiny.

Now, the Ravens (8-7) need to win at Cincinnati and have either the Miami Dolphins (8-7) or San Diego Chargers (8-7) lose. To say the Ravens' fate is out of their control is appropriate.

Barring a miraculous recovery by quarterback Joe Flacco, the season ended for the Ravens when the helmet of Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy hit the left knee of Flacco six days ago, and the 41-7 dismantling by the New England Patriots on Sunday underscored that point.

There is little hope for the Ravens given the way the injured Flacco and his limping offense are playing. Flacco's sprained left knee clearly affected his play, to the point where he couldn't step into his passes, which caused him to overthrow his receivers on the sidelines and underthrow them deep.

That's the painful reality for Flacco and the defending Super Bowl champions.

"We're used to going out there and playing well when we need to when the playoffs are on the line," Flacco said. "We came out today hungry and ready to go get ourselves into the playoffs or make that next step towards it, and we just didn't do it."

The Ravens looked like a team no one wanted to face when they won four straight games. What was the difference Sunday? A one-legged quarterback.

This isn't a knock on Flacco's toughness. It's just an assessment of his effectiveness. Baltimore needs Flacco to be at full strength when all of the other phases of the offense -- running game, pass protection and his wide receivers' hands -- are so unreliable.

That's why you can't put all of the blame for the most lopsided home loss in Ravens history on questionable officiating. The Ravens' inability to stop the run is just a small part of the second-largest margin of defeat in team history.

Here is why the Ravens fell in such embarrassing fashion: When the Patriots took a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter -- when the game was really lost -- Flacco was 1-of-5 for 9 yards, with one interception. That's right, Flacco had as many completions to the Patriots as he did to the Ravens. That's not going to beat the Houston Texans, much less the Patriots.

Flacco's first pass was an underthrown deep ball to wide receiver Torrey Smith, which would've been a touchdown if the speedy wide receiver were hit in stride. His fourth throw lacked the touch needed to get the ball over a Patriots linebacker, and the deflected pass was intercepted (which led to the Patriots' second touchdown).

"It didn't affect me," Flacco said of the knee injury. "I would have liked to have played better, but the brace had nothing to do with anything."

It's commendable that Flacco doesn't want to make excuses, and maybe as an athlete you can't have the mindset that you're limited. But no one can believe him after watching his performance.

It wasn't like Flacco was having a Pro Bowl season before the injury. He was, though, playing well enough in the clutch to deliver victories.

But it's difficult to envision Flacco leading the charge when he can't even stay on his feet. Flacco fell to the ground without being touched when trying to scramble on a third down in the first quarter.

"I think my knee's a little bent when I'm taped up, and I just kind of misstepped and just totally whiffed on the turf," Flacco said. "It was just really unathletic."

Reaching the end zone was a problem before Flacco got injured. The Ravens had to settle for six field goals on Monday night and needed a 61-yard field goal from Justin Tucker to escape with an 18-16 win at Detroit.

The Ravens didn't score Sunday against the Patriots until there was 9:21 left in the game. Baltimore didn't cross midfield in the first half and managed seven points on three trips in the red zone.

It's not like the Ravens should've played backup Tyrod Taylor over the banged-up Flacco, not based on the way Taylor finished the game. Harbaugh correctly scoffed at the question of whether he considered going to Taylor earlier in the game.

This is how quickly the season has turned for Baltimore. The Ravens walked onto the field knowing they would win the AFC North title if they won their final two games. When they walked out of M&T Bank Stadium for the final time this season, they faced a question of whether they should've benched the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

The Ravens, mathematically, can still make the playoffs with a loss in the season finale. There's a scenario in which the Ravens qualify if the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all lose next Sunday as well.

But can the Ravens make noise in the playoffs? Denver and New England, the current top two seeds in the AFC, have beaten the Ravens by a combined score of 90-34.

The Ravens find themselves on unfamiliar footing heading into the final week of the regular season.

"I don't think we've ever needed some help. We've always kind of controlled our own destiny," said Flacco, who has made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons. "I don't know what those scenarios are. I'm not going to worry myself now. We're just going to worry about getting a win."

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."

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

December, 22, 2013
BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots:

What it means: It was a monumental implosion for the Ravens, who conceded the AFC North to the Cincinnati Bengals and lost control of their playoff fate. After Baltimore lost to the AFC East champion Patriots (11-4), the only chance for the Ravens to reach the postseason is as a wild card. The Ravens (8-7) are now in a three-way tie with the Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins hold the edge because they have a better conference record. For the Ravens to make the postseason, they have to beat the Bengals in the regular-season finale and have either the Dolphins or Chargers lose. This ended the Ravens' four-game winning streak and marked the Ravens' fourth loss in their past 26 home games. It was the most lopsided loss in six seasons under coach John Harbaugh.

Stock watch: Falling: Joe Flacco. The Ravens' quarterback was clearly not the same with a sprained left knee, finishing 22-of-38 for 260 yards and two interceptions. The Patriots converted 10 points off Flacco turnovers. Flacco was erratic on his throws and went down without being touched at one point because he lost his footing. His 1-yard touchdown with 9:21 remaining helped the Ravens avoid their first shutout in 11 years.

Tucker's streak ends: Another sign that nothing was going right for Ravens was kicker Justin Tucker missing a 37-yard field goal wide left. It ended Tucker's string of 33 straight successful field goals, which had been the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. It was surprising to see Tucker on the field because the Ravens were down 20-0 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens needed touchdowns, not field goals.

Secondary problems: The Ravens trailed 14-0 in the first quarter because of mistakes by their defensive backs. On the opening drive, cornerback Jimmy Smith was called for a 34-yard pass interference penalty, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run on the next play. On the second series, safety James Ihedigbo missed a tackle on Danny Amendola on a 34-yard play, which led to a touchdown two plays later.

What's next: The Ravens finish out the regular season by playing at the AFC North champion Bengals (10-5). Baltimore has lost three of its past three games at Cincinnati.

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.

W2W4: Five things for Patriots-Ravens

December, 20, 2013
There are some games that just have a certain feel to them -- a different feel from other games.

This Sunday's rematch of last year's AFC championship game has that feel.

Even if there wasn't so much at stake for both the Patriots and Ravens in Week 16, the buildup to this game would likely be intense. There's no love lost between these two teams, who have shared the field for some of the more memorable games in recent NFL seasons.

The fact that there are playoff implications for both sides makes the matchup even more intriguing. The Patriots can potentially clinch a top two seed in the AFC if things fall their way, or at the very least can sew up the AFC East division crown with a win.

The Ravens, meanwhile, can move closer to an AFC North title with a win, and a win combined with a Miami loss would ensure that they'll extend their NFL-best streak of seasons making it to the playoffs to six.

The Patriots are hopeful to become just the second team to beat the Ravens on their home turf this season, and if they are able to do so, it would be their best win away from Gillette Stadium in 2013.

With plenty to play for, here's a look at what we'll be watching for this Sunday.

1. Red zone offense. The Patriots have scored touchdowns on just 39 percent of their red zone trips in games that Rob Gronkowski has not played in this season. For the seven-game stretch that they had Gronk, that number ballooned to 69 percent. The Ravens happen to boast the league's best red zone defense and stymied the Patriots in the red zone last postseason, so converting their chances will be a tremendous key for the Patriots this weekend. The potential return of wide receiver Aaron Dobson, whose 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame makes him a difficult matchup in man coverage, would aid the offense in the red area.

2. Blindside protector. For the second consecutive week, Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder is dealing with a concussion. He was able to play in Week 15, but ultimately left the game early after appearing to take a knee from a Dolphins player. While he hasn't been ruled out for Sunday, if he's unable to play, it'll be interesting to see how the Patriots opt to replace him. They kicked Logan Mankins out to left tackle last Sunday, inserting Josh Kline in at left guard. With a week of practice, the team could also opt to insert veteran Will Svitek at one of those spots if need be.

3. Kickers battle. It's not often that we highlight the kickers in advance of the games, but this Sunday features a pair that have had largely terrific seasons. Stephen Gostkowksi slipped up for his team last week but has still had clutch moments this season. Justin Tucker, the Ravens kicker, drilled six field goals Monday night, including a game winner from 61 yards. He's in line for potential postseason honors. Their strong legs shorten the field for an offense.

4. Slowing Rice. Ray Rice hasn't had nearly his best season in 2013; in fact, he's averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. Nonetheless, he's still a gifted running back whom the Patriots, who have had massive struggles stopping the run, must account for. While Rice is most often responsible for carrying the football, he's also a reliable pass catcher that will flare out of the backfield and make yards in open space. Coverage has been an area of struggle for Patriots linebackers this season, and containing Rice as a pass catcher will be no small chore.

5. Pressuring Flacco. The last time the Patriots played the Ravens, they didn't register a single hit on quarterback Joe Flacco. He largely had his way, working the middle of the field effectively by targeting tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Sacks have been an issue for Baltimore this season, and the Patriots need to find their way to Flacco early and often. The two individual matchups to watch will be Chandler Jones facing off against left tackle Eugene Monroe and Rob Ninkovich working to get around right tackle Michael Oher.



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