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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the New England Patriots prepare for an AFC Championship Game rematch against the Baltimore Ravens, the Sept. 23 meeting between the teams is a natural starting point.
"It was a while ago, but I think obviously you really have to analyze that game and take a good look at it to see where their team has evolved to from that point," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of the Patriots' 31-30 loss at M&T Bank Stadium. "[You look for] some of the things that caused you some issues in the first game [because] some of those concepts can repeat in the next game."
With this in mind, here is a refresher on the game and some of the things that are different for both teams this time around:
Late collapse by Patriots. After opening a 30-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, then stopping the Ravens on a fourth-and-1 play with 10:50 remaining in regulation, the Patriots were in position to win. But the offense couldn't run out the clock, while the defense crumbled on Ravens scoring drives of 92 and 70 yards. Devin McCourty, who was playing cornerback, was flagged for holding and pass interference -- two crucial penalties that contributed to the Ravens' scoring drives.
Last game worked by replacement officials. It was a penaltyfest led by overmatched replacement officials, with the Patriots called for 10 accepted penalties for 83 yards and the Ravens 14 penalties for 135 yards. That disrupted the flow of the game (which was a lengthy 3 hours, 24 minutes), and coach Bill Belichick followed an official off the field to ask whether Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal with no time left was actually good (it was close as it sailed near the right upright). Belichick made contact with the official and was fined $50,000. That was the last week replacement officials worked.
|Torrey Smith torched the Patriots for 127 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions on Sept. 23.|
Revamped Patriots secondary. This was well before the Patriots traded for cornerback Aqib Talib, and the secondary was victimized by the big play as receiver Torrey Smith -- playing less than 24 hours after his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident -- finished with six receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco was 28-of-39 for 382 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. The Patriots started McCourty and Kyle Arrington at cornerback, with Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung at safety. On Sunday, the Patriots will have Talib and rookie Alfonzo Dennard at cornerback, with Gregory and McCourty at safety, which has been a good grouping for them.
Hernandez in, Gronkowski out at tight end. The Patriots were playing their first full game without tight end Aaron Hernandez on Sept. 23, as he had injured his ankle the week before against the Cardinals. Hernandez will be in action Sunday. But the trade-off is that fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski, who played against the Ravens on Sept. 23, will not be in action Sunday after reinjuring his forearm. Without Hernandez, the Patriots favored their three-receiver groupings against the Ravens, with Deion Branch and Julian Edelman splitting the reps as the No. 3 option. Edelman currently is on injured reserve, so if the Patriots go that route again, it will thrust Branch into a larger role. Yet the emergence of tight end Michael Hoomanawanui as a top backup could keep the Patriots in their two-tight end grouping, which was the case Sunday against the Texans.
Patriots go no-huddle with Woodhead as lead back. The Patriots upped the tempo and ran 82 snaps (including penalties), favoring Danny Woodhead as their lead back (52 snaps). Woodhead's status for the AFC Championship Game is in question after he injured his thumb on the first play Sunday and didn't return. Belichick said Woodhead could have returned, but the injury might limit his effectiveness. The coaching staff was disappointed in the production of the running game against Baltimore (77 yards, 34 carries, 2.3 average). Running back Shane Vereen, who is coming off a career-best performance against the Texans, was inactive for the game.
Suggs back; Webb and McClain out. The Ravens didn't have linebacker Terrell Suggs in the Sept. 23 meeting (torn Achilles in the offseason), with rookie Courtney Upshaw playing in his place. Suggs is back, but the Ravens won't have top cornerback Lardarius Webb, who tore his ACL in October. Even with Webb on the field, top Patriots receivers Brandon Lloyd (9 catches, 108 yards) and Wes Welker (8 catches, 142 yards) had big days, with Webb often on Welker. Who covers Welker now? The Ravens also lost starting linebacker Jameel McClain in December.
Solidified Ravens offensive line. The Patriots will see a different configuration along the Ravens' offensive line, as veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie wasn't in the mix Sept. 23, which moved Michael Oher from right tackle to the left side. But McKinnie has since settled in and Oher is back on the right side, and that means rookie Kelechi Osemele is at left guard. The Ravens' line protected well Saturday in Denver, and it wasn't as if the Patriots generated great pressure Sept. 23 anyway. One change for the Patriots: Rookie defensive end Justin Francis was inactive in the first game, and he's now emerged as a top sub rusher.