Despite being written off by many as playoff fodder following that tough loss in Miami last week, the depleted Patriots somehow managed to glue and tape themselves together enough to beat what surprisingly appeared to be a disinterested Ravens team in Baltimore, 41-7. Though the final score is a bit deceptive, and a product of poor play (four (4) turnovers) by the Ravens, almost as much as good play by the Patriots, this performance still qualifies as a very impressive road win for New England. But, if the Pats' don't beat the Bills next week, it means nothing. With a win over Buffalo in Foxboro, the Patriots will earn a vital first round playoff bye...and have an extra week to lick their many wounds. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: Aided by superlative play from the defensive unit, which repeatedly set them up in great field position, the "O" got on the go early, putting up 14 quick first quarter points. But, from that point on, the offense struggled to sustain drives, until they put the game away in the 4th quarter with an old fashioned 48 yard, smash-mouth drive.
1.) QB: On an afternoon in which Tom Brady saw his TD pass record get broken by the hated Horseface, Tom's pedestrian stat line of 14 completions in 26 attempts for 172 yards and a TD may pale in comparision. Yet, the greatest QB of all time simply did what was needed to win, as usual...rather than concern himself with personal stats. After getting off to a hot first quarter start, leading his team on TD drives of 64 and 53 yards, respectively, the Ravens' "D" held Brady to just 8 completions in 18 attempts for 96 yards the remainder of the way. But the early damage done was too much for the Ravens to overcome. The big plays in those two TD drives were a 34 yard PI penalty against Ravens' CB Jimmy Smith, while trying to cover Julian Edelman...and a 34 yard catch and run by Danny Amendola of a short Brady toss over the middle. Having no need for franctic fourth quarter heroics in this one was what kept Tom's stats down. He relied heavily on his running game in the first half (86 yards rushing), and in the closing stanza. That said, there were too many "three and outs" in the second half: GRADE: B;
2.) RBs: That blasted injury bug struck again, as RB Shane Vereen limped off the field in the second half with a groin injury. Prior to that, Vereen had been held to just two (2) rushes for six (6) yards, and one four (4) yard pass reception, which resulted in a New England's second TD of the game. RB Brandon Bolden filled in for Vereen, and had two catches for 16 yards. RBs LeGarrette Blount (16 carries for 76 yards, and two (2) TDs), and Stevan Ridley (14 carries for 56 yards) gashed the Ravens' front seven, particularly in the second half: GRADE: B+;
3.) OL: Though the overall pass protection could have been better, the Pats' patchwork OL dominated in the fourth quarter, during a game clinching 48 yard TD drive...accomplished entirely on the ground. Folks, anytime a teams' running game can churn out 142 rushing yards against a good defense...that's getting it done in the trenches: GRADE: A-;
4.) TEs and WRs: Not much help from the Hoo-man in the passing game (one catch for nine (9) yards)...but a good overall job of blocking for the running game. WR Julian Edelman was targeted a game high 11 times, and had seven (7) catches for 77 yards...plus drew the aforementioned PI call, which set up the Pats' first TD. On the other hand, Danny Amendola was targeted only three (3) times, and had two (2) catches for 45 yards...including that huge 34 yard play, which set up the Pats' second TD. There was an Aaron Dobson citing...and he had one reception for 21 yards: GRADE: C+;
II. DEFENSE: Make no mistake about it...this unit was the main reason for the Pats' impressive win. This crew forced four (4) turnovers...two of which were returned for TDs, forced a turnover by downs after stopping the Ravens on the New England four (4) yard line on third and one and fourth and one plays, registered seven (7) QB hits and four (4) sacks, forced agoal line and shut down what little emblance there was to a Ravens' running game, in this unit's best overall performance of the season.
1.) DL: Huge fourth and one stop by DE Rob Ninkovich (six tackles, three solos, and a sack) and Duron Harmon on Ray Rice...with asists from DT Sealver Saliga (four tackles, one solo, and a sack) and Brandon Spikes who clogged the middle, for all intents and purposes ended this game. This, and a gift fumble recovery by Chandler Jones in the end zone on a bad snap, were the main highlights of a superlative overall effort by this group. Their much maligned run defense stepped up, and held the Baltimore RBs to just 83 yards on 25 carries. Though there were some problems containing Baltimore back-up QB Tyrod Taylor in the pocket (three runs for 39 yards, including a 25 yard scamper), that was accomplished during garbage time. Credit veteran DE Andre Carter with two (2) more sacks, although one occurred when Ravens' QB Joe Flacco appearred to trip over a blade of grass: GRADE: A;
2.) LBs: ILB Brandon Spikes was solid inside, with seven (7) tackles, including three (3) solos. Dont'a Hightower had six (6) tackles, including three (3) solos, and one key pass deflection in coverage. It occurred early in the first quarter, as Baltimore, trailing 7-0, had a first and 10 from their own 32 yard line. Ravens' QB Joe Flacco looked deep down the right sideline for WR Jacoby Jones. But Hightower made a very good drop back in coverage, placing himself in excellent position to defense the play, and possible come up with an interception. But, the ball deflected off of his hands, and into the hands of CB Logan Ryan. This pick set up the Patriots at their own 47 yard line, giving Brady and the Boys a short field. The offense responded with a 53 yard TD drive, putting the Pats up, 14-0. Jamie Collins also was active, with four (4) tackles, including three (3) solos: GRADE: A;
3.) SECONDARY: After last week's horrible performance in Miami, this crew stepped up and played some ball. Against an explosive set of Ravens' WRs, they held that crew to three plays for over 20 yards...one of which came about due to a PI penalty on Steve Gregory. But, the worst play of the bunch was the 42 yard catch and run by Torrey Smith, allegedly covered by Duron Harmon, late in the third quarter. Save for the above mentioned red zone stop by the Pats' "D", and this play would have set up a Ravens' TD. Then, at around the 11:00 mark of the 4th quarter, the Pats' allowed the Ravens to convert on a 3rd and 17 from their own three (3) yard line, thanks to an off-sides penalty, and a 15 yard completion on a short pass to TE Dennis Pitta, who was "covered" by Tavon Wilson. That play, alond with the above mentioned PI call on Gregory for 23 yards, converted what would have been a punt from deep in Ravens' territory, to a Ravens' TD... cutting the New England lead to 20-7. But, that aside, the secondary shut the Ravens down. The dangerous Torrey Smith was held to three (3) catches for 69 yards. Jacobi Jones had just one catch for 11 yards. The Ravens' TEs did some mostly inconsequential damage, with eight (8) catches for 78 yards. WR Marlon Brown added four (4) receptions for 51 yards...and the Ravens' RB tandum of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for five catches for 50 yards. For the game, QB Joe Flacco was a modest 22/38 for 260, with two (2) killer interceptions. Both of those picks were made by CB Logan Ryan, who is enjoying a solid rookie season. The other Patriots' pick was thrown by back-up Ravens' QB Tyrod Taylor during garbage time, and was returned 74 yards by Tavon Wilson, for the final Patriots' score of the game. DB Kyle Arrington led the team in tackles with eight (8), including four (4) solos. Unfortunately, more on the injury front...as safety Devin McCourty left the game with what appeared to be a concussion. Folks, it wasn't perfect. But, in this era of liberalized passing rules, rare is the occasion where a secondary can hold an NFL offense to under ten points for an entire game: GRADE: A;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Stephen Gostkowski was 2/2 on FGs, the longest of which was from 45 yards out. Punter Ryan Allen had too much work, with seven (7) punts...but averaged nearly 48 yards per kick. The Pats knew that, in Jacobi Jones, they would be dealing with one of, if not the best kick returner in the game. Jones averaged 31 yards on two kickoff returns...and nearly broke one. Jones lso returned four (4) punts for a combined 36 yards...including one 22 yard punt return. Fortunately, the damage done in this area by Jones did not have a great affect the game. Julian Edelman had one punt return for 11 yards: GRADE: B-;
IV. COACHING: A magnificent job of getting his team taped up and ready to go by BB and his staff, coming off that extremely disappointing loss in Miami. Though having Tom Brady on your side is like a high tide which lifts all boats...how BB patched up and made do that defense and that OL is nothing short of remarkable. Though the media in all likelihood will award the Coach of the Year trophy to Kansas City's Andy Reid...we all know who the real Coach of the Year is, this year and every year. There's really nothing I can think of to complain or criticize this week, regarding the coaching staff. Though the offense did not play particularly well in the second half, they really didn't have to...as they were protecting a 20-0 lead. Then, in the 4th quarter, when the Ravens cut the lead to 20-7 and the defense held on downs, giving Brady and the Boys the ball at the Ravens' 48...the offense ran the ball down the Ravens' throats to ice the game. Other than beating the Horseface, this was by far the most satisfying win of the season: GRADE: A+;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: Though that fourth down stop in the red zone was huge, that first quarter Logan Ryan interception on a the Flacco pass, that was deflected by Dont'a Hightower, set the tone for the game. It gave Brady and the Boys a short field, which they took full advantage of...giving the Patriots a quick 14-0 lead.
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: The entire New England defensive unit needs to collectively take a bow. But, if forced to pick one player, I'll go with CB Logan Ryan, with his two (2) interceptions. Those picks led to 10 Patriots' points.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331222033
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.
Merry Christmas, my friends!