BALTIMORE — The last time the Patriots were in Baltimore for a prime-time regular season game, it had a memorable ending.
Sunday night was no different.
Undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker did what Billy Cundiff could not eight months earlier, booting a 27-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Patriots, 31-30.
Cundiff missed a slightly longer field goal to force overtime in the AFC Championship game in New England in January, and was released by the Ravens in camp this year.
After Tucker’s kick went through the uprights – barely – Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, celebrating his 50th birthday, stood facing the crowd, jumping up and down in celebration.
With the loss, New England is under .500 for the first time since 2003, when it lost the season opener to Buffalo, and has more losses than wins beyond the first week of the season for the first time since 2002, when it was 3-4.
In 2007, with the Ravens having a rare down year and New England on its way to an undefeated regular season, the closing moments of another game between the teams featured a Rex Ryan (then the Baltimore defensive coordinator) timeout that negated a key stop by his unit, a Tom Brady-to-Jabar Gaffney game-winning score, and Ravens players throwing penalty flags back at the game officials in protest.
The replacement officials figured prominently into Sunday night’s story, but there were two indisputable truths: the pass interference call on Devin McCourty on third-and-9 with 52 seconds to play giving the Ravens first and goal from the 9 was a penalty, and the Patriots defense, which had played well in the first two games of the season, had a bad night.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, and ballcarriers Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Baltimore converted half of its third-down tries.
The home team scored on drives of 82, 92, 80, 92, and 70 yards.
“I’ve gotta make that play. It’s the end of the game,” McCourty said. “I’m disappointed; there were plays out there to help this team win and I didn’t make them tonight.”
McCourty let two potential interceptions pass through his hands earlier in the game.
Vince Wilfork, who ripped his helmet off as Tucker’s field goal went between the uprights and the officials signaled that it was good, believing that it was not, said, “The offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry.”
Brady saw an interception on the Patriots’ final possession called back on a Baltimore penalty, but did little with the second chance, with a sack on second down leading to a third and long. Brady was on the run again, and tried to throw for Rob Gronkowski but it was incomplete.
New England punted, and the Ravens had two minutes and one timeout to make their final comeback.
With an entire stadium – and really, the entire city behind him, and Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweeting her support – receiver Torrey Smith caught the second of two touchdown passes on the night with 4:01 to play, a 5-yard reception.
Smith got the news early Sunday morning that his younger brother, Tevin, had died in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, and left the team briefly to be with his family. Harbaugh left it up to Smith whether he wanted to play.
The Ravens got the ball to start the second half and Flacco led them on an 80-yard touchdown drive. A 32-yard pass to Smith put Baltimore in a goal-to-go situation and running back Ray Rice took it in for the score to make it 21-20 Ravens.
Baltimore worked mostly out of the no-huddle on the drive, showing the new wrinkle it added to the offense headed into this season.
The Patriots answered right back. Brady had his teammates in the no-huddle, as they were for most of the night, and converted two third downs to keep their 80-yard march toward the end zone going.
Danny Woodhead, who got a lot of snaps when the Patriots were in a three-receiver look, got the handoff for a 3-yard touchdown that made it 27-21, New England.
Things got off to a less-than-smooth start for the Patriots, who took the opening kickoff when the Ravens won the toss and deferred — generally a Patriots tactic. After a first down on the first play of the game, a 12-yard gain to Brandon Lloyd, New England nearly lost the ball when center Ryan Wendell snapped it before Brady was ready.
New England got on the board first on its next possession, a 37-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. The kick came when the drive stalled after a 59-yard catch-and-run from Welker, who was more involved this week with Aaron Hernandez out.
The offense didn’t have to wait long for its next shot on the field – on first down Flacco looked for tight end Dennis Pitta across the middle and instead found Patriots safety Steve Gregory.
Gregory’s 36-yard return gave New England first and goal from the 6. Rookie running back Brandon Bolden got his first NFL touchdown to put the Patriots ahead, 10-0.
New England went up, 13-0, before the end of the first quarter, on a 49-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
Baltimore got two interesting calls during its first touchdown drive. The first was a pass-interference call on Jerod Mayo that only moved the Ravens forward 2 yards but gave them a fresh set of downs after a broken third-down play.
Then on third and 13, Flacco found Anquan Boldin on the right sideline. Boldin stretched for the first-down marker and initially the ball was marked about a yard shy of the first down. Harbaugh challenged the spot of the ball and won the challenge and the Ravens got the first down at midfield.
Three plays later, Flacco hit Smith with a pretty ball in the end zone. Kyle Arrington misjudged the pass, and Smith hauled it in for the touchdown.
Baltimore took the lead with a 10-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard pass to Pitta.
Gregory made a poor attempt at tackling the big tight end and a late-arriving McCourty couldn’t get to Pitta before he ran over the goal line.
Brady led the Patriots to their second touchdown drive of the night over the final 1:45 of the first half with the precision Patriots fans have long been accustomed to, giving New England a 20-14 lead.
Julian Edelman, who had a team-high four catches in the first half, got the touchdown, a 7-yarder on second down for the second offensive touchdown of his career.