Kicking it up a notch
Patriots rally in fourth quarter, Gostkowski boots Ravens in OT
FOXBOROUGH — Before this season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick removed all the pictures of New England’s past triumphs and big moments from the walls inside the football offices at Gillette Stadium.
The idea was partly to give a team that had undergone a dramatic makeover in the previous two years, one that had become much younger, a chance to forge its own identity, to create its own memories.
Their objective is to put their own pictures on the walls.
After yesterday’s come-from-behind 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens, the spot where a photo of Adam Vinatieri celebrating a game-winning field goal was may now have Stephen Gostkowski celebrating his 35-yard winner against Baltimore.
Where once there was a picture of Corey Dillon scoring a tough goal-line touchdown, there may be one of BenJarvus Green-Ellis after his hard-fought 2-yard score in the first half.
Patrick Chung and Gerard Warren’s second-down stop of Ray Rice on Baltimore’s first possession of overtime could occupy the spot a photo of Richard Seymour or Rodney Harrison once did.
And where a Deion Branch picture once was located, well, a Deion Branch photo may hang there again after his fourth-quarter touchdown.
For the second straight game, the Patriots showed doubters that they belong in the conversation of the AFC’s top teams, knocking off a Ravens squad many had tabbed as one of the best in the league.
Coach Bill Belichick will be busy picking out artwork from this one.
“Man, that was a good win for our football team today,’’ he said when he stepped to the podium after the game. “I’m really proud of those kids. Ten points down in the fourth quarter, rallied, fought through it in overtime. You’ve got to give them all the credit in the world. We had a lot of big plays out there.’’
The Patriots trailed, 20-10, less than 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, after a stalled Ravens drive resulted in a 25-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
That is when the offense — which had seemed a bit off for much of the first three quarters, struggling to convert third downs against a defense that excels at stopping them — started putting things together.
It was keyed by the homecoming king, Branch.
With an assist from Cundiff, whose kickoff went out of bounds, thus giving New England the ball at its 40-yard line, Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead (twice) picked up Patriot first downs on plays of more than 10 yards. Woodhead’s a 12-yard run gave the Patriots first and goal from the 9 and Welker picked up 4 yards on first down, but quarterback Tom Brady was off the mark with a second-down attempt to Julian Edelman.
On third down, Brady bought time while Branch, playing in his first game with the Patriots after four and a quarter seasons with Seattle, worked to get open in the end zone. Eventually he found himself all alone in the right half, and Brady found him for the 5-yard touchdown.
Branch, who was loudly cheered when he was introduced before the game and nearly every time he caught a pass, really heard the love after the score; he bowed deeply a couple of times in gratitude.
“It was just a great play by Tom,’’ Branch said. “He was telling me, ‘Good job,’ but once you see the play and see him moving around in the pocket, that’s what enabled me to get behind the defense and then pull back out. It’s something that we worked on all week in practice — one of the plays.’’
Despite the long absence and despite their only having practiced together for three days, Brady said there were no limitations on the plays he could run with Branch. And not having the recently traded Randy Moss didn’t seem to have much effect on the offense.
The young defense, which has been a work in progress, did its part in the fourth, holding the Ravens to one first down on the drive that followed the Patriots’ touchdown, and to a three-and-out on their last possession of regulation.
In between, New England got the tying field goal on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that started with a 22-yard pass from Brady to Branch. The next play went to Branch as well, for a 4-yard gain.
Though they got down to the 6-yard line after a 3-yard run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots couldn’t convert on third down (though Brady did look Branch’s way) and Gostkowski kicked a 24-yard field goal.
Rather than have Gostkowski try a 62-yarder to avoid overtime, Brady threw up a Hail Mary that was intercepted by Ken Hamlin in the end zone.
The defense continued its stout play in overtime. Baltimore won the toss, but could not gain a first down on its first possession. Neither did New England when it got the ball.
The Ravens got a couple of first downs on drive two, but the Patriots got a key third-down stop — Devin McCourty breaking up a pass for Todd Heap. It was one of many third-down stops for the defense, a major turnaround from most of the season. The D entered the game having allowed opponents to convert nearly 55 percent on that key down, but yesterday held the Ravens to a 5-for-16 performance, including 2 for 8 in the second half and OT.
“We stepped up when we needed to step up,’’ defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said. “All year on third down, we’ve had problems in that area. Then, something went off and we basically turned it around. It’s third down and we get off the field. Once we get off the field, we’re a totally different defense.’’
The sides each went three-and-out before the Patriots’ offense got its third crack at putting up points. Brady found Branch for 23 yards, Welker for 4, newly minted captain Alge Crumpler for 4 (his first catch of the season), Branch for 10, and then called two runs totaling 4 yards from Green-Ellis.
All told, it meant Gostkowski had a manageable 35-yard attempt for the win. He put it high between the uprights, and New England completed its first late-game comeback since last year’s opener against Buffalo and its eighth straight post-bye week victory.
“It’s nice to get a win,’’ Gostkowski said. “The couple of times I’ve had a chance to be in overtime it seems like I kick off every time and haven’t had an opportunity [to try and win the game], and I was just glad to get an opportunity.’’
For Brady, who also could go up on the walls in victory once again, it was the 30th time in his career he’s led the Patriots to a win after a fourth-quarter deficit. The comebacks never get old.
“It was a battle,’’ he said. “I think there were a lot of things we wish we could have done better, but I’ll tell you, it feels good to win down 10 in the fourth quarter. We’re going to watch the film and there’s a lot to correct, but it’s a good one to win.’’
A few more wins over quality opponents like they’ve had in their last two outings and the mostly-new-look Patriots will have those walls filled up again in no time.