Nice old-time feel to this one
FOXBOROUGH — It wasn’t so much the What as the How.
“A good one,’’ said center Dan Koppen. “We gutted it out in the end. An old-fashioned win for us.’’
The Boston College guy is one of the few remaining Patriots with a Super Bowl pedigree. He remembers when the Patriots routinely shrugged off deficits to good teams, made all the key stops on defense, and then manufactured the scoring drive to win another (yawn) Big Game. Not everyone on this team knows that feeling.
They all know it now. The Baltimore Ravens came here playing as well as anyone in the league, and they led a sluggish Patriots team by 10 points seconds into the fourth quarter. But in the remaining 28 minutes and 37 seconds they never scored again, and the Patriots came back to win it by a 23-20 score on Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 1:56 remaining in overtime.
“That was a good win for us over a very good football team,’’ observed coach Bill Belichick. “I’m really proud of those kids.’’
Among those “kids’’ was 31-year-old Deion Branch, who made a triumphant return to the team for which he was once a Super Bowl MVP by catching nine Tom Brady passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, which he celebrated with two bows from the waist. Branch also caught passes good for 23 and 10 yards during the Patriots’ final possession, the second on third and 2 at the Baltimore 31. That took a lot of the pressure off Gostkowski, who otherwise would have needed to kick one from 45 yards, which is a whole different matter.
Look out, Wes. Tom has been reunited with an old flame.
“He did great,’’ Brady acknowledged. “You guys were asking me during the week if the chemistry was still there. I’ve been throwing balls to him for a long time.’’
Brady wound up throwing for 292 yards, which is fairly amazing when you consider that for the better part of two weeks numerous Chicken Little types had been assuring us that with Randy Moss gone, he never again would complete a pass, not one. According to these people, Wes Welker’s career was officially over and rookie Aaron Hernandez never even would have a career, at least not as long as he remained in New England. I mean, how could anyone ever get open to catch a pass without Moss there to command double teams and, you know, “stretch the field?’’
The fact that Brady completed passes to quite a few people not named Randy Moss as he led the team to three Super Bowl championships was lost in all the weeping and wailing over Moss’s departure. Moss is good; no one is saying otherwise. But the implication that there could not possibly be Patriots success without the temperamental wideout was always ludicrous. Brady survived without Moss before and he will survive without him again.
Anyway, offense has not been the Patriots’ big problem for the last year or so. The team has lost too many times because it couldn’t stop people, particularly in crucial moments. “I know people doubted us,’’ said Belichick, in a very atypical Belichick allusion. “The second half [collapses], and all that.’’ Since when has Coach Bill ever conceded the existence of a world outside the film room?
He was right, of course. People have doubted his team, the major reason being a porous defense that never seems to get off the field often enough. The opening Baltimore drive was, from a Patriots’ viewpoint, dreadful. The Ravens converted both on third and 10 (for 15 yards) and third and 9 (for 17 yards). But the good news was that the Patriots pulled themselves together in the red zone, meaning that a 15-play, 81-yard drive lasting 8:32 was only good for a Billy Cundiff 26-yard field goal. The Ravens would be similarly frustrated in the second half when all they could get from a 13-play, 84-yard drive taking up 6:47 was a 25-yard Cundiff field goal.
Does anyone want to join me in a “Bend, Don’t Break’’ chant?
But the Patriots couldn’t afford that kind of bending if they were to win this game, not trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter (20-10). So let the record show that one major reason they won was the fact that on their final five possessions the Ravens could only manage 71 yards and two first downs.
The Ravens were conspirators in their demise, no question. For some odd reason, the team that trashed the Patriots last Jan. 10 in that miserable playoff game and that had dominated the first three quarters of this game went stone-cold conservative on offense. Joe Flacco (27 of 35, 285 yards, two TDs, no picks) was ordered to hand it off rather than pass it in overtime, and the results were a pair of three-and-outs and one drive of 35 yards. No doubt Belichick & Co. already have offered the silent prayer of thanks to Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (Hey, wasn’t he the guy who flamed out in Miami?).
I’d be willing to bet that Coach Bill and his staff sat around afterward saying, “Can anyone here explain what just happened?’’ The Patriots did have lots of stagnant moments, and it’s not very often you get three cracks to win in an NFL overtime. The Patriots also badly squandered a chance to win in regulation, marching for a first down at the Baltimore 13, trailing, 20-17, with just over two minutes left, before stalling out and having to settle for a tying Gostkowski field goal from 24 yards.
They remained undeterred, and when they needed some extra oomph they got it in the form of a 65-yard punt by rookie Zoltan Mesko, a kick that gave the Patriots the field position edge that eventually gave Brady the football on his 38. So, add it up: Brady, Branch, the defense, the punter, the team grit, and finally the right foot of Gostkowski. The Patriots needed all of it in order to win a game that not only keeps them tied in the loss column with the Jets, but also gives this particular group — so heavily populated with young players of no previous tangible accomplishment — a major belt-notch victory.
Now if they win one of these on the road, we’ll know the New England Patriots are back.