Perhaps just like last season, when a final-play field goal decided the game, the Patriots and Ravens might have another contest go right down to the wire on Sunday in Baltimore.
This season for the two teams, that's been the rule, not the exception. Baltimore is 5-4 in games decided by 3 points or fewer, after winning at Detroit on Monday, 18-16. The Patriots are 6-1 in similar games.
"Make the plays in the critical situations at the end of the game they need to make to win," said Bill Belichick, when asked during a Tuesday teleconference what separates teams from winning or losing their share of close games. "That’s what it comes down to. That’s what this league is. You play for 57, 58, 59 minutes and the game’s still not decided and it hinges on the plays from there on out.
"It could be one play, it could be a series. It could be a kick or a return, fumbled punt, a pass, an interception, a sack, a short-yardage or goal line play, a stop – it could be any one of a million situations. Being able to execute those plays in those critical situations is going to determine the result of the game. Being able to do those things as a team, along with some other things – substitution, clock management, and all those other things as well, getting out of bounds, staying in bounds and making good decisions – in the end, it comes down to execution in those critical situations [which] is absolutely the difference. That’s the NFL."
Each team is coming off a game that wasn't decided until the final drive. The Patriots failed to get the necessary touchdown, losing at Miami, 24-20. The Ravens, despite not scoring a touchdown, used six field goals from Justin Tucker to win at Detroit on Monday Night Football, 18-16.
Playing in so many games decided late gets the heart rate up, for players, coaches, and especially fans. But playing in them every week at least brings some form of familiarity.
"If you’re prepared, you have an opportunity that the moment doesn’t kind of take you over. You know what your job is, you know what you’re going to call if you’re a coach, you know the kind of things that are going to be called if you’re a player and you know what to expect from the defense," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "As long as we continue to try to be prepared and be ready for those scenarios if and when they come up in the games, I think that’s the best thing you can do as a coach and a player.
"There’s no shortcut to your preparation, and once you get in those scenarios you hope that you feel very comfortable with the things you are going to try to do. To me, that’s the key to our execution when those scenarios come up is that our guys feel good about it and they go out there and execute under pressure and give us an opportunity to win."