Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and his coach, John Harbaugh, both said the wind flowing from Gillette Stadium’s north end zone toward the south end zone was not a factor in the Ravens’ passing game.
But there’s no doubt it played a role in the kicking game. Before overtime of the Patriots’ 23-20 victory, both teams’ place-kickers took a practice shot toward the north end zone uprights, which is the one near the bridge and light tower, to see how a ball would behave.
When the Ravens won the coin toss in overtime and the Patriots got to choose which end zone to defend, they decided to defend the north end zone and give their offense and kickers the wind at their back. Harbaugh said he would have done likewise if he had lost the overtime coin toss.
“It was windy out there at times, but it was no factor for us,” Flacco said. “I don’t think it was a factor for either team throwing the ball, at least. Maybe with special teams and things like that, but when you look at both offenses, I don’t think it was too much of a factor.”
However, all four touchdowns today were scored in the south end zone. Three were pass plays.
The Ravens’ first drive of the game supported Flacco’s claim. Heading toward the north goal, he marched the Ravens 81 yards in 15 plays, and kicker Billy Cundiff drilled a 26-yard field goal to make it 3-0. The drive included passes of 15, 9, 15, 16 and 8 yards.
But as the game advanced, the wind increased. In the second quarter, Flacco hit tight end Todd Heap in the south end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. In the third, he sailed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin in the same end zone. And Patriots quarterback Tom Brady found Deion Branch on a 5-yard touchdown pass in the fourth to cap an eight-play, 60-yard drive with the wind at their back.
The biggest impact was on the kicking game. At least two kickoffs sailed through the south end zone, while several kickoffs and punts headed toward the north were ducks. One of the key plays in overtime came when Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko pinned the Ravens on their own 19 with a 65-yard punt.
Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski benefited not just from having the wind at his back, but also getting a practice shot. He kicked one through from 35 yards, but the play was whistled dead because the game clock had reached the two-minute warning.
“I didn’t know it was the two-minute warning, but anytime the whistle blows, we have a chance at a free shot, then we take it. On a windy day like that where the ball can be affected by the wind, it’s good to get a practice shot,” Gostkowski said.