1. Before we get into everything about game — the Patriots’ aggressive offense and defense, the Ravens’ resilience, a deserved milestone for LeGarrette Blount, the dropping of 496 total yards on the league’s top-ranked defense, the near-wasting of a 20-point lead, poor hapless Cyrus Jones — let’s first acknowledge what we should always acknowledge first but too often take for granted: This was another extraordinary performance by Tom Brady. Shoot, it was an extraordinary performance even by his standards.
2. Against the league’s No. 1 defense, one that fulfilled its bloodlust for hitting Brady time and again Monday night, one that was allowing just 296 total yards per game entering the game, Brady completed 25 for 38 for 406 yards and three touchdowns, including a picturesque Grogan-to-Morgan-style bomb to Chris Hogan to put the wobbling Patriots up 10 with just more than six minutes remaining. He did have a terrible interception early in the game, one that probably cost the Patriots points, but that was, of course, uncharacteristic.
3. What was characteristic was one more performance of ho-hum brilliance, one of toughness, poise, production, and clutch play, that would rate as one of the best of most decent quarterbacks’ careers. For those of us used to watching Brady, it felt familiar. The truly incredible thing is that it should. He has made the extraordinary ordinary. We can’t forget that it is not.
4. My immediate feeling postgame, after the exhale and the mental hat-tip to Brady anyway, is that this was the most complete defensive performance of the season for the Patriots. They tackled aggressively and in swarms despite the Tazmanian Devil-style running of impressive Ravens rookie running back Kenneth Dixon. They had what should have been a strip-sack (by Trey Flowers), an interception on a deep ball (Devin McCourty), and a blocked kick (Shea McClellin).
5. Weird stuff always seems to happen against the Ravens. But fumbling — and losing — a punt and a kick return within a matter of 14 seconds, as Cyrus Jones and Matthew Slater did in the third quarter? That’s a new level of inexplicable but inexcusable ridiculousness. The Ravens converted the blunders into 14 points, turning a 23-3 Patriots lead into a tense 23-17 game in a span of 85 seconds. If you don’t believe in momentum in sports after that turn of events, you’re just being stubborn.
6. LeGarrette Blount put the Patriots up, 9-0, late in the first with an absolutely fitting way of tying Curtis Martin’s single-season rushing touchdown record (14, which Martin did twice). Blount capped a 10-play, 74-yard drive with a third-down, second-effort, one-yard sledgehammer of a run into the end zone. He’s a beast in all the admirable ways.
7. Blount also went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season in the game, picking up 72 yards on 18 carries. It’s another cool milestone, but his biggest play was his last one. On fourth and 1 with just 12 seconds left in the game and the Patriots up by a touchdown, he bludgeoned through the Ravens’ defense for a first down, the definition of a winning play. If Blount isn’t one of your favorite Patriots right now, I have to assume he trampled a member of your family who tried to tackle him at some point. Maybe your whole family.
8. If Cyrus Jones fields another punt this year, it had better be because Belichick has demoted him back to the University of Alabama and Nick Saban is using him in the playoff. Are we sure Jonathan Jones wasn’t the second-round pick and Cyrus Jones the undrafted free agent? That might make more sense right now. Cyrus Jones’s blunder of letting a punt hit his foot and then halfheartedly pursuing the loose ball wasn’t just a not-ready-for-prime-time play. It was a not-ready-to-be-employed-in-the-NFL play.
9. Jonathan Jones made a rookie mistake himself, over-pursuing Mike Wallace on a key third-and-14 situation with the Patriots up 6 points early in the fourth quarter. But he made up for it on the same play, hustling to help force Wallace out of bounds after the speedy receiver had reversed field and appeared to be on the verge of huge conversion.
10. I learned my lesson about calling for players to be cut after physical and even mental mistakes years ago. I thought the Patriots should make an example of Kevin Faulk after he failed to pursue a backward pass in a loss to the Packers years ago. He turned out OK. But save for an occasional burst by Jones on a return every now and then, I’ve seen nothing from the kid that suggests he’s ready for any meaningful responsibility.
11. Jones also got torched by Breshad Perriman on a 47-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter, and you could almost see it coming. Malcolm Butler was out of the game with an injury — he eventually returned — and with Eric Rowe inactive, Jones came into replace him.
12. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had been chipping away at the Patriots over the middle of the field, but he always seems to slap bull’s-eye on one Patriots cornerback — it used to be Logan Ryan — and few throw a prettier deep ball. The only surprise about it was that he didn’t take his shot sooner — like the first play after Jones came on the field, for instance.
13. I’ve never thought of Joe Flacco as elite, and he looked pretty mediocre Monday. But then I’m reminded that Marty Mornhinweg is the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, and I begin to wonder whether he might be the most gifted and resilient quarterback ever to take a snap.
14. When Trey Flowers buried Flacco for his fifth sack of the season in the first quarter, Gruden said he might be the Patriots’ best defensive lineman. There’s probably some exaggeration there, but it is a reminder that there are still some promising pass rushers here even after the departures of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins.
15. Oh, and Shea McClellin apparently is capable of duplicating Collins’s line-jumping, kick-blocking gymnastics. If you tell me you knew that, well, thanks for reading, Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge. It’s appreciated. I was hoping for another Harbaugh-flummoxing, study-the-rulebook revelation from the Patriots in this one. The McClellan block will have to do, even though Collins pulled it out of the bag tricks against Adam Vinatieri and the Colts last October
16. The Brady-to-Blount-to-Brady-to-Hogan bomb in the third quarter was lovely in its deception and effectiveness. (Hogan picked up 28 yards.) But I think we all know the Ravens have seen that one before. It should be noted, however, that it wasn’t Hogan’s biggest play of the night by any stretch. With the field seemingly tilting in the Ravens’ favor and the margin cut to 3 (23-20), Brady found him for a 79-yard touchdown, suckering half the Baltimore defense with play action. Hogan finished with 129 yards on five catches, and he’s now averaging 19 yards per catch this season (32 for 609).
17. Thought Gruden might say Malcom Brown was their best defensive lineman a few moments later after he detonated Kenneth Dixon for a safety on the next series. Instead, he went with a simple plaudit: “Very good every-down defensive lineman.”
18. Ravens linebacker Zach Orr is impressive. He pursues the ballcarrier like the national media pretended Ray Lewis did for the last half-dozen years of his career.
19. I’m not quite ready to suggest turning Chandler Jones, indirectly, into Malcolm Mitchell (and Joe Thuney) will be a huge win for the Patriots in the long run. But I’m not going to disagree if you beat me to the claim. Mitchell, who caught a Brady zip-line for the Patriots’ second touchdown, reminds me a little bit of David Givens and a little of the good version of Brandon LaFell. But he doesn’t completely remind me of either of them, or any other Patriots receiver of this era for that matter. He’s already the tallest, rangiest competent Patriots receiver of recent vintage I can recall.
20. Devin McCourty’s interception in the second quarter was just his first of the season, but the play was reminder why he’s so valuable: He’s got the range of an American League East center fielder.
21. The Patriots considered challenging possession after Flowers’s sack, until Ed Hochuli, who always knows where and how to find the prime-time cameras, Hochuli’d it all up by explaining forward progress had stopped and the play was blown dead. Not sure it was the right call — it looked like Flowers stripped the ball and was down by contact — but it did lead to this comment from McDonough. ‘’Belichick always knows where to find the challenge flag, he keeps it in his sock.’’
22. That subtle gem — which I’m 97 percent sure was a dig at all-time co-losingest coach and deposed league toady Jeff Fisher — might have escaped fans that aren’t as familiar with McDonough’s gift for understated sarcasm. But Red Sox fans who remember him as a more than worthy successor to Ned Martin surely picked up on it. McDonough’s best line of the night, however, came after a typical Hochuli filibuster. ‘’Does anybody explain better than Hochuli? He’s a lawyer.”
23. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees might be my least favorite ex-Patriots assistant, Eric Mangini included. The 2009 defense seemed to take on his personality, and his not-my-call sniffling about the final defensive call of Super Bowl XLII was unbecoming. A better fit with a Harbaugh for sure.
24. Martellus Bennett is clearly playing through something, and probably some things. He’s not running with the surprising grace he showed early in the season. But is that guy ever tough. His third-quarter touchdown catch was a brawl for the ball, and he wasn’t giving it up, even as the beaten Raven defender continued fighting for possession after the touchdown was signaled.
25. Is it possible that McClellin and Kyle Van Noy are, you know, good? One was a first-round pick, the other a second, and both went to organizations (Bears, Lions) that aren’t known for stability. They were all over the place Monday night. Both play with aggressiveness and energy.
26. Brady got his annual heaved-up, horrible red-zone interception out of the way in the second quarter when he was drilled by a Ravens pass rusher and flung up such a floater that interceptor Eric Weddle might have been tempted to call for a fair catch. Better now than in the playoffs, I suppose.
27. According to 47 beat writers tweeting this simultaneously, the temperature was 30 degrees with 90 percent humidity at kickoff. I have no idea what that means — it’s cold but also warm? Gonna need to track down Mish Michaels to explain this one.
28. Eric Weddle indicated on a conference call this week that he had genuine interest in coming to the Patriots during free agency. An accomplished player, he seems like someone a lot of Patriots fans would covet. But it’s the old what-would-we-do-with-Willie-McGee argument: The Patriots have three good-to-excellent safeties in Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon. Neither the fit nor the price was right this time around.
29. Not sure what went wrong with the Brady-Julian Edelman connection in the first quarter, but they were not on the same wavelength on several plays early, connecting on just 1 of 5 targets in the quarter. And Brady went into full angry-hornet mode after Edelman, who had shaky hands all night, seemed to slow down on a route on the Patriots’ third straight stalled possession to start the game. Not counting on Brady explaining what he was mad about in tomorrow’s edition of the TB Times.
30. The Ravens have the Eagles, Steelers and Bengals the rest of the way, with the last two on the road. Here’s to a couple of losses and no chance of a postseason rematch. The Patriots are the better team. The Ravens are worthy rival with a knack for catching weird breaks here. Nice game. Now good riddance.