Twenty thoughts on the Patriots’ 37-20 loss to the Ravens …
1. So the Patriots head into their bye week with their first blemish in the loss column and quite a bit to repair, none of it especially new. The Ravens didn’t reveal much about the Patriots Sunday night in their impressive victory, but they sure did confirm some things. The Patriots offensive line desperately needs Isaiah Wynn, he of one career game, back at left tackle. They have to find a way to run the ball more effectively; more important, they need to protect Tom Brady better. And they really hadn’t played a decent quarterback all season until now. An undefeated season – a premature daydream to have at this point anyway – is out of the question. Now they have to figure out how they can remain the best team in the AFC.
2. I believe they still are. Jackson is an exceptional, if imperfect, player, and though his final stats weren’t as dazzling as his performance, he’s the reason the Ravens were the one to hand the Patriots their first loss. But I don’t think this outcome suggests anything about the Patriots defense is a mirage. No, they’re not the ’85 Bears, but it’s still a superb unit, and I believe they’ll continue to prove as much even as they get into the toughest part of the schedule. They did settle down mid-game, and facing that pistol offense, with Jackson at the helm, proved an extraordinary challenge. If, or perhaps when, they see him again, might be a different matter. Know this: The next time they play the Ravens, it had better be at home.
3. The loss had kind of the same vibe as the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles – not the magnitude, but running into an offense that has a spectacular bag of tricks. But it might have been the uncharacteristic mistakes they made that did the Patriots in this time. The Patriots committed three neutral zone infractions, all of which resulted in first downs. Some of that might come from the urgency to be ready for whatever Jackson threw at them. But it was the kind of self-defeating bumbling they rarely do, and it happened from the start, with Shilique Calhoun committing a penalty when the Ravens were lined up for a field goal on their first drive. It turned into a TD. They committed seven penalties overall for 48 yards.
4. Both teams committed a pair of turnovers, but one in particular did in the Patriots. Down 17-13, they were moving the ball on their first possession of the first half, having converted two third downs and moving to the Baltimore 30. But a short pass to Edelman had an unusual outcome: It turned to disaster.
5. Edelman got the ball poked loose as he was going down, and Marlon Humphrey was opportunistic, scooping up the ball and returning it 70 yards for a touchdown. What looked like it might become a 20-17 Patriots lead – and a 20-0 scoring run, a real shift in momentum – instead became a 24-13 Ravens lead. It’s not the whole reason for the loss, but it was an enormous swing.
6. Even after the return for the TD on Edelman’s fumble, the Patriots still moved the ball, marching down the field again with a no-huddle offense against a Ravens defense that looked like it hadn’t done much conditioning work lately. James White, who had just missed a touchdown earlier in the game when a Ravens defender tapped him before he could stretch into the end zone (the Patriots settled for a Folk field goal), did much of the heavy lifting on the drive, carrying four straight times for 22 yards at one point. He finished it with his first rushing TD of the season, cutting it to 24-20.
7. It’s a tribute to Brady that whenever he misses a throw he usually makes, the natural inclination is to wonder whether the receiver was in the right spot. But it was jarring to see Brady make three straight seemingly bad throws early in the fourth when the Patriots were down 30-20. He put a little too much air on a throw in the flat to Sanu that Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes nearly picked off. He followed with a laser to Ben Watson that was a little too low. Then, the worst of them, a let-it-rip deep ball to Mohamed Sanu (who was great – 10 catches, 81 yards) that Earl Thomas caught like a punt and returned 33 yards. It wasn’t all on the receivers. Maybe none of it was in that stretch.
8. I thought this would be the Cris Collinsworth Whaaaaaaaat Quote of the Night, at the end of the first quarter: “We’ve got a long way to go in this one. We have Tom Brady out there, I will remind everybody. But this is stunning. I promise you, this is one of those moments in time when we’re going to think back in a few years and go, “Remember the night that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ style of offense took apart the Patriots. We’re going to be able to point to quarterbacks in the National Football League that got a chance because of this night.”
9. But that one didn’t look that terrible by the end. And he did beat it with this head-scratcher in the fourth quarter: “Even if I had Tom Brady, I’d have him run once or twice a game.’’ I’m not even going to try to decipher that one.
10. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Ravens put together their first impressive offensive drive since Collinsworth etched Jackson’s Hall of Fame bust … but it was awfully impressive. The Ravens marched 81 yards in 14 plays, with Jackson converting a fourth-down throw along the way and later weaving through three Patriots who seemed to have him trapped to set up a first and goal. He deserves a lot of praise for his poise.
11. Nick Boyle, the Ravens tight end who supplied the weakest supposed bulletin-board material ever this week when he basically noted correctly that the Patriots hadn’t played Jackson yet, put the Ravens up 30-20 with a 5-yard TD catch in which he somehow got open by 10 yards. The Patriots did get an unexpected break at the end of the play when Justin Tucker missed the extra point, only the second miss of his career. Too bad the trading deadline has passed – this is the perfect time to offer Nick Folk straight-up for him.
12. I can’t remember the Patriots ever having such a no-show of a first quarter on offense, at least in the Brady era. They had two possessions, ran seven plays, punted twice, and totaled 4 yards – 13 on four Sony Michel carries and minus-9 from the passing game. I mean, that’s Jeff Carlson/Rod Rust-era stuff.
13. Behind 17-0 and with all of the cynical old sportswriters like myself cooking up comparisons to that 2009 playoff loss (I’ll spare you the details), the Patriots got a break when old friend Cyrus Jones fumbled a punt. The easy joke was that it was the first big play that the busted former second-round pick ever made for them, but he did have a 24-yard punt return once according to his pro-football-reference page. No, I don’t remember it either.
14. Even with the Patriots fighting to get back into the game, they still had some brutally sloppy sequences in the second quarter, none more so than a stretch when 1) Brady was pleading for a hands-to-the-face call on Jimmy Smith against Phillip Dorsett, 2) A late flag was thrown, only to drop the hammer on Brady for intentional grounding, 3) Marshall Newhouse pulled an ole’ and ending up committing a holding penalty for the sake of Brady’s blind side.
15. Mark Ingram (8 carries, 97 yards before halftime; 112 yards overall) ripped through the Patriots in the first half, and you had to wonder if Bradley Chubb’s success running last week revealed on film a weakness in the middle of the Patriots defense. The Ravens exposed something early.
16. It’s still an upset that Reed, the heart of those great Ravens defenses while Ray Lewis hammed it up for the glory, never got a season or even a cameo with the Patriots. If there’s an opponent Belichick and Brady respected more, the name is escaping me right now.
17. There are fast starts and there’s setting the tone and there’s getting the jump, but none of that accurately describes how impressive the Ravens’ first drive was. Jackson led the Ravens on an 11-play, 75-yard march that featured multiple dazzling bursts by the quarterback as well as running back Mark Ingram. Jackson did the honors with a 3-yard scoring run, breezing into the end zone like the Ravens breezed down the field. To do that against the Patriots’ defense was remarkable.
18. There were signs early on that Jackson might have a costly mistake or two in him, but the Patriots couldn’t take advantage. He threw into double-coverage with 6 minutes and 22 seconds left in the first quarter, but Devin McCourty couldn’t get turned around the right way to pick off the deflection.
19. A couple minutes later, he Dan Quisenberried one off the back of lineman Ronnie Stanley’s helmet, but again no Patriots were in position to haul in the rebound. He’s not exactly the most mechanically sound passer, but he has Aaron Rodgers’s mechanics comparted to what Tim Tebow was. And the arm and legs are platinum.
20. Jackson did a little mild taunting early, sweeping the ball past the goal line when he ran it in for the first touchdown then shaking his head as if saying I can’t be stopped after yet another sweet run with 5 ½ minutes left in the first quarter. Can’t really hold it against him, though – he was lighting up a defense that came in drawing historical comparisons. What position did Bill Polian think he should be converted to again? Looks like a pretty special quarterback to me.