It was the best, worst loss that the Patriots could have hoped for.
Oh, in the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing else that New England head coach Bill Belichick would have liked to leave Baltimore with Sunday night other than a win over the Ravens.
But he probably got more.
The 2019 New England Patriots, finally, learned a little bit about themselves during their 37-20 loss to the flashy Ravens, a game filled with enough blunders to provide Belichick with coaching material to last him until February.
Against real competition, they blew it.
There’s value in that for Belichick and his coaching staff in the midst of a season that, until this point, had been defined by the historic work of a defensive unit against pee-wee competition. The same defense that made Jets quarterback Sam Darnold see ghosts only a few weeks back got slimed by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and a Baltimore running attack that accounted for 210 yards on the ground. There were mistakes on the line of scrimmage and Julian Edelman’s rebound-halting fumble, moments that Belichick can hang onto in preaching to his troops where work is needed during the second half of the season.
The best thing to happen Sunday night though was putting an end to any more notions of the Patriots going 19-0.
This isn’t a theory based on the silly notion that a team should lose a game at some point to get the monkey off its back, but a more-reasoned approach that suggests proper hunger. Going 19-0 would be neat. The Krafts might even hang a banner. Sell some t-shirts. Cool.
But what we learned on the last trip to the almost-perfect season in 2007 was that the goal of perfection can become a headache that cloaks inner flaws. The Patriots we saw the second half of that season were not the same Patriots blowing the doors off competition during the first half of the season. There was a certain identity shift that suggested that New England was a team running on intimidation. And with that might have come a lack of respect for who was next in line, a dangerous train of thought when the right opponent comes in with a swagger and an idea of your foibles.
Remember quarterback Tom Brady’s reaction to Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress predicting New York would derail the perfect season with a 23-17 score in the Super Bowl?
“We’re only going to score 17 points?”
When perfection becomes the goal, not only the opportunity, there’s reason to be fearful of the outcome. Would Belichick like to become the only coach to lead his team to a 19-0 record? Of course he would. Is it something he aspires to happen one of these years? Please.
The 19-0 season is little more than a bragging right, added to a resume that already consists of enough Super Bowl titles to cement a football legacy. Secretly, it’s probably a goal that irks Belichick to his coaching core though, a mindless pursuit that proves utter dominance over everybody else on the schedule. This is a guy, remember, who gathered his defensive players with an impassioned speech on the sideline, all while his team was manhandling the Jets a few weeks back. Belichick took the opportunity to relay a coaching moment in a game that was otherwise equal to the mosquito and the windshield.
What kind of coaching moments are there to find when a team is 12-0? 14-0? 18-0?
At that point, you’re a team riding on the air of superiority, a perch from which your tentative foothold becomes a shakier proposition with each passing week.
With this loss, there’s something that Belichick can hold over his players’ heads. That’s a tough task when a team has proven itself better than everybody else.
In fact, some of the adjustments the Patriots made after getting walloped in the first quarter against the runnin’ Ravens are indicative of that to some degree. The Patriots’ defense had no answer for the speed of Jackson in the first quarter, helping Baltimore romp out to a 17-0 lead. But the Patriots recovered, and outside of Edelman’s untimely fumble, might have produced a worthy comeback.
Now they get to make those fixes over the bye week instead of on the fly. Kyle Van Noy and the rest of the self-proclaimed “boogeymen” have an extra week of crow-y nutrition to feed themselves, smacked with the realism that the Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, and Texans aren’t the same teams as the Browns and Dolphins, pathetic entities against whom nicknames should not be borne.
Halloween is over, and the universal fear of the New England Patriots has been tempered.
If the Patriots meet the Ravens in the postseason, now they know what to expect from the get-go. There’s tremendous value in Belichick being able to suggest to his players how their shortcomings led to a loss the first time around.
On that end, this was a good defeat.
Belichick knows more about his team today, and while the Ravens are celebrating their November Super Bowl, you just know he’s using it while projecting to each of the next few weeks.
You can officially consider the Patriots more dangerous now than if they were still in the hunt of some silly measure of perfection.