By Danny Cox
By the midway point of the third quarter, the New England Patriots looked as if they were on the verge of not just defeating the Ravens, but of blowing Baltimore's top-ranked defense out of the water. While the Patriots played very well, there were serious issues on special teams, and those issues almost allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens to steal one away.
At the end of the night, the Patriots held on for a 30-23 victory, but it was much closer than it should have been.
The offense looked great, even if the running game was not nearly as explosive as it has been in the past few weeks. LeGarrette Blount finished with 72 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries, but the running game was abandoned a little bit after the Ravens began their big comeback.
Tom Brady had an absolutely phenomenal game with 406 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-38 passing. He did have an interception and he was sacked once, but Brady more than made up for those missteps. James White, Julian Edelman and Martellus Bennett all had more than 70 yards receiving. Chris Hogan had his best game of the season with 129 yards on five receptions, including a 79-yard touchdown for the blow to the Ravens' chances.
The defense was after Flacco all night, sacking him twice and causing an interception (Devin McCourty). Steve Smith was the top receiver on the night for the Ravens and finished with 57 yards on four receptions. Breshad Perriman and Mike Wallace each had more than 50 yards receiving, but the latter also dropped an easy reception early on that killed a Ravens' drive.
The running game was pretty much nonexistent for the Ravens as it finished with just 42 yards on the ground. Less than five minutes into the game, the Patriots caught running back Kenneth Dixon in the end zone for a safety, and things just went downhill from there. As the Patriots piled on the score, the Ravens abandoned the run more and it led to New England's excellent coverage in the passing game.
Special Teams: D
Special teams is essentially the only reason this game was even remotely close, and it was almost the reason why the New England Patriots lost a game that was totally in their control. Cyrus Jones' punt return problems continue as he kicked a punt with his foot that led to Baltimore's first touchdown. It was a ball that he should have been nowhere near, and it could cost him a lot of playing time.
Right after Baltimore's touchdown, Matthew Slater fumbled away the kickoff, and four plays later, the Ravens had their second touchdown. It was a complete special teams debacle and the Pats almost gave away some great offensive and defensive performances due to these issues.
Ryan Allen punted the ball well on the night. Stephen Gostkowski hit all four of his extra point attempts, and that's pretty much all that salvaged special teams from an 'F' grade on Monday night.
Bill Belichick was calling a perfect game up until the issues in the third quarter, but it's hard to put that on him—or even on special teams coordinator Joe Judge. The game was going well and the New England Patriots offense was completely shredding the Baltimore's top-ranked defense, but a few small problems cropped up and that was all it took to almost cost New England the game.
Up Next: Monday's big victory makes four in a row. It moves the New England Patriots to 11-2 on the season and ties them with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in the NFL. Next week, the Pats travel to Denver to take on the Broncos, who are currently fighting for their playoff lives. Denver is going to leave everything out on the field in hopes of picking up a big win.
Right now, the Patriots have less than a week to get special teams in order and fix a lot of problems that could become much bigger issues in the postseason.
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