Head Coach John Harbaugh tabbed Monday's matchup with the New England Patriots his team's "toughest challenge."
It certainly looked that way at Gillette Stadium as the Patriots controlled much the game on their way to beating the Ravens. A pair of Patriots fumbles in the second half gave Baltimore a chance at mounting a three-touchdown comeback, but ultimately the Patriots came up with the big play late on their way to the 30-23 victory.
The loss drops the Ravens to 7-6 on the season, and moves them to second place behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) in the AFC North standings.
Baltimore was undone by a largely ineffective offense, miscues on special teams and a defense that ultimately gave up the game-winning big play at the worst time.
The Ravens fell behind 23-3 early in the third quarter, but the Patriots let them back into the game by fumbling on back-to-back returns. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco then turned those into touchdown receptions by tight end Darren Waller and running back Kenneth Dixon, and the Ravens ultimately cut the lead to 23-20 midway through the fourth quarter.
But then the Patriots struck with the dreaded big play.
New England quarterback Tom Brady connected with wide receiver Chris Hogan for a 79-yard touchdown pass right down the middle of the field. Safety Matt Elam, who replaced injured defense Jerraud Powers (concussion) in the second half, was lined up across from Hogan and slipped off the snap. There was no help over the top.
Harbaugh specifically said after the game that Hogan was not Elam's responsibility.
"That wasn't Matt Elam's play to make in coverage, before we start pointing fingers," Harbaugh said.
That touchdown put the Ravens down 30-20, and they couldn't overcome the two-score deficit. Baltimore added a field goal, but the ensuing onside kick attempt failed and the Patriots ran out the clock for the win.
The loss is disappointing for the Ravens, and the offensive issues that have plagued them for much of the season crept up again.
After his best game of the season last week against the Miami Dolphins, Flacco looked completely different in New England. He never seemed truly comfortable in the pocket as the Patriots threw a variety of pre-snap disguises at him, and he finished the night 37-of-52 for 324 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Both of his touchdowns came on short fields after the Patriots'fumbles.
Baltimore's defense, which came into the game ranked No. 1 in the NFL, allowed 496 total yards.
- Powers left the game with a concussion in the second half, and Elam replaced him in the lineup. Soon after the injury to Powers, Brady connected with Hogan for a 79-yard touchdown to put New England up 30-20 and essentially seal the game.
- Wide receiver Breshad Perriman came up with a 47-yard catch between a pair of defenders midway through the fourth quarter. The connection set up a 38-yard field goal by Justin Tucker that made the score 23-20.
- The Ravens got a couple gifts from Patriots punt returner Cyrus Jones and kickoff returner Matthew Slater midway through the third quarter. Jones allowed a punt to bounce off his foot that Ravens gunner Chris Moore jumped on at the Patriots' 3-yard line. The Ravens capitalized with a touchdown pass to Waller two plays later, making the score 23-10. On the ensuing kickoff, Slater fumbled and the Ravens turned that into a touchdown a few plays later with a pass to Dixon.
- The Ravens went three-and-out to start the third quarter, but the Patriots subsequently marched down the field before Brady hit tight end Martellus Bennett for a 19-yard touchdown to go up 23-3.
- In a potentially season-altering play, top cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered an ankle injury late in the first quarter making a goal-line tackle. Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount then plunged into the end zone on the next play to give New England a 9-0 lead.
- Safety Eric Weddle did his part to try to help the Ravens mount a comeback. With the Patriots up 16-0 in the second quarter, he gave the Ravens a jolt of energy by picking off Brady in the end zone. The Ravens ended up getting a field goal before halftime to cut the lead to 16-3.
- Tucker's streak of 35 straight field goals came to an end on a 35-yard attempt in the first quarter when linebacker Shea McClellin hopped over long snapper Morgan Cox to get into the backfield and block the kick.
- New England got on the board first with a safety that was set up by a miscue from returner Devin Hester. The veteran return man opted not to catch a punt, which then bounced back to Baltimore's 1-yard line. The Patriots then stuffed Dixon for a safety on the next play.
Standout Player of the Game
The Patriots quarterback had his way with Baltimore's No. 1-ranked defense for much of the game. He put up three touchdowns and 406 passing yards, including the big play late in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
On the Horizon
The loss is certainly deflating, but it doesn't damage the Ravens much in the AFC North race. Even though the Steelers (8-5) now sit alone atop the division, the Ravens still control their own destiny with three games left in the regular season. The Ravens will win the division if they win those last three games, and they are also just a game back in the wild-card race. Next up is a meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium – the final home game of the regular season – before the Christmas day showdown in Pittsburgh.