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While the Ravens could have tightened their grip on the AFC with a win against the New England Patriots, a 23-20 overtime loss kept them back in the pack of playoff hunters.
Patriots kicker Stephen Goskowski connected on a 35-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining in the extra period to send the Ravens to 4-2 on the season.
Baltimore already boasted road wins against the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the NFL's elite clubs. A victory over New England (5-1) would have put them in the driver's seat.
What stings the Ravens is that they built a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and had four chances to win - including three in overtime - even after the Patriots tied it at 20. Joe Flacco threw touchdowns of 16 and 25 yards to Todd Heap and Anquan Boldin in the first half. When the offense sputtered in the fourth quarter, a field goal was all Baltimore could muster.
The Ravens needed any type of score in crunch time, but they were shut down late in the game.
"We had opportunities to do what we needed to do and be physical with them and go down and win the game. We didn't do it," said Flacco, who completed 27 of 35 passes for 285 yards. "[We] came close a couple of times, scoring a touchdown maybe would have helped us on that last scoring drive, rather than having to kick the field goal.
"You never know, the game played out and they did a good job and hung in there and kind of outlasted us today."
Much like their 2009 playoff win at Gillette Stadium, the Ravens' offense set the tone early, marching 81 yards on 15 plays in 8:32. But Derrick Mason cut his route 2 yards short and fell shy of the first-down marker, bringing in Billy Cundiff for a field goal.
The Patriots responded with some big plays of their own. A 31-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez and a 22-yard reverse by Brandon Tate helped set up running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' touchdown plunge. The 2-yard run gave New England a 7-3 advantage.
Flacco was then aided by an 18-yard pass interference call on Patriots rookie Devin McCourty to jump-start the Heap touchdown drive. Then a Chris Carr interception of Tom Brady put the Ravens immediately within range of Boldin's big catch.
Much of that positive momentum was lost when Baltimore went three-and-out on three of their final four drives. But Flacco didn't think a Patriots' adjustment was the reason for the stalled offensive performance.
"I think they were doing the same things against us in the second half as they did in the first half," Flacco said. "We didn't take advantage. We had multiple opportunities and just didn't do a good enough job."
Baltimore took over the knotted contest with 1:51 left in regulation and managed four yards on three plays to Ray Rice, well out of field goal range.
After winning the coin toss to start overtime, they went back to Rice on the opening drive, but stalled out this time when Flacco couldn't find anyone open on third-and-5 and had to throw the ball out of bounds.
The Ravens would have had great starting field position on the next possession, but a block in the back by cornerback Cary Williams cost 10 yards. Baltimore got into Patriots territory but stalled at the 48 when a pass to Todd Heap went incomplete.
Following a career-best 65-yard punt by New England's Zoltan Mesko, Baltimore's last attempt was marred by a 15-yard personal foul by fullback Le'Ron McClain, who shoved linebacker Jermaine Cunningham after the play.
The offensive troubles were puzzling considering how prolific Flacco and Co. were through the first three quarters.
Heading into the fourth period, Flacco had completed 20 of 23 passes for 226 yards and two scores. In three quarters, Mason had six catches for 79 yards, while Heap and Boldin owned four grabs apiece for at least 45 yards.
In the fourth and overtime combined, Flacco only connected on seven of 12 attempts, and Rice (28 carries, 88 yards) was largely stonewalled.
"I think they covered us really well," said Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. "They just did a nice job of covering us there. I'll have to look at the tape to see if [Joe] could have looked somewhere else at some point in time or what his decision making process was.
"Give them credit, they played really well on both sides, and obviously they played a little better than us in the fourth quarter and overtime. That was the difference in the game."
Baltimore's defense, which uncharacteristically surrendered the lead with a fourth-quarter advantage, held the Patriots at the very end of regulation and twice in overtime but faltered on the final drive.
Stepping in for Randy Moss, Deion Branch (nine catches, 98 yards, one touchdown) split a zone for a gain of 23 yards to put the Patriots in Ravens territory during overtime. He then caught a 10-yard pass that set up Stephen Gostkowski's clinching field goal.
Before breaking on that final drive, the Ravens had forced a trio of three-and-outs.
"We knew how tough it was going to be here," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "We made plays, they made plays. We go in there, get them off the field. Any time you do that in a road stadium, you have to come away with a win."
With the 0-5 Buffalo Bills up next on their schedule, a win next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium would then keep the Ravens on track heading into their bye.
"I think we will grow from it," Flacco said. "We will get better each week. We have a big game against Buffalo next week before we go to our bye, and it's going to be huge to go back home and get that win. We get that win, we go to 5-2 and we are feeling pretty good about where we are. We just have to take care of business and go do that."