Baltimore's defense kept delivering big plays Sunday night, more than the New England Patriots could overcome.
Playmakers like Patrick Onwuasor and Earl Thomas created turnovers. Marlon Humphrey had another scoop-and-score. The pass rush led by Matthew Judon was relentless, hitting Tom Brady nearly a dozen times.
This was the Ravens' signature defensive effort of the season, exactly what they needed to beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots, 37-20, on an electric night at M&T Bank Stadium.
It was fitting that former Ravens great Ed Reed was honored at halftime during his Hall of Fame ring ceremony. Playing with passion and energy, the Ravens' defense took center stage early and refused to let Brady steal the show.
"The atmosphere tonight was great," said Thomas, whose fourth-quarter interception helped seal the win. "Coming out of the tunnel, you see Ed Reed. You see Ray (Lewis) out there in his gold jacket. You see (Ravens Executive Vice President) Ozzie (Newsome) in his gold jacket. Tonight was a special night."
The defensive effort helped make it special. Thomas' second interception of the season came in the fourth quarter, with Baltimore protecting a 10-point lead, after New England had driven into Baltimore territory.
On third-and-10 from Baltimore's 48-yard line, Brady was forced to throw under duress with Judon closing in for a potential sack. Brady launched a deep pass intended for Mohamed Sanu, but Thomas made a leaping grab at the 8-yard line, then returned the interception 24 yards, setting the Ravens up to begin their final touchdown drive.
Asked how it felt to intercept the "G.O.A.T.," Thomas gave a golden answer that illustrates his confidence and bluntness.
"It's not my first time," Thomas said, drawing laughter from the media.
Spoken like a six-time Pro Bowler.
While Thomas has brought a brashness to the Ravens' secondary, the return of Onwuasor after a two-game absence with a sprained ankle created a spark. Early in the game, Onwuasor helped set the tone by sacking Brady. Then in the third quarter, after New England had cut a 17-0 deficit to 17-13, Onwuasor made a game-changing play. After Brady completed a pass to Julian Edelman, Onwuasor stripped the ball away as he was making the tackle. Humphrey scooped up Edelman's fumble and raced 70 yards for the touchdown, the longest returned fumble in Ravens history.
It was Humphrey's second touchdown in two games, as he continues to play cornerback at a Pro Bowl level. Meanwhile, the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith after a six-game absence was a boost to Baltimore's secondary, while Onwuasor's presence at inside linebacker made the defense more opportunistic and intense.
"He was stalking around looking at me, and he was proud of the way he played," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "It was the first time he's been healthy to play since he hurt the ankle. He played just the way you'd expect him to play. He played at a very high level."
Judon did as well. The Ravens only sacked Brady twice, but they had 10 quarterback hits and Judon led the way with four. The Patriots used a no-huddle offense almost exclusively, and the pace of their play presented a major challenge. There were times during the second and third quarters when Baltimore's defense was obviously fatigued, but the Ravens refused to give in. There were few missed tackles and no major mistakes in pass coverage.
Baltimore's defense struggled early this season, giving up more than 500 yards in back-to-back losses to Kansas City and Cleveland. However, those problems have been addressed and the play has improved. New additions like cornerback Marcus Peters, and linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have helped. But collectively, the Ravens have become more cohesive defensively.
"After we lost that game to the Browns, it was like a time of reflection for us," Humphrey said. "We had to figure out what we needed to do to get better. Yes, we got some new people and since then we've been looking alright. And then with our guys coming back tonight it makes us look even better."
Where the defense goes from here remains to be seen, but the unit is trending upward with the Ravens (6-2) riding a four-game winning streak. Heading into the game, New England's defense was getting the most attention. But during the game, Baltimore's defense took the spotlight.
"They (the Patriots) did a really good job with the no-huddle stuff," Harbaugh said. "Nobody operates that better than Tom Brady. I just felt like our guys kept their composure. The composure of a young football team in this setting in that situation against that team was very impressive."