Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday night at Gillette Stadium:
The Ravens were favored by almost a touchdown, but it was hard to imagine a trip to New England as an easy task, and sure enough, a nightmare unfolded on a rainy night fit for ghosts. The Ravens lost a game, lost key players to injuries and lost more ground in the AFC North. The offense moved the ball but was prone to key mistakes that halted drives and took points off the board. The defense, beset with injuries up front, struggled to contain the Patriots' bruising attack. There was a moment when it appeared the Patriots would win in a rout, and the Ravens, to their credit, hung tough and gave themselves a shot to win late. But they couldn't take advantage of several opportunities, and fittingly, the game ended with a dropped pass in the midst of a downpour. A three-game divisional deficit means the Ravens likely will need a wild card ticket to the playoffs if they make it, but as their injuries mount, they have other issues to sort out first. "A lot guys are going to have to step up. We're going to find out about ourselves," receiver Willie Snead IV said.
Although it was tough blow for the offense when All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley was carted off the field with a season-ending ankle injury two weeks ago, the Ravens figured they could still keep doing what they're doing on that side of the ball. But they're going to be scrambling now after rugged tight end Nick Boyle went down with a knee injury Sunday night and joined Stanley on the list of Ravens who are out for the season. Boyle, with his innate toughness, sets the tone for how the Ravens want to play football, and he might be the most essential piece of the blocking scheme that fuels the running game. His subtraction couldn't be more ill-timed with Stanley already out and the rest of the line struggling and constantly in flux. Things were so tough Sunday night that the Ravens made a change at halftime, putting tackle D.J. Fluker on the bench and bringing in Ben Powers to play guard. The Ravens wound up with 115 rushing yards, but Lamar Jackson's scrambles made a rough night on the ground look decent. The Ravens gained more than twice as much yardage in the air. With Stanley and now Boyle out, I'm guessing the offense is looking at itself in the mirror asking, "OK, what's going to work for us going forward?"
An ankle injury that sidelined nose tackle Brandon Williams early in the game was doubly troubling on a night when the Ravens were already without their Pro Bowl defensive tackle, Calais Campbell, who was sidelined by a calf injury. Suddenly, the Ravens were missing the bulk of their run defense, and no surprise, it was a major issue against a team with a ground-oriented offense and one of the league's top offensive lines. The Patriots pummeled the Ravens on the ground as rookie Damien Harris rushed for 121 yards and the Patriots gained 173 yards overall. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh didn't mince words when asked about the between-the-tackle runs that consistently picked up yardage. "Those are just plays where we have to play better," he said. The good news was the defensive interior did up its game in the final 20 minutes, making stops and giving the offense a chance to rally as veteran Derek Wolfe led the way. But it was rookies and backups otherwise, and while they played hard, they generally had a tough time. It's especially a concern with the Tennessee Titans and powerful running back Derrick Henry coming to Baltimore Sunday.
The Ravens failed to score 20 points in a game for the first time since Lamar Jackson became their starting quarterback two years ago, but they easily could have surpassed 20 if not for a multitude of self-inflicted wounds on offense. They dropped several passes and committed key penalties. Jackson forced a pass to a covered Hollywood Brown and was intercepted just before halftime, possibly taking points off the board. But the most damaging wounds, no question, were center Matt Skura's errant snaps. One wrecked a fourth-and-1 gamble in the third quarter. Another sailed past Jackson and forced the Ravens to abort what could have been a winning drive late in the fourth quarter. There were others, as Jackson constantly had to adjust to off-target snaps. Harbaugh was quick to defend Skura. "The balls were wet. The rain was coming down really hard," Harbaugh said. But he also said the weather shouldn't be used as an excuse. The reality is Skura also struggled with his snaps a week earlier against the Colts, and whatever the issue is, it can't continue, period.
Short takes: The Patriots' gadget play didn't fool the Ravens' defense in the least, but running back Rex Burkhead still caught receiver Jakobi Meyers' pass for a touchdown in the second quarter … My vote for worst call of the night was the spot that gave the Patriots a first down deep in their own territory as the Ravens tried to rally in the fourth quarter. It appeared Cam Newton was well short of the line … Remember, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman was praised when he called for a snap to Mark Ingram in the Wildcat formation on a fourth-and-1 play in Houston in Week 2, and Ingram ran 30 yards for a touchdown. An errant snap wrecked the same call in the same situation Sunday night. That outcome guarantees criticism, but I have more problems with the execution than the call … The road defeat was the first for the Ravens since Week 3 in 2019, snapping a streak of 10 games. The Ravens defense also had its streak of 21 straight games with a turnover ended.