Five thoughts on the Ravens' 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots Monday night at Gillette Stadium:
Patriots Gave Ravens New Life, But Baltimore Wasn't Nearly Good Enough
So here's the short version. The Patriots came out humming and blew away the Ravens. Knocked them out and put them away. Led by 20 points in the third quarter. See you later. Safe travels. But in a twist no one envisioned, the Patriots then gave the Ravens life with two special teams turnovers. Out of nowhere, they started kicking the ball around, and a game broke out. The Ravens took advantage, scored a pair of touchdowns. Suddenly, they were awake, alive, down by just three points in the fourth quarter, a memorable comeback victory within reach. But they had fallen far behind for a reason. They were not the better team on this night. Their top-ranked defense had been pushed around for much of the game by New England's offense, and Baltimore's offense had been as flat as it was sharp against Miami the week before. Those realities remained in play and the Ravens couldn't complete the comeback. Their defense surrendered a huge play. Their offense settled for field goals rather than touchdowns on two late drives. That's a classic recipe for losing a game like this. The Ravens deserve credit for turning the rout into a game, but they didn't play well enough to win – not nearly well enough, honestly.
**The Play That Broke Ravens' Back
One play broke their backs. The 20-point lead was down to three with seven minutes to play. Gillette Stadium, once rowdy, had gone quiet. If the Ravens defense could make a stop, their offense would have a chance to take the lead and complete the comeback. But instead of stepping up, the defense succumbed on first down, giving up a 79-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to receiver Chris Hogan, who could not have been more open running behind the secondary. What happened for Hogan to get so open? It appeared Matt Elam had erred, for the reserve safety – on the field because of injuries to others – had lined up opposite Hogan. But Harbaugh said the mistake wasn't Elam's, and indeed, safety Eric Weddle took the blame in the locker room. "I should have been there," Weddle said. He said he expected the Patriots to run a play-action fake on first down, "and I told everyone to expect it," he said. Well, Brady did just that, faked a handoff, but still, Hogan ran free and caught the pass that sealed the Ravens' fate. "The difference in the game," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "They defended the big plays and we didn't."
Ravens Failed To Maintain Offensive Momentum Gained Against Dolphins
The Ravens had hoped their offense would continue what it started a week earlier when it piled up 38 points against Miami, but this night's offense bore little resemblance to that one. Yes, a night game in New England is a far tougher challenge than a home game against the Dolphins. And yes, the numbers ended up looking decent on paper, with quarterback Joe Flacco setting a franchise record for completions in a game. But even though the offense moved the chains, put up points and took advantage of some opportunities, it was never crisp. The pop-pop rhythm that overwhelmed Miami never materialized. Flacco often looked uncomfortable, threw off his back foot and checked down on plays when the team needed bigger gains. The Patriots are notorious for taking away weapons, and on this night, they took away the middle and deep passing games by flooding those zones with defenders and limiting how many men they rushed. Even then, the Ravens mounted scoring chances, but resurrecting a bugaboo from earlier in the season, they failed to finish drives, settling for three points too often.
Don't Blame All Defense's Struggles On Losing Smith
It was a rough night for the Ravens defense, which entered the game ranked No. 1 in the league but gave up more than 400 passing yards to Brady. Part of the letdown was attributable to injuries, as cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Jerraud Powers both left the game early, Smith with an ankle sprain that might be serious, Powers with a concussion. The Ravens have learned the hard way in 2016 that they're vulnerable without Smith, who has suffered three injuries. Every time he goes out, things fall apart. Actually, the defense pulled itself together for awhile in the second half Monday night, but then it gave up the big play. But please, let's not point to injuries as the sole reason for what unfolded. Brady was brilliant all night. It didn't matter that his favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, was out. At age 39, Brady was on target and clutch. The Ravens have used pressure to disrupt his rhythm before, but there wasn't enough of a sustained rush Monday night. That's a disaster waiting to
The record will show that Justin Tucker missed his first field-goal attempt of 2016 after converting all 28 previous attempts this season. But he didn't miss. The Patriots' Shea McClellin leapt over center at the snap and easily smothered a 34-yard attempt. Tucker was so rattled he nailed a 50-yarder later in the second quarter for his ninth straight success from 50 or more yards … The Ravens can't be happy with returner Devin Hester's failure to field a punt at his 10 in the first quarter, resulting in terrible field position, which led to a safety for the Patriots … I'm no conspiracy theorist, but it's pretty nuts that the Ravens have played a dozen games on Monday Night Football under Harbaugh and all but one of those 12 games has been on the road … The loss dropped the Ravens into second place in the AFC North, but they still control their playoff destiny. If they win their last three games, they win the division.
Check out all the best photos from Foxborough as the Ravens battle the Patriots on Monday Night Football.