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Patriots vs. Ravens: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Rob Carr

By now, it's no secret whatsoever that Bill Belichick is not a fan of sports media. If he weren't contractually obligated to give interviews and press conferences, I don't think any of us would ever even see him outside of on the sidelines on Sundays. Reporters love to bash his prickliness and use him as the ultimate example of how not to deal with the media, and Belichick could care less.

And while I agree that, for the most part, Belichick could give two bogus PI flags about what anybody says about him, there is also a part of me that thinks that he takes no small amount of joy in making his detractors look like absolute fools. In a week which saw pretty much everyone pick the Baltimore Ravens to win the game, the New England Patriots came out and absolutely curbstomped Baltimore at home to put themselves right in line for a first round bye. I'd bet if you walked into the New England locker room right before this game, you would have seen this picture, blown up to about 10'x10', and seen Belichick simply glaring at it with his arms crossed.

Bottom line, that game was a blowout. Even before the two garbage time TDs to end it, at no point were the Ravens a real threat to come back and the Patriots put together their most complete game of the year. And that they did it on the road at Baltimore against a team that desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. That's the kind of game I needed to get my Christmas week off on the right foot.

  • I was having a discussion with a Ravens fan friend of mine before this game, and he was fairly adamant that Baltimore is one of the storied franchises of the NFL and a pillar upon which this great league of ours has been built. I kindly reminded him that the Ravens eere the Cleveland Browns until 1996. The Colts got the hell out of that city in the middle of the night in 1984, and then Art Modell decided to move the Browns to Baltimore because of all the revenue he was losing to the Cleveland Indians. Do Ravens fans in general claim Cleveland's history as their own? Do they not consider the Ravens a new franchise? I mean I get the connection, but at the end of the day Cleveland is Cleveland and Baltimore is Baltimore and the Jaguars have been around longer than the Ravens have.
  • Do you think that NFL players get to approve their starting lineup head shots? Or do you think it's like drivers license photos, where you only get one shot and you just have to hope it works? Some of those guys look like they have been caught mid-blink.
  • Baltimore's primary defensive gameplan, on paper, was a good one: no receivers command double coverage, the offensive line is patchwork, both of New England's tight ends are almost exclusively of the blocking variety, and the running game is inconsistent. Thus, loading a safety into the box, playing man on the outside, and sending an extra rusher seems to be a solid way to stop the offense. However, the O line had a great game overall, keeping Tommy B upright and pressure free for most of the contest, and both Blount and Ridley overpowered the weakened Ravens front four. Amendola and Edelman controlled the middle of the field, and the presence of Aaron Dobson forced the secondary to at least respect the deep ball.
  • For all you philosophers out there, I have a new riddle for you: when a really bad run offense goes up against a really bad run defense, does anyone care?
  • Jim Nantz on Joe Flacco's first throw downfield: "Do you think that is un-Flacco like, that throw you just saw?" A deep, underthrown pass down the sideline that Torrey Smith has to adjust for in order to make a huge play? I think that's about the Flacco-iest throw you can possibly make.
  • What I really liked about New England's playcalling to open up the game is their committment to the run. In games past, after a few rushing first downs, that was kind of it.
  • But one thing I'll likely never understand is exactly how the Patriots decide to delegate touches for the backfield. LeGarrette Blount was on fire to start the game, averaging almost 6 yards per carry - so the Patriots decided to swap him out with Shane Vereen. I can certainly appreciate keeping the backs fresh and keeping the defense guessing, but when something is working really well, why deviate?
  • Miami was able to render Vereen ineffective last week when he motioned out of the backfield because they were able to keep a cornerback matched up on him at almost all times. Baltimore was unable to do that yesterday, due to both injury and the return of Dobson. As a result, he hauled in a TD grab and was open for most of the time he was on the field.
  • And then he pulled up on a go route and nobody saw him for the rest of the day. Now there was once a time when losing Shane Vereen would have upset. There was once a time when seeing him go down would leave a pit in my stomach and have me cursing to the heavens. This year, though? I was just thankful his injury didn't require a cart. In 2013, if the player walks to the locker room by himself, I consider that a win.
  • We really do need him back, though; Shane Vereen motioning out of the backfield has to be one of the biggest mismatches in the NFL. Unless you want to assign a DB on him from the outset, odds are there are going to be some problems covering him.
  • Something really, really needs to be done about Pass Interference this offseason. The most inconsistent, subjective, impossible to figure out penalty is also the one that has the most impact on football games. Why don't we just make it 15 yards all across the board and reserve spot fouls for when the penalty is flagrant? It isn't all that hard.
  • Did...did Dont'a Hightower make a play in coverage? Did that actually happen? I mean sure, an easy pick bounced right off his hands, but the fact that he was even within 75 yards of a ball thrown his way is absolutely something to be celebrated.
  • How many times this year have the Patriots had a player dead to rights in the backfield only to have him make a bunch of crazy cuts and turn the play into positive yards?
  • Did Flacco hurt his knee? Is it possibly affecting his mobility and throwing mechanics? I couldn't tell, Simms was being pretty cryptic yesterday.
  • "If DBs could catch, they'd be wide receivers." Eh? Eh, McCourty?
  • About halfway through the 2nd quarter, CBS zeroed in on a closeup of Logan Mankins trying desperately to squeeze his beard under his chin strap. I imagine that Zach Galifianakis has the same problem every time he puts on his underwear.
  • There's always one schlub every year, in every stadium, that dresses up as Santa Claus on the weekend before Christmas. And every year, the camera finds him so the announcers can all say something along the lines of "glad to see that Santa could take time out of his busy schedule to be here for this game." It has become as much a part of my Christmas experience as watching 24 straight hours of A Christmas Story on TBS.
  • Steve Gregory needs to learn how to tackle. If he's going to harness his inner Merriweather and take bad angles, the least he could do is delver some hits how and then.
  • The way the Patriots generated pressure yesterday was very straightforward: rush four, occasionally five, overpower the offensive line, and muscle your way towards the sack. That kind of pass rush is only effective if coverage is solid, so that's a credit to this banged up secondary for taking away the big plays.
  • Along those lines, yesterday was one of the best and most complete defensive performances we've seen all year. Granted, it came against a fairly weak Ravens offense, but all three levels of the defense did its job and forced Flacco to make plays that didn't consist of long balls.
  • I wonder if, before every game, Julian Edelman comes out onto the field and finds a little spot in both end zones. Then, after he finds them, he says, "yup, that's it. That's exactly where I'm going to stare for a few seconds every time I catch the ball. If I walk forward a few paces while I do it as well, it might make me look more intimidating." Hey, whatever works, little buddy. Whatever works.
  • "Ron Winter's microphone is working at about the same efficiency as Joe Flacco's passing today." Nice burn, Nantz. Nice burn.
  • The last two minutes of the first half of this game has to rank up there as one of the worst stretches of professional football in the last 20 years. I felt like I was watching the end of an NBA game; two minutes ended up taking 20 with fouls every two seconds and absolutely nothing exciting happening.
  • Aaaaaand McCourty is down. Anyone have Antwaun Molden's number? Can we take Adrian Wilson off IR? Anyone reading this right now have any safety experience?
  • I'm not overly worried about McCourty - he's tough as nails and will definitely be back in time for the playoffs, if not sooner - but this is just getting absurd.
  • That Flacco went for a pass on 4th and 2 against this New England run defense says everything you need to know about the state of Baltimore's rushing game.
  • And his decision making on that pass, I think, is very indicative of the style of play Flacco prefers. He had a tight end open short, but since he only throws to running backs short he needed to go for the sideline into double coverage instead.
  • One area where I do have some criticism in what was an otherwise very good New England day was early in the 4th when the Pats were unable to generate a first down after Baltimore scored and got some much needed momentum back. It all ended up working out, but a 3 and out in situations like that isn't the kind of thing you want to see.
  • Logan Ryan is having himself a 2011 Kyle Arrington season. Just happens to be right around the ball and takes advantage of some bounces that go his way. Good thing Ryan was there on his second pick, too, as Hightower slipped and fell in coverage against Pitta and that could have been a big gain.
  • Hightower on Pitta is a borderline embarrassing mismatch. That said, Hightower had his most complete game as a Patriot yesterday. Made a play in coverage, blew up the line of scrimmage a few times, and had a solid overall performance. I'm not going to say he turned a corner, but as one of the most vocal members of the "Hightower sucks this year" committee, I have to give credit where credit is due.
  • Dennis Pitta's hair has volume for days. Pantene, get that man an endorsement deal.
  • Julian Edelman will have more catches than Wes Welker this season. Something to think about.
  • Bob Kraft once again chilling in the owner's box surrounded by women. God bless that man.
  • Why is this defense so completely, utterly helpless against screen plays?
  • I can't tell if New England makes opposing QBs appear more mobile than they really are or if Tommy B is just so incredibly immobile that other quarterbacks always look fast by comparison.
  • I say this every Pats/Ravens matchup, so I don't want to break tradition; Ray Rice looks a whole lot like Gary Coleman. That I was able to make the annual comparison this year as Rice was having a heated exchange with John Harbaugh after failing to pick up a single yard on 4th and 1 makes it that much more enjoyable.
  • More than once Tommy B threw the ball short and in the dirt in front of open receivers. There wasn't a lot of pressure on those miscues, either. While that's certainly concerning, in this particular context I'm actually glad it happened. What we have here is a game in which Brady didn't play exceptionally well. He didn't have a bad day by any means, but his stat line was unspectacular and he missed a few guys he should have hit. That the running game and the defense can step it up (albeit against a struggling offense) and make plays when Brady isn't perfect is exactly what we need to see from this team if New England wants to have any real hope of making a deep playoff run.
  • I'm glad it wasn't a penalty...but defensive linemen have been flagged for much lighter blows to the head than the open-palmed slap that Terrell Suggs laid on Tom Brady on his sack. Again, all I'm looking for is some consistency.
  • Also, had the Ravens won - or maybe even lost by less than 34 - we would be hearing about that sack from Suggs all week. But it's kind of hard to flap your lips when you get blown out at home like that.
  • I feel like I have seen that Justin Tucker field goal somewhere before...short range, in Baltimore, sails right over the outside of the pole. Only I remember that kick being ruled as good last year.
  • What's a massive relief this year is compared to last in that I felt pretty confident going into the 4th quarter that a 20 point lead was enough to win the game. Last year, blowing the lead was something of a trend and literally no amount of points was enough to allow anyone to feel comfortable.
  • And while Baltimore only really had one strong offensive drive all day, and it was a drive that was aided by yet another questionable PI call to add to the dozens we have seen all around the league this season, that one drive was also a reason not to be celebrating too hard today. The Ravens started at their own 10 yard line and at one point were facing a 3rd and 12. That drive ended in a touchdown as Baltimore went 90 yards on 9 plays in less than three minutes. No bueno.
  • But on the plus side, that Baltimore drive didn't seen any screen passes that went for 25 yards. So there's that.
  • New England's final offensive scoring drive was the definition of imposing their will. Running the ball without pretense or apology, and Baltimore was completely helpless to do anything about it. Miami in 2012 all over again.
  • The entire special teams unit, led by punter Ryan Allen, deserves a ton of credit for their performance yesterday. Other than one shanked punt that gave the Ravens the ball at their own 35, they were constantly pinned deep and dangerous return man Jacoby Jones wasn't able to get anything going. Its games like this one that make you appreciate just how important Matthew Slater is to this team.
  • Good Lord Flacco loves to throw it down the sideline.
  • Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins teamed up for a huge defensive stop to help ice the game. I really, really hope I get to write that a lot over the coming years.
  • Giving it to Ridley over Blount when the Pats were in clock kill mode shows a lot of confidence in his ball security. I, however, did not share that confidence.
  • Having said that, Ridley ran the way he was supposed to run all year on that final drive. Kept the legs moving, ground it out, fought for extra yardage, and followed his blocks. Had he done that all year, I just might have won a few more fantasy games. And watching Ridley cling desperately to that ball long after the play was over made me very happy. I was kind of hoping the ref would have to forcibly wrestle it out of his hands while Ridley kicked and screamed.
  • Watching the Ravens looking all kinds of dejected as New England crammed the ball right down their throat also made me happy. I honestly don't know what made me do a bigger air hump - the Blount touchdown or the Ray Lewis dance right on the Ravens' logo in the end zone.
  • Man oh man do I hope Suggs has something to say about that. To hear him talk about being respectful and not gloating, showboating, or rubbing it in would really put a nice cap on my year.
  • And furthermore, to those who say that I would be singing a different tune were the shoe on the other foot, I should remind those people that nobody on the Patriots has a long, elaborate, overrated dance to make fun of. I don't think that kind of thing would fly in New England; I'm amazed that Belichick is even OK with a Gronkspike.
  • Then again, it's also quite possible that Belichick tells Gronk not to spike it before every game, but by the time his first touchdown rolls around, he has completely forgotten about it.
  • AAAAAHAHAHAHAHA! That game couldn't have ended any better. A botched snap for a touchdown followed by a 76 yard interception return for a touchdown. Tommy B was loving it.
  • And to everyone who thinks that Brady hasn't been getting any love this season in the high five department, I implore you: open your eyes. You think that Brady is getting left hanging by accident? Tommy Freaking B? No. No way. It's all part of Brady's plan to leave yet another legacy behind in the world of professional sports. I mean seriously: how long has the high five been around as a symbol of celebration? Far too long, I say. The new standard going forward will soon be just walking around looking for a high five and getting none, and when it's a nationwide craze in five years, we'll all know where it came from.
  • The last thing I saw before CBS changed the game over to the Packer/Steelers matchup was Joe Flacco looking really bummed out. And that's as good a place to end as any.
Monster, MONSTER win yesterday. All New England has to do now is win at home against a Bills team with a shaky QB situation to lock up a 1st round bye. Buffalo is going to be no pushover; they run the ball extremely well and have a very solid defense. Still, I like our odds.

Happy Holidays, everyone.