Monday Night Football at Gillette Stadium would not be finalized by miscues, or a lead that shriveled from 20 points to three.
It would be finalized by a New England Patriots team that held on to win the type of game they’d grown accustomed to playing against the Baltimore Ravens – an ugly one.
Points proved elusive early. The Patriots’ offense fought through to get them after beginning things with three punts in a row, then scoring 16 unanswered with the help of a safety from the defense.
Only the most impactful moments still loomed on what was a 30-degree night in Foxborough. A goal-line interception in the second quarter would keep the Ravens within reach. Fumbles on consecutive Patriots returns in the third quarter would pull them even closer.
But by the time a fourth-and-1 was forged into a battering first-down run in the closing seconds, New England had outlasted their formidable foe for a 30-23 victory.
Here’s a closer look at the numbers that went into it.
Kenneth Dixon was called upon for the Ravens’ first rushing attempt of the game. It arrived at Baltimore’s own one-yard line on the first play of the offense’s second series. And it ended deep in their own end zone as Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown wrapped up the rookie running back for a safety. It stood as the third safety New England has forced this season. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower logged the first two.
LeGarrette Blount checked in with a lead-leading 13 rushing touchdowns to his name. And before the first quarter was over, the 6-foot, 250-pound Patriots running back would have another. Blount rumbled through from a yard out to tie Hall of Famer Curtis Martin’s franchise record of 14, which was reached in during both 1995 and 1996 seasons.
Entering Monday, Blount stood 43 yards away from his second 1,000-yard season and first since he finished with 1,007 as a Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie in 2010. Hours later, the 30-year-old found himself with 1,029 on the campaign. Blount gained a total of 72 yards on 18 carries versus Baltimore, and is now the first Patriots back to surpass 1,000 since Stevan Ridley in 2012.
While the Patriots looked to move ground early, the Ravens put their priorities elsewhere. That gave way to a stark contrast in the first half, as Baltimore handed the ball off only four times for seven yards and the aforementioned safety while New England did so 16 times for 65 yards and the aforementioned TD.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had made each of his last 35 field-goal attempts before he filed on to try a 34-yarder midway through the first quarter. The streak would end there, as Patriots linebacker Shea McClellin timed the long-snapper leap and crashed into the ball as it left Tucker’s foot. For McClellin, it marked the second time he’d had a hand in a miss this year.
Sept. 27, 2015 was the last time Devin McCourty had intercepted a pass. But on a deep ball in intended for Ravens speedster Mike Wallace in the second quarter, New England’s free safety would pluck his first pick in 442 days. It was the 19th interception notched by McCourty in his regular-season career.
It appeared as though the ailments had begun to cut into Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett’s performance in recent weeks. He had combined to post only 40 receiving yards over the last three games leading up to Monday night. But Bennett would avert the trend versus the Ravens, netting 30 more receiving yards than he had over that span on four grabs. And on one of them, a fade route from the slot, he retrieved his first touchdown since Week 5.
With a three-catch, 81-yard showing versus the Ravens, James White set a new career-best by eclipsing his 410 receiving yards from a season ago. The New England passing back now has 474 yards via air on the year to go with four touchdowns on 50 catches.
It was only a few weeks ago that Rob Gronkowski became the sixth player in Patriots history to go over 400 career receptions for his career. Yet on Monday, wideout Julian Edelman moved ahead of the tight end, reeling in seven en route to landing No. 6 on the franchise’s all-time list with 406 catches. Edelman now stands behind only Kevin Faulk, Ben Coates, Stanley Morgan, Troy Brown and Wes Welker in New England’s pass-catching archives.
Eighteen seconds ticked off the clock in the midst of the third quarter. In that span, two turnovers would shift a 23-3 game into a 23-17 one. Patriots rookie Cyrus Jones entertained a rolling punt he should have ran away from, only to see it graze off his foot and be recovered by Ravens gunner Chris Moore at the New England three-yard line. And after the muffed return catalyzed a Baltimore touchdown strike, lighting struck twice as Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater had the football jarred out of his grasp on the ensuing return. Another touchdown would follow.
The Ravens would edge to within three points following a field goal with under seven minutes to go. But the Patriots needed only one play to push back. Down the seam ran wideout Chris Hogan, bursting by the coverage of safety Matt Elam for 79 yards and a touchdown. It’d be the longest reception of Hogan’s career, and it’d be the final points New England needed to keep the Ravens at bay.
Baltimore had boasted the NFL’s No. 1 defense in terms of yards allowed, letting up just 296.1 per game through Week 13. New England would do its part to send that average in the opposite direction in Week 14, however, netting 496 yards of total offense by game’s conclusion.
The last five games have been productive ones as a pass-rusher for veteran Rob Ninkovich. After starting the season with zero sacks through his first four appearances, the edge man has been credited with four in his last five. The most recent of which transpired on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter Monday, and it saw him bring down quarterback Joe Flacco as the Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal.
In the process of going 25-of-38 for three touchdowns and one interception, Tom Brady threw for 406 passing yards through the Ravens’ defense. Not only did it signify Brady’s second game in a row with 400-plus yards, but also the ninth time in his career that he’d reached that threshold.
Brady entered with 201 career wins as a starting quarterback – including the postseason – after eclipsing Peyton Manning last week for the most in NFL history. And there’d be no better way to follow up a record than extending it. Brady would do so against the Ravens, picking up win No. 202 as his 17th season marches on.
Brady also entered with a 51-10 record under center in December. Needless to say, the quarterback killed two birds with one stone, tying Brett Favre for first all-time with December victory No. 52.
The 11-2 Patriots have now won at least 11 games in seven-straight regular seasons. That milestone comes a week after the organization clinched its 14th consecutive campaign with at least 10 wins.