FOXBOROUGH, MA – The Ravens fell behind 16-0 and trailed 23-3 in the second half in Monday night’s game against the New England Patriots. Baltimore almost came back, but it was too much to overcome as New England walked away with a 30-23 win.
The Patriots got the upper hand early on as the Ravens’ special teams units put the team in bad positions. After New England’s second offensive series that ended in a punt, the Ravens were backed up to their own one-yard line after returner Devin Hester let the ball hit the ground and bounce back to the Ravens’ goal-line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Baltimore running back Kenneth Dixon was tackled in the end-zone by two Patriots defenders. That gave the Patriots a 2-0 lead, and the Ravens would then have to punt to New England.
Luckily, Baltimore’s defense forced the Patriots into another punt, but on Baltimore’s next drive the Ravens got to New England’s 16-yard line before Justin Tucker’s attempted field goal was blocked by linebacker Shea McClellin. The blocked field goal attempt snaps Tucker’s successful streak at 35 conversions, and is his first miss of the season. From there, New England answered with a 10-play scoring drive that saw LeGarrette Blount score from the one-yard line.
During that New England drive, the Ravens lost starting corner-back Jimmy Smith to an ankle injury. Smith did not come back into the game after being listed as “doubtful.”After the game, head coach John Harbaugh revealed that Smith suffered an ankle sprain, but did not comment on the severity of it.
Later in the game the Ravens would lose another corner-back. This time it was Jerraud Powers, suffering a concussion. This forced Shareece Wright and Matt Elam to see increased snaps, and left Wright and rookie Tavon Young as the outside corners.
New England would add another touchdown on the next drive; a six-yard pass from Tom Brady to Malcolm Mitchell to put the Patriots up by 16. The Ravens were able to kick a field goal before halftime, but had their work cut out for them trailing 16-3 at the half.
Things got worse in the beginning of the second half. The Patriots scored yet another touchdown on their first drive of the half, and the Ravens were staring at a 20-point deficit. However, just when Ravens suffered multiple special teams blunders in the first half, New England would return the favor.
The first special teams gift the Patriots gave the Ravens was a fumbled punt return by Cyrus Jones. That gave the Ravens the ball at New England’s three-yard line, and Baltimore got in the end zone on a three-yard strike from Joe Flacco to tight end Darren Waller. On the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots gave the Ravens another gift when returner Matthew Slater fumbled, and Baltimore recovered at the Patriots’ 22-yard line. Four plays later, Flacco found Dixon for an eight-yard score.
Trailing by 20 points? No problem. The Ravens were able to make it a six-point game after scoring two touchdowns on 25 combined yards. With five minutes to go in the third quarter, the Patriots had a rather uncomfortable 23-17 lead, and the Ravens were licking their chops.
Baltimore’s luck would run eventually run out.
Following a few punts, the Ravens added another field goal to make it a 23-20 game. Brady answered by exploiting Baltimore’s injury-riddled defense on the first play of New England’s next drive, finding receiver Chris Hogan for a 79-yard touchdown to make it 30-20 with six minutes left.
The Ravens got the ball back and made it a one-possession game with a field goal. The only problem was that the Ravens had absolutely no urgency on that drive, eating up over four minutes of clock. Flacco elected to throw to the tailbacks more than the receivers on the drive (a common theme throughout the entire game) and simply too much time was taken off of the clock. Once the Patriots got the ball back, they only needed one first down to lock up the win.
Looking ahead: The Ravens now hold a 7-6 record and sit in second place in the AFC North, one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens have a very winnable game at home next week against the Philadelphia Eagles, but follow that up with two road games at Pittsburgh – on Christmas – and Cincinnati to close out the regular season. If both the Ravens and Steelers win next week (Pittsburgh plays at Cincinnati), that Christmas Day game in Pittsburgh is a must-win game. The Ravens already beat the Steelers early this season, so sweeping the Steelers would favor the Ravens in any tie-breaker scenario with Pittsburgh.
The other possibility would have the Ravens grabbing a wild card spot. Right now, the Oakland Raiders (10-3) and the Denver Broncos (8-5) hold those spots, with the Kansas City Chiefs sitting atop the AFC West (10-3). If the Ravens were to grab one of those wild cards, they would have to count on finishing ahead of Denver in the standings. The Broncos have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL, as they face the Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders in their final three games.
Keeping it simple: The Ravens can win the division if they win out. They control their own destiny, but the game against the Steelers is clearly the most important game remaining on the schedule. Now one game back behind the Steelers, the Ravens have their work cut out for them if the plan on playing in January.