The Baltimore Ravens eked out a thrilling 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday evening.
Neither team wanted to enter Week 4 with two consecutive losses, and they played that way for all four quarters. The offenses combined for 899 yards, each defense made key plays and M&T Bank Stadium had a playoff-caliber atmosphere to it.
In a game that included 24 penalties, the conclusion couldn't have been more perfect. A pass interference call on Jacoby Jones with less than a minute remaining put rookie kicker Justin Tucker in position to hit the eventual game-winning field goal, but that didn't come without controversy.
The kick sailed over the upright, looking as if it didn't even go through. Replay confirmed that it did, exorcising some of Baltimore's demons from last year's AFC championship game.
The first quarter of Sunday night's game was all New England. The Patriots used Stephen Gostkowski's leg and Steve Gregory's interception to grab a 13-0 lead. Tom Brady didn't throw a touchdown, but Brandon Bolden did have a two-yard score.
Baltimore refused to die, though. Joe Flacco struck twice. Torrey Smith's 25-yard TD reception cut the deficit to six, and Dennis Pitta's 20-yard snag handed the Ravens the 14-13 lead.
Smith finished the game with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. After losing his brother in a motorcycle accident early Sunday morning, Smith turned in a courageous performance.
Torrey Smith celebrates the Ravens' 31-30 win over the Patriots. twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 24, 2012
Ray Rice earned his only touchdown of the game with a seven-yard score less than five minutes into the third quarter. Danny Woodhead answered for New England nearly five minutes later, and it was obvious neither team was going to go away.
New England jumped out to a nine-point lead to start the fourth quarter, and Baltimore failed to make a few key plays on offense. The Patriots' stop on 4th-and-1 with just about 10 minutes left set the tone for the game's remaining minutes.
Baltimore was able to keep fighting, but Brady's prowess was just too much. He finished the game 28-of-41 for 335 yards and left with an extremely efficient 60 minutes under his belt.
The Ravens only sacked Brady twice. ESPN.com reporter Jamison Hensley gave fans something to ponder during the game:
Wonder how much #Ravens miss Suggs. Count how many times Brady has had to rush a throw.— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) September 24, 2012
If you don't attack Brady, and get to him, you won't stop the Patriots. It's that simple, and the Patriots' signal-caller showed that again on Sunday. He wasn't able to earn the win, but he played extremely well.
Flacco was precise and sharp, making only a few errors. His interception in the opening quarter was the only blemish on his stat line, and he led his team down the field on the decisive drive. He finished 28-of-40 with 382 yards and three touchdowns.
Cam Cameron leaned on Rice whenever possible, but the running back still wasn't terribly involved. He carried the ball 20 times for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also caught five passes.
Statement games come in all forms, and this is one of them. Baltimore needed a win after losing to the Eagles last week, and beating New England always looks great on your resume.
The Ravens defense didn't turn in its best effort, but they didn't have to. Flacco was on point, and Rice controlled the ground game enough to win.
Both of these teams should find themselves in the postseason, and they showed why Sunday night. It was an exhilarating cap on Week 3's action.