Patriots vs. Ravens: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 3
Tom Brady and Joe Flacco exchanged punches on Sunday night, each weathering the other's storm and looking for that elusive fatal blow. The New England Patriots wouldn't relent. Neither would the Baltimore Ravens.
This could only end in chaos.
Late in the fourth quarter, Flacco confidently led Baltimore down the field. His accuracy was incredible. A costly New England penalty made his accuracy that much more effective. Justin Tucker stepped forward to kick the game-winning field goal.
Tucker nearly blew it.
The ball flew over the right upright. It came so unbelievably close that a lengthy moment of celebration and confusion broke out on both sides amongst players and fans alike.
The kick wasn't reviewable. The Ravens escaped with a 31-30 victory.
Controversy was inevitable. With so much venom, angst and hype between these teams, it was bound to burst in a strange way.
The replacement referees didn't help the situation, especially with two tough coaches on either side and the entire country watching on television. It was like a Molotov cocktail.
Neither team played their best, but they played their hardest. It was a rough game with a rough ending.
Here are New England's biggest winners and losers from Week 3.
Loser: Devin McCourty
The cornerstones of Devin McCourty's game were on full display on Sunday night: reaction instead of anticipation, and mental error instead of mental foresight.
McCourty will get a ton of blame for his late pass interference on Jacoby Jones that stood as the defining blunder of the game.
But the truth is, McCourty made mistakes before that penalty happened. He dropped two potential picks, gave up big chunks of field, made mental mistakes, made late and weak tackles, and sometimes missed tackles altogether.
Sunday night provokes a question we might not want to answer: At this point, what are we really expecting out of McCourty?
Winner: Wes Welker
Wes Welker gave a vintage performance on Sunday night.
He had eight receptions for 142 yards (17.8 average) with a long pickup of 59 yards. He plunked down these major numbers against a physical defense on its own hostile turf.
There was nothing surprising about Welker's performance on Sunday. Working hard, catching low, moving chains and producing at a high level is what Welker does.
Exceptional for some, normal for him.
That's why he's irreplaceable.
Loser: Bill Belichick
The replacement referees are leaving their fingerprints all over the season.
Calls, clarity and momentum are altered by the slowness and the added air of uncertainty.
In an environment like this, where everyone's affected and everyone's frustrated, it reflects poorly on anyone who personalizes the situation.
One could argue that Bill Belichick personalized the situation on Sunday night. He was livid throughout the game and even made physical contact with a referee after the contest was over.
Belichick certainly had legitimate reasons to be irate. Every Patriots fan in the world probably wanted to break their televisions at some point during the game.
Still, though, the Patriots go out of their way to avoid this kind of heat.
That clip of Belichick making contact with the referee will be replayed all week.
Seven days of media spotlight, here we come.
Winner: Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski had a brutal game last week when he missed the potential game-winning field goal against the Cardinals.
Those mental demons could have been easily be exacerbated by a hostile territory like Baltimore.
But Gostkowski persevered.
He was cool and calm. He nailed all three field goals (one from 49 yards out) and nailed all three extra points.
All in all, a nice way to rebound from a rough week.
Loser: New England's Rush Defense
Baltimore's pattern was very simple on Sunday.
Every time Joe Flacco's arm went cold, he fed the rock to Ray Rice.
Once Rice succeeded, Flacco's arm got hot.
For four straight quarters, this cycle repeated and worked like a charm. That's how Rice ended up with 101 ground yards on 20 carries.
Rice's land attack and Flacco's air attack have a symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other for survival.
And yet, even as Baltimore's strategy became clearer and clearer as the game wore on, New England's rush defense could never seal off the land attack.
It could never cut off Flacco at the source.
It could never stop the catalyst.
It couldn't stop Rice.
Winner: Tom Brady
Tom Brady gave a pretty fantastic performance on Sunday night.
He made significant progress in his relationship with Brandon Lloyd by hooking up for nine receptions and 108 yards. Slowly but surely, they established some big-gain rapport.
Brady also got his groove back with Wes Welker. He even worked Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden into the mix, giving them each rushing touchdowns.
Brady exuded that old-fashioned scent of total control. Brady never flinched; he never looked concerned about his safety. The Ravens never broke him.
Brady always looked confident about his team's chances. Looking into his eyes, I really believed the Patriots were going to win.
Ultimately, they came up a point shy. It was a tough loss.
But that confidence is still there, thanks to Brady's performance.
Every Patriots fan walked away from that game, shaking his head at the Ravens, thinking, "Until we meet again."