Anyone who watches a Patriots postgame press conference knows that memorable quotes are hard to come by. They’re the typical, “We need to play better,” or the “That was a solid performance” stuff; in other words, lines that do little to illustrate how the Pats played. But every once in a while, you get a game that’s so workmanlike in its execution, trite lines work just fine.
Such was the case in New England’s 27-21 victory over the Baltimore Ravens yesterday, a team that came in sporting a 3-0 record, the second best offense in the league, and a defense Bill Belichick describes as the best of the past decade. Thanks to improved, workmanlike play in all three of the Patriots’ game yesterday, the Ravens left Gillette a pedestrian 3-1 (i.e., with six teams sporting a 3-1 record, it is the most common record in the NFL after Week Four).
The Patriots’ improved play was on display early with special teams, as the opening kickoff was recovered by the Patriots after cornerback Brandon McGowan stripped Baltimore’s Chris Garr of the ball. Three plays later, the Patriots kicked in a 32-yard field goal.
Three points was not what the team nor the fans were after, though, not from a team that’s been downright putrid in the red zone recently (e.g. the Patriots were 1-for-8 in red zone attempts up to that point, while Baltimore hadn’t allowed a red zone touchdown in seven attempts coming into Sunday)
That sure wasn’t a harbinger of things to come, though, as kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s services would be called upon only one other time, and the Patriots would score on three of five attempts in the red zone, their best red zone conversion rate to date.
Not to be outdone was the improvement in the Patriots’ passing game. Against the last three teams, Brady and his receivers were on different pages, with players either not running their routes, Brady overthrowing his targets or receivers not reeling in their catches. But Brady spread the wealth around against Baltimore, throwing to nine different receivers for a total of 234 yards. The sure-handed Ben Watson—a term that couldn’t be ascribed to him in past seasons—led the way in receiving yards with 51, while Wes Welker led in receptions with six.
The Patriots’ running game wasn’t as impressive from a standpoint of running yards amassed. Fred Taylor alone had more yards in Week Three (105) than the Patriots had total this week (85). Similar to the passing game, though, the yards and attempts were spread around, as the triumvirate of Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk ran for 20+ yards each on seven, six and five carries, respectively (Brady and Maroney contributed 11 and six yards, respectively).
Next to the improvements in the red zone, perhaps the biggest reason why the Patriots won was their defense, particularly in the secondary.
Besides Baltimore’s first drive, wherein Joe Flacco and Derrick Mason scored a touchdown after four consecutive 3rd down conversions, the Patriots’ secondary neutralized Baltimore’s vaunted offense. Mason was undeniably impressive, leading both teams in receiving yards with 88. He could have had a heck of a lot more, though, if not for the stifling defense of the Patriots’ Brandons, namely Meriweather and McGowan. Meriweather led the team in tackles with nine and broke up two crucial pass attempts, one of which was a deep end zone pass to Mason in the second quarter.
Rookie cornerback Darius Butler impressed as well. Ahead 27-21 and with three- and-a-half minutes remaining, the Patriots’ Butler and McGowan forced Baltimore’s Mark Clayton to drop a pass on 4th and 4. A completion would have granted new life to Baltimore’s offense, as they were within 20 yards of the end zone.
“It feels good to make a big play on fourth down,” McGowan told The Boston Herald. “It lets you know that we’re a tough team, a tough defense and that we can make some plays.”
And more plays are what Belichick ascribes to the Patriots’ victory.
“That’s a real good football team,” said Belichick in the postgame press conference, referring to the Ravens. “They’ve made plays on everyone this year. Fortunately, we made more plays than they did. That’s about all there is to it.”
The Patriots hope to continue their week-to-week improved play in Denver next week, as they face off against one of the league’s five remaining undefeated teams at Invesco Field. This will be the first time Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels plays his former employer. The last time the Patriots played Denver at Invesco was in the 2006 AFC Divisional playoffs, where they lost 27-13. The Patriots defeated the Broncos at Gillette last year, 41-7. Their lifetime record versus the Broncos is 16-26.