Patriots defense falters in loss to Ravens
With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the young Patriots defense collapsed under the pressure of a big moment. Joe Flacco and the Ravens took over on offense down by nine and with less than eight minutes on the clock. In less than three and a half minutes, Torrey Smith caught his second touchdown of the game to cap off a 92 yard drive down the throat of the New England defense.
Just moments later, the Ravens had the ball back with only two minutes to play and a field goal away from victory. Again, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick turned to his defense for a stop to seal the game. In one minute, Flacco led the Ravens to the New England 7-yard line while targeting tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin along the way. An obvious third down pass interference penalty on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty setup the Ravens for a 27-yard field goal attempt.
Baltimore’s rookie kicker Justin Tucker trotted onto the field hoping to give the Ravens revenge for last year’s AFC Championship loss against the Patriots. At first it appeared the ball went directly over the right crossbar, but the replacement referees raised their hands signaling for a good field goal. The Ravens ran on the field in relief, sending the Patriots to a losing record for the first time since 2003.
With revenge in mind, and as indicated in Ray Lewis’ pre-game speech to his team, the Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 in Baltimore late Sunday night. The New England defense looked no better than last years as Ray Rice and the Ravens offense powered for 503 total yards. Rice alone netted 150 ground and receiving yards. Flacco contributed with a whopping 382 pass yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Torrey Smith turned in the performance of the game after hearing of his brother’s death early Sunday morning. He caught two touchdowns and had 127 total receiving yards.
Although the game came down to the last play, momentum shifted constantly throughout the evening. The Patriots got off to a quick 13-0 in the first quarter as the defense looked sharp to start off the game. Safety Steve Gregory intercepted a shaky Joe Flacco that would lead to a 2-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Brandon Bolden.
Momentum favored the Patriots until the Ravens finally achieved a first down on a penalty at the beginning of the second quarter. The drive would lead to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith to put the Ravens on the scoreboard. Momentum shifted as the Ravens would cap another drive off with another Flacco touchdown pass, this time to Pitta.
Tom Brady almost immediately turned the momentum back in the Patriots favor as he orchestrated the two-minute offense brilliantly before halftime. After spreading the ball out to Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Danny Woodhead, Brady’s touchdown pass to Julian Edelman put the Patriots up 20-14 at the half.
The Ravens and the Patriots traded touchdowns to begin the second half before the Patriots took a nine point lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Momentum would shift one more time in favor of the Ravens and ultimately led to the breakdown of the Patriots young defense. When it counted most, the experience and toughness of the Ravens defense put pressure on Brady as they stopped two England drives in the fourth quarter. They put the ball in Flacco’s hands, and he took advantage.
The replacement officials took heat from both Belichick and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh periodically throughout the game and even after the game ended. The officials flagged Harbaugh for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for coming too far onto the field. Belichick on the other hand might be in a little more trouble. He appeared to reach for and make contact with an official as he ran onto the field to dispute the field goal call after the game ended. He will almost certainly be hearing from the league for his actions.
On a high note for the Patriots, Welker caught eight balls for 142 yards. Likewise, Brand Lloyd had a strong performance, catching nine balls for 108 yards.
The real concern for the Patriots, however, is to the defense. The line failed to rattle Flacco, only sacking him once and rarely putting any pressure on him at all. Cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington each missed interception opportunities and were beat constantly all game long by Smith, Boldin and Jones. After a strong first two games, the Patriots defense took a major step backwards against the Baltimore Ravens tonight. Yes, they are young, but only time will tell if they are for real or not.