Week 14 Review: Patriots make their close win interesting

FOXBOROUGH, Mass – In what was billed as one of the better match-ups of the season so far, it certainly lived up to expectations. When the Patriots were up 23-3, it appeared as if this had the makings of being a blow-out. But with a couple of special teams mistakes back-to-back, the Ravens were able to make it interesting as they scored two quick touchdowns. At one point, the Ravens were only trailing 23-20 before good old Tom Brady was able to put the game away in the fourth quarter. In a game focusing on the Ravens defense versus the Patriots offense, it appears as if one side came out as the clear winner while the other came up short.

The Ravens had come into tonight allowing the least amount of total yards of offense (296.1) and tied for the fewest points allowed (17.3) per game. The Patriots would proceed to blow those averages out of the water with 30 points scored and 496 net yards. Leading the way was Brady with 406 yards and three touchdowns on 25 of 38 passing and throwing only his second interception all season. Brady made sure to spread the ball around to his play-makers with seven different players reeling in a catch and four of them (Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, James White and Martellus Bennett) each having at least 70 yards receiving. Hogan, Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell would all reel in one touchdown a piece.

Hogan would do most of his damage on a 79-yard catch and run for a touchdown on a beautifully run route by him and throw by Brady in the middle of the fourth quarter in what would ultimately seal the game for the Patriots. Both Brady and Hogan talked about it being a big play that the team needed. White would have a critical 61-yard catch and run on third down in the second quarter that would set up a touchdown. Bennett came into this game with only 40 yards receiving in his past three games combined but had a bounce-back performance with four receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. He also had a terrific 19-yard catch in the end-zone in which he made sure he came away with the reception. Brady would throw an ill-advised interception in the Baltimore end-zone by safety Eric Weddle in the second quarter.

Overall, it was a solid performance from the passing offense and the Patriots receiving play-makers to accumulate over 400 yards when Baltimore had come into tonight allowing just over 222 passing yards on average.

In a milestone night for LeGarrette Blount, he had a night to remember. He came into this game with 13 rushing touchdowns (which led the NFL) and was able to score another one in the first quarter, extending his NFL lead and also tying Curtis Martin for the franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns in one season. Considering there are three games left on the schedule, it is a good bet that Blount will shatter the record and have his place in the Patriots record books. Blount would also top 1,000 rushing yards this season, the second time in his career and the first time since his rookie season.

The Ravens came into this game allowing only 73.8 rushing yards per game, 3.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns, all tops in the NFL. The Patriots would finish with 95 net rushing yards, 3.7 yards per carry and a touchdown. Blount was able to almost match the Ravens average with 72 yards while rushing for four yards a carry and scoring a touchdown. It was important for the Patriots to try and attack the Ravens’ advantage and they would do exactly that, showing that they are able to put up good offensive stats against great defenses. And not to mention, without Rob Gronkowski in their line-up as well.

The Ravens came into tonight with an average offense overall, averaging the 16th most total yards of offense per game (347.7) and the 21st best points per game total (21.3). They would come away with 348 total net yards of offense while scoring 20 points, finishing slightly above in their point totals while gaining their usual average in yardage. Looking at quarterback Joe Flacco, he had himself a solid game against the Patriots, who were only allowing 243 passing yards per game and 17 touchdowns this season to opposing quarterbacks. Flacco would finish with a 71.2% completion percentage on 37 of 51 passing (the 37 completions is a new franchise record for a single game) and 324 yards to go with two touchdowns and one interception. 

However, Flacco and the Ravens were forced to spend a good amount of time dumping off short passes to their running backs. Kenneth Dixon led the team with 11 targets and eight receptions for 42 yards while Terrance West and Kyle Juszczyk combined for 70 yards on seven targets and seven receptions. The Ravens were only able to generate three plays all game of at least 25 yards. Breshad Perriman, Steve Smith and Mike Wallace combined for 161 yards receiving, with none of them having more than 52 yards in total. The Patriots were able to do a good job of keeping the Ravens from generating big plays. Also, New England kept Baltimore’s offense to mostly small plays that occasionally turned in solid yardage for the most part due to missed tackles and solid open-field running.

The run offense of the Ravens was near the bottom in the league coming into tonight, including 89.7 rushing yards on average per game, good for fifth worst in the league. They would not do well again as the team would finish with 42 yards rushing on 14 attempts (3.0 yards per carry). Dixon would lead the team with 39 yards on 11 carries but was limited to a nine yard run as his biggest of the game. West, the team’s starting running back for the majority of the season, finished with an embarrassing two yards rushing on two attempts as he looked phased out for the most part of the Ravens run offense. The Patriots would also secure a safety on a run play that started at the one-yard line for the Ravens.

That play, which was set up by the combined efforts of Jonathan Jones and Matthew Slater on a punt return, would be one of the two very solid special teams plays by the Patriots on the evening. The other being Shea McClellin blocking a field goal attempt by Justin Tucker early in the game, which was Tucker’s first missed field goal of the season in 29 attempts. But with the good comes the bad. The Patriots would have some very costly special teams mistakes tonight, including one each by Cyrus Jones and Slater. To make matters worse, they were both on consecutive returns. Jones would attempt to return a punt near the Patriots end-zone that he would end up kicking and allowing Chris Moore to recover it at the Patriots three-yard line. That would ultimately set up the Ravens to have Darren Waller catch a touchdown two plays later.

The other mistake would be on the following kick return, when Matthew Slater would attempt to run out the kick-off before fumbling it. This would allow the Ravens to recover it and start another offensive drive at the Patriots 22-yard line. The Ravens would then have a four play drive ending in an eight-yard Dixon reception for a touchdown. That would quickly swing the momentum of the game in the Ravens way, going for 23-3 Patriots to the Ravens eventually getting it up to 23-17. When speaking about Cyrus Jones’ struggles tonight, his teammates all supported him, including captain Devin McCourty. He spoke about how he had struggles as a rookie and that he, along with the rest of the team will continue to support him and help him limit mistakes and better his game.

Lastly, the Patriots defense had a solid night overall. Allowing only 17.3 points per game coming into this game, they would allow the Ravens to score only 23 points. Considering that the Ravens were able to have drives starting deep in the Patriots territory after their special team mistakes, it was a solid showing for the Patriots. Outside of those two touchdowns, New England held the Ravens to just three field goals otherwise.

Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich would both finish with a sack apiece, Ninkovich’s coming on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter nonetheless. Jonathan Jones would contribute with a tackle for a loss when taking over for Malcolm Butler while he received medical treatment for a leg injury. The Patriots would hold the Ravens to a 38% conversion percentage on third down (six of 16) while allowing only 5.1 yards per play to Baltimore. McCourty would chip in with an interception while also having one of four pass deflections (Kyle Van Noy, Butler and Ninkovich would all have one each as well). 

Overall, the Patriots came into this game and were able to walk out with a victory against one of the toughest opponents they had faced all season. It will be a good momentum boost as they travel to Denver to face the Broncos in week 15 against another tough defense. The Patriots will move closer to winning another AFC East title and the number one overall seed in the AFC as they are now 11-2 while the Ravens are now second in the AFC North at 7-6 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

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