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Patriots, Ravens take it down to the wire

Monday, September 24, 2012

 

This is why the NFL is at the top of the list.

Despite 24 penalties called by the group of seven officials at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday night – some good calls, many bad ones called on both sides – the game played by the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens will be memorable for many reasons. It was edge-of-your-seat excitement, where you just knew the last team to have the ball would probably find a way to win.

And that’s exactly what happened, much to the disappointment of the Patriots. Rookie placekicker Justin Tucker booted a 27 yard field goal as time expired, and the Ravens edged New England 31-30…dropping the Pats to a 1-2 start on the season.

Spread the blame wherever you’d like, but the bottom line to this battle belonged to one simple, inexorable fact – Baltimore made one more play than did New England. Or, perhaps in your point of view, the replacement officials made one more questionable call in the Ravens’ favor, than they did for the Patriots. Ultimately, a pass interference call on the Pats’ Devin McCourty against Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens’ an opportunity to win it on Tucker’s kick, when it appeared the Pats’ defense might make the last stand.

However, credit must be given where it is due. If he hadn’t already, Baltimore QB Joe Flacco thrust himself into the limelight of elite signal-callers in the NFL with an impeccable 28-for-39 passing performance, for 389 yards with three touchdowns and a pick against what was thought to be an improved NE defense.

Looks like there’s still work to be done under the hood defensively. Baltimore gained 503 yards of total offense against a young “D” that had been 2nd in the league in yards allowed through the first two weeks of the season.

A back-and-forth affair had New England taking a 13-0 lead before the Ravens got their initial first down. Then, after Baltimore went up 14-13, the Pats made it 20-14 at the half, as Tom Brady (28-41, 335 yards, 1 TD) found Julian Edelman for a seven yard score with just :02 seconds to play in the 2nd quarter, capping a 9-play, 81 yard drive. The Ravens countered by taking the opening kick-off to the second half and smoking the NE defense, as Flacco drove his offense 80 yards in eight plays (Ray Rice seven yard TD run) to grab a 21-20 advantage.

From that point, if it wasn’t already, the game was on.

While the two teams did settle into a bit more of a groove defensively from this point, it is worth noting that several offensive drives were thwarted thanks to the guys in black-and-white. Nevertheless, New England regained the lead, if not the momentum in the game, after Danny Woodhead scored on a three yard TD run in the 3rd, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 20-yard field goal early in the 4th to take a 30-21 lead. It was still a nine point Patriot lead with under 5:00 to play, when the Ravens finally struck again.

Flacco hit Torrey Smith from five yards out to pull Baltimore within 30-28, with just 4:01 left. And while it appeared the Patriots might be able to run the clock out with a couple of first downs to preserve a win, it didn’t quite work out that way. Forced to punt the ball away, the Ravens used precision passing from Flacco – and perhaps a little help from the guys with the flags in their pockets – to pull off the game-winning drive in the final two minutes.

But the refs, however, were not the reason New England lost. Baltimore was flagged 14 times for 135 yards in penalties themselves. The Ravens defense committed three major penalties – Haloti Ngata committed a personal foul that led to a field goal. Bernard Pollard had a gaffe that came in a touchdown drive. And Ed Reed was flagged for unnecessary roughness that was converted into a field goal. The total damage? 13 points derived almost directly from those flags. The Ravens capped the night with an unsportsmanlike conduct on their sideline in the final drive. And still, they managed to win it.

Or the Patriots managed to lose it.

Perhaps there was a bit of karma on the side of the home team as well…as Smith caught six passes for 127 yards and two scores, less than 24 hours after learning of the death of his 19-year-old brother. Maybe the football gods decided it was simply Baltimore’s turn, after Billy Cundiff’s inexplicable hook from 32 yards out cost them the AFC title last January in Foxboro. Whatever it was, they just weren’t going to be denied. Even after winning the game, it was tough to really tell who had won it…unless you were staring at the scoreboard.

It was a great game, a classic match-up with two NFL heavyweights trading body blows throughout the night. Tucker’s kick as time ran out was the final punch, hitting the Patriots square on the jaw. It was a heck of a show…miscues, stumbles, bad calls and all. It was great entertainment, wonderful theater.

Unless you’re a Pats fan. The Ravens won the game, but the game itself was also a winner.

Post Game Notes

The win for the Ravens was their 12th straight at home, the longest current streak in the NFL. They also won for the 14th time following a loss, which is also the longest streak in the league…the loss for the Patriots puts them under .500 for the first time since Week 2 of the 2003 season, and for the first time this deep into a year (now 3 weeks) since 2001, ending the Patriots run of 145 consecutive games at .500 or better, the longest such streak in NFL history…Wes Welker registered his 24th 100-yard game and his first of the 2012 season after finishing with 142 yards… Brandon Lloyd had his 13th NFL 100-yard game and his first with the Patriots after finishing with 108 yards receiving…Steve Gregory registered his first interception with the Patriots in the first quarter when he picked off Flacco and returned the ball 36 yards to the Baltimore 6-yard line…Brandon Bolden, who joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out Mississippi, scored his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard run in the first quarter to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead…

 

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