Fresh Patriots defense does enough vs. Manning

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Fresh Patriots defense does enough vs. Manning

FOXBORO -- New England's souped-up no-huddle offense may have helped wear out Denver's defensive personnel, but it did just the opposite for the Patriots 'D.' As Tom Brady led his offense for long drive after long drive, Jerod Mayo and his defense were afforded an opportunity to save their energy.

"It helps us a lot," Mayo said of New England's ability to keep its offense on the field. "We're able to go over adjustments, catch our breath, and go out there the next series and try to get the ball back for our offense."

The Broncos held possession for 24:11, and the Patriots defense forced three turnovers in that time. Rob Ninkovich forced two fumbles while Sterling Moore forced one, all of which the Patriots recovered. They made big plays at opportune times, and they made enough of them to hold on to win, 31-21.

It wasn't easy with Peyton Manning on the other side. The Broncos quarterback was 31-for-44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Physically, he may not be the same passer as he once was, but Mayo thought Manning was as sharp as ever mentally.

"He checked a lot of plays at the line of scrimmage," Mayo said. "Even if it's not vocally, he's still doing hand signals that little subtle things that can change the entire play. It's like a chess match out there."

Though it felt as though the Patriots defense -- missing starters Steve Gregory and Dont'a Hightower -- passed its most recent test by beating a quarterback of Manning's caliber, Mayo wouldn't concede that the Patriots defense had progressed markedly.

"That's for you to decide," he told reporters. "I think guys are working hard. I think guys are going out there practicing and getting better. You want an A, B, C, D grade? I don't do that."

What Mayo did do was keep the lines of communication open among his teammates as they tried to adjust to Manning's adjustments. Because Gregory was out, Tavon Wilson got the start at safety. That meant Ras-I Dowling filled in at the money position in New England's dime package. As a sort of hybrid linebacker-safety Dowling took direction from Mayo before many of his snaps.

The Patriots survived with Wilson, Dowling and rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard all receiving a significant time on the field.

"It's very important to communicate," Mayo said, referring to some of his team's relatively inexperienced contributors. "Especially when you're playing a great quarterback like that, to make sure everyone's on the same page. They were changing the pace of the game sometimes so making sure everyone was on the same page was huge."

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

Know Thine Enemy: A complete breakdown of the Ravens

After a 3-0 start, the Ravens dropped a 28-27 decision to the Raiders in Baltimore. That started a four-game skid for Baltimore which included back-to-back losses at the Jets and Giants. But they got back on track against the Steelers and have won four out of five with their only being to the Cowboys. It’s hard to get a clean read on who they really are. 

They had narrow, early-season wins over crap teams like Cleveland and Jacksonville. They had a narrow loss to an outstanding Raiders team and were close with the Cowboys but got run over late with Dallas scoring on its last five possessions. They are coming off their most impressive team win, a 38-6 triumph over the Dolphins. 

This game is a big one in the AFC race not just because it’s a divisional leader but also because it will be a common game between the Patriots and Raiders. The Raiders already beat Baltimore. 

The Pats need to keep pace in a tiebreaker they currently trail. Weird schedule quirk? The Ravens have had only one road game that required a long commute since September. That was the game at Dallas. They just played six of their last nine and four of their last five at home.

LAST 5

Ravens 21, Steelers 14
Ravens 28, Browns 7
At Cowboys 27, Ravens 17
Ravens 19, Bengals 14
Ravens 38, Dolphins 6

OFFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

More than half of Joe Flacco’s 323 completions have gone to three players: tight end Dennis Pitta (61 catches), wide receiver Mike Wallace (57) and wide receiver Steve Smith (54). Those players are 31, 30 and 37 respectively so it’s a veteran group.
Flacco is 114 of 159 (72 percent) with nine touchdowns and three picks in Baltimore’s last four games. He has 15 TDs and 11 picks this season.

The Ravens don’t run it much: 502 pass attempts, 287 rushing attempts. Terrence West and Kenneth Dixon are the lead backs. West has carried more than 15 times in a game on three occasions this season.

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been playing very well as has the rest of the Ravens offensive line in recent weeks. Still, Baltimore is just at 34.1 on third down conversions.

DEFENSIVE STATS TO CHEW ON

The Ravens have allowed 207 points this season, tied with the Patriots for lowest in the AFC and just behind Seattle (194) overall.
Baltimore’s allowing just 33.3 percent conversions on third down and only 3.4 yards per carry.

Opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their passes and have 21 touchdown passes and 14 picks against the Ravens defense. Ten of the Ravens 14 picks came against the Browns, Jaguars and in last week’s rout of Miami.
 
WHERE ARE THEIR HEADS AT

"I just think they've got a great team. They've got Tom Brady. They've been the best team in the conference, and it's going to be our toughest challenge of the year." – John Harbaugh, Ravens coach, on Monday night’s matchup

Thomas (groin) out Wednesday vs. Magic

Thomas (groin) out Wednesday vs. Magic

The Boston Celtics are used to this playing without a key starter thing, so tonight’s game at Orlando won’t be all that different than most of their games this season.
 
Isaiah Thomas will not play tonight against the Magic due to a right groin injury he suffered in Monday’s 107-106 loss at Houston.
 
Thomas flew back to Boston Tuesday night.
 
Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters he is leaning towards having Marcus Smart, who filled in earlier for an injured Jae Crowder, start in place of Thomas.
 
The injury occurred in the second quarter of the Rockets game, but Thomas continued to play on as he knocked down a 3-point shot just moments after he first began grimacing while holding the groin.
 
Following the loss, Thomas acknowledged the injury did bother him for the rest of the game as he finished with 20 points on 7-for-18 shooting.
 
“A few drives I didn’t have the lift,” Thomas told reporters. “It is what it is. I’ll figure it out.”
 
Thomas, who was named to his first all-star team last season, has been even more dynamic offensively this year.
 
He leads the Celtics with a career-high 26 points per game and has been ranked among the NBA’s top 10 scorers most of this season.
 
It is too soon to tell if the injury will sideline him for one game, or whether he’ll be out for an extended period of time.