For a team that's played 11 one-possession games this season, the Patriots didn't seem too surprised for beating the Ravens 41-7 on the road Sunday.
"Coming in here, on the bus ride in here, I felt great," Rob Ninkovich told reporters in the aftermath. " knew that we were going to beat these guys. I was confident. I knew that we had worked hard. I knew that we had put in the work. If you put the time in, you put the effort in, and you do it on the practice field, it’s going to come out in the end."
His coach agreed, though cautiously.
On a Monday conference call Bill Belichick affirmed what Ninkovich said about a good week of practice leading up to the Baltimore trip. But the coach also noted the bottom line, that 34-point difference, belies how hard his team fought.
"I felt like, based on the week of practice, and our preparation for the game, and kind of our attitude going into the game, that we would go out there and play hard and lay it all on the line, leave it all out on the field," he said. "I think that's what they did.
"Obviously, these two teams are a lot closer than the final score would indicate. If you look at most of our games this year and most of the Ravens' games this year, they've all come down to pretty much the last one way or the other for both teams, to those critical situations at the end of the game. I think, as it turned out, some of those critical situations came up a little bit earlier in the game which then made the final score what it was."
New England's lead was much less daunting, at 20-7, with just under eight minutes left in regulation. The Ravens were still in the game and had possession. But a 17-yard gain from Torrey Smith was followed up by four incomplete passes (Baltimore went for it on fourth down three times in the game) and that's when the Patriots ran away with it.
The road team's offense orchestrated a brilliant 9-play, 48-yard scoring drive that took four-and-a-half minutes. The defense, not to be outdone, scored two touchdowns off a fumble recover and an interception.
"There were some plays that I think changed a little bit the final score of the game, but that I don't think took away from the competitiveness of it," Belichick said. "I never felt like we were just dominating the game and at the same time I never felt like they were really that far away until right there at the end, when we scored three times in the last two minutes or whatever it was. The game was a lot more competitive.
"[But] I saw the effort coming. I think I saw the way that we played -- the results obviously were great. I know there was a lot of determination from the players. They knew that's what we needed to do, and we got it."
The team has looked gritty before, like in following up a Monday night loss to Carolina with a short-week overtime win against Denver. It's the 60-minute effort with a patchwork roster that made Sunday's game different from any other New England has played this year.
No, the Patriots didn't pull off an improbable win under the two-minute warning in dramatic fashion. But beating the streaking Ravens on their home turf -- beating them soundly -- showed New England has different muscles to flex.
Two weeks before the playoffs isn't a bad time to figure that out.
"I think from a mental toughness standpoint, being able to perform well when everything's not right for you -- whatever those circumstances are," Belichick explained, "I think there are a lot of situations this year where things aren't the way we would hope they would be, but you've got to go out and play through it. And there's an element of that.
"But every team has challenges along the way and you've got to take the cards you're dealt and play the hand. That's the best we can do."