LEAST PRODUCTIVE START
It seemed like Baltimore had the momentum and the edge coming into Sunday's game. The team entered as an underdog riding a four-game winning streak, trying desperately to claw for a better playoff spot, and doing it at home. Some were preparing the Patriots to get their barn doors blown off right away. Ehh. Not so much. The Ravens began at their own 7-yard line thanks to a great punt by Ryan Allen and fizzled out after one 5-yard run and two incomplete passes. Whups.
MOST EDUCATIONAL DRIVE
Baltimore's ground game has been abysmal this season. Even with Ray Rice on the roster, the team met Sunday morning ranked No. 29 in rushing yards (1,160), No. 32 in yards per attempt (3.0), and tied at No. 28 for rushing touchdowns (6). How nice then, that the Patriots used their second series to give a clinic on running the ball. New England handed the ball off four times -- starting with a brilliantly blocked 14-yard rush by LeGarrette Blount -- in the six-play, 64-yard scoring drive.
BEST STREAK TO BREAK
The Patriots defense forced a turnover in 36-straight games entering Week 11's game against Carolina. It was the league's longest active streak before breaking against the Panthers. The 'D' got one more interception, Week 13 against Houston, but the well dried up after that. The next two games? Nothing. Not one turnover. (Let's not pretend Miami's holder taking a snap off his facemask really counts as a "takeaway".) So here was the positive point: You can count on picking off Joe Flacco in 2013 like you can count on death and taxes. And the Patriots did that very thing in the first quarter when Dont'a Hightower tipped a pass forced to Jacoby Jones. Cornerback Logan Ryan came up with the pick.
Though Patriots defensive end Andre Carter was credited with a sack in the first quarter, the tale of the tape is different. It was a third-and-5 situation for Baltimore on its own 36-yard line. The Ravens went no-huddle and Flacco… went down. He wasn't taken down. He wasn't pushed around or overpowered. He fell down, basically for no reason. Sacked himself. It was kind of entertaining.
SHINIEST SILVER LINING
Thank god this game was flexed. Seriously. Kickoff was at 4:25 p.m. and the teams didn't leave the field for halftime until after 6. The problem? Penalties. 12 penalties were assessed in the first half, five on New England (for 30 yards) and seven on Baltimore (for 65 yards). The final series of the first half had more notes than a dissertation: Offensive holding on Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive holding on Marcus Cannon, offensive holding on Josh Kline, a penalty against Baltimore on the punt, a false start assessed to New England on the repeat punt, and an illegal touch kick (for 18 yards!) on Marquice Cole. Imagine if this game started at 8:25 as originally scheduled? Woof.
New England's defense suffered a big blow when Devin McCourty left for the locker room in the third quarter. The starting safety dove to tackle Ravens tight end Ed Dickson on a first-and-10 completion, and made contact with Dickson's butt. McCourty went down hard. When he got up and tried to walk to the bench, he stumbled and fell for being so unsteady on his feet. It was scary to see McCourty so unsteady on his feet. The Patriots didn't hesitate before sending him off for evaluation.
Logan Ryan got New England's 'D' back on the forced-turnover track with his first quarter interception, and he didn't stop there. Flacco tried to hit Dennis Pitta on a third quarter third down, but threw the ball behind his target and into the arms of Ryan. It was a great play, even if not the rookie's best of the night. On Baltimore's previous drive Flacco got pushed to desperation and threw a fourth-down ball to a well-covered Jacoby Jones. Not like the coverage mattered, because the ball didn't even get there; Ryan skied to bat the pass down with one hand. It was an incredibly athletic and smart play.
Down 20-0, the Ravens actually made some progress on their following drive. A 42-yard catch-and-run by Jones moved Baltimore to New England's 13-yard line in a hurry. Flacco's third-down pass to Pitta two plays later fell incomplete, but with just four yards to go, they had to go for it. Hey, diddle diddle, All-Pro running back Ray Rice went up the middle… and got stuffed. The Patriots held their ground.
SUREST SIGN IT'S NOT BALTIMORE'S DAY
Baltimore was still getting shut out when the fourth quarter started. Another drive failed, this time on New England's 19-yard line, and the kicking team took the field. And why not take three easy points rather than try and fail again on fourth down? Perhaps John Harbaugh thought a field goal -- just putting points on the board -- would help his team over the mental hump. It's not like Justin Tucker would miss from 37 yards; the guy had a streak of 33-straight made field goals! Well, he did miss. Unreal.
It's no secret there's no love lost between the Patriots and Ravens. Last week McCourty told Tom Curran, "There would be no better feeling than us beating them Sunday and we eliminate their season right there." You could see how fired up New England was for this game when special teams captain Matthew Slater -- the most polite, well-spoke, respectful guy on the team -- went bananas after making a tackle on kick coverage. But what Blount did after scoring the touchdown that put the Patriots up 27-7 with two minutes left in regulation took the cake: The Squirrel Dance. We're talking about the dance invented by recently retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Gutsy.