It was a rematch of the 2011 AFC Championship Game, so it was only fitting that the Patriots put on a 2011 nostalgia show for NBC's national Sunday Night Football audience.
Wes Welker, after two weeks more or less on the shelf, was a lynchpin of the attack. Tom Brady, after two less-than-Brady-like performances to start the season, was Tom Brady again.
But most importantly, the defense -- after two encouraging weeks that stirred memories of the stout '03 and '04 championship units -- melted back into the can't-stop-nuthin' Swiss Cheese A.C.
After an encouraging start (two three-and-outs and an interception on Baltimore's first three possessions), the Pats' defense wilted, allowing the Ravens -- who put together drives of 82, 92, 80, 92 and 70 yards -- score five of the last seven times they had the ball. Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal as time expired provided the game-winning points, as Baltimore handed New England a bitter 31-30 defeat.
Much of the postgame discussion will center on the officiating, and rightfully so; the replacement refs put on their most controversial performance yet (and under a national television spotlight, to boot). Twenty-four penalties were called -- on one of them, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was nailed for unsportsmanlike conduct when he complained that the refs didn't see him signalling for a time out -- and Bill Belichick was so frustrated he actually grabbed at one of the officials who was racing off the field after the game, in an attempt to talk to him.
But to blame the referees for the defeat is to ignore a disheartening, alarming night by the Pats' defense that wiped out all the optimism that grew after its performance in the first two games.
"The offense played their tails off," said Vince Wilfork, "and we just left them out to dry."
More to come . . .
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
Three weeks removed from his team blowing a 25-point, second-half lead in the Super Bowl, Mohamed Sanu offered a possible explanation for the Atlanta Falcons losing their edge against the Patriots.
More specifically, it was the half-hour-plus halftime show that interrupted the Falcons' rhythm, the receiver said Friday on the NFL Network's "Good Morning Football."
“Usually, halftime is only like 15 minutes, and when you’re not on the field for like an hour, it’s just like going to work out, like a great workout, and you go sit on the couch for an hour and then try to start working out again,” Sanu said.
Sanu was asked if the delay was something you can simulate in practice.
"It's really the energy [you can't duplicate]," he said. "I don't know if you can simulate something like that. That was my first time experiencing something like that."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick did simulate it. In his Super Bowl practices, he had his team take long breaks in the middle.
Sanu also addressed the Falcons' pass-first play-calling that didn't eat up clock while the Patriots came back.
"The thought [that they weren't running the ball more] crossed your mind, but as a player, you're going to do what the coach [Dan Quinn] wants you to do." Sanu said. "He's called plays like that all the time."