The New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens have one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL. Since 2012, the teams have played five times, with the Patriots winning three including two playoff games. There is plenty of bad blood between the two teams, and it is evident whenever they face off. Their Monday night match-up did not disappoint, culminating in a 30-23 Patriots win. Here are three takeaways.
New England Patriots Week 14 Takeaways
Roller Coaster on Special Teams
The 2016 Patriots have been victimized at times by their inability to make game-changing plays without the ball. On Monday night, they looked as though they might break that slump in prime-time with a few big plays early. The second half was a much different story.
In the first quarter alone, three possible points were erased and two more were induced by Patriots special teams. Rookie cornerback Jonathan Jones dove to down a punt at the one-yard line, and on the next play defensive tackle Malcolm Brown exploded into the backfield and downed the Ravens running back in his own endzone for two points.
The ensuing Ravens drive looked as though it would end in a 34-yard Justin Tucker field goal. But linebacker Shea McClellin channeled former teammate Jamie Collins by leaping over the center as the ball was snapped and swatting the field goal. New England took possession, and a LeGarrette Blount run quickly made it 9-0 Patriots with a minute to go in the first quarter.
Two straight kick return miscues in the second quarter cost the Patriots 14 points. Rookie Cyrus Jones fumbled his fourth punt return of the year and set the Ravens up at the three-yard line. When Baltimore kicked off after scoring a touchdown, special teams captain Matt Slater dropped the ball, and Joe Flacco quickly threw another touchdown.
After their best special teams half of the season, the Patriots chances were jeopardized by the shaky return-handling that has plagued them all year.
Moving the Ball
The Patriots offense was in postseason form against the league’s number one defense.
Brady’s only questionable decision was an interception in the end zone. He was helped in large part by his offensive line, who only surrendered a single sack and opened running lanes against a stout defensive front.
The Patriots had 496 total yards, 406 coming from Brady. They had 7.6 yards per play to Baltimore’s 5.1, and converted 50 percent of their third downs. Tom Brady (25-38, 406 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) thoroughly out-dueled Joe Flacco (37-52, 324 yards, two touchdowns, one interception).
Just when the Ravens started to gain momentum, Brady struck again. After 17 straight Baltimore points, Brady hit a wide open Chris Hogan for a 79-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive. Brady’s perfect throw hit Hogan in stride, and the Patriots had all they would need to seal the deal.
Edelman’s Struggles Continue
New England’s best wide receiver is having a hard time catching the ball lately.
Julian Edelman once again failed to reach double-digit catches, and dropped several passes throughout the game. He has yet to catch ten passes in a game this season. In his last four games, he has caught just 58 percent of balls thrown to him.
Edelman’s new-coming comrades have picked up the slack. Both Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell caught touchdowns Monday night. Each has seen an increase in targets lately as Edelman continues to let passes go through his hands.
Despite nearly squandering a 20-point lead in the second half, the New England Patriots beat their bitter rival on a big stage. The drama continued until the very last play, when LeGarrette Blount ran out the clock on a fourth down carry for first down yardage. Now 11-2, the Patriots are in sole possession of the AFC’s number one seed.