There are no moral victories in the NFL, but there may be productive losses. Sunday’s disappointing performance by the Ravens at Foxboro, may or may not turn out to be one of those productive losses, but there’s a lot that can be taken away from Sunday’s game both positive and negative for the Ravens and their fans.
Those in the glass half full camp will point to seemingly egregious calls by the referees, the early loss of left tackle Jared Gaither, the fumbled kick return, the overall loss of the turnover battle, and of course Clayton’s drop, and say that even though they seemingly shot themselves in the foot at every opportunity, the Ravens still could have, and maybe should have won the game.
The glass half empty crowd will point to this as the 5th time in the Harbaugh era that the Ravens have faced a perennial AFC powerhouse during the regular season, and the 5th time that they’ve come out on the losing end of the stick. And for at least the third time in those 5 games, they’ve boisterously pointed at the officials, instead of accepting the accountability themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the games, the plays, the calls, but to some degree, it’s the same old song, and it’s getting old fast.
After the loss, I decided to make my official “best purchase of 2009 so far”, and subscribed to the NFL’s game rewind service. For $50, you get access to every NFL game from 2008 and 2009 from your computer. The games go up on the day after they’re played, and have all of the commercials cut out. I’ve often complained that too few national NFL reporters watch many games, most seem to watch a few games, and take everyone else’s word and the highlights to keep tabs on the rest. Now, I am endeavoring to watch every NFL down from this point forward, with a particular concentration on the Ravens and their upcoming opponents.
So with the benefit of NFL Game Rewind, and the gift of hindsight, here’s some of what I saw the second time around, watching Sunday’s game.
Opening Kickoff… Chris Carr’s fumble on the first play of the game certainly seemed to set the tone for what would follow. The Ravens defense dug in and forced a three and out, to their credit, but were still rewarded with an early deficit, as a field goal put the Pats up 3-0 less than a minute and a half into the game.
Ravens 1st possession… Answering the Patriots opening score with a long TD drive was big here, and it started to look like Flacco and Mason were both in line for a big day. The TD reception on 3rd and 7 however, may have cost Mason a lot of production later in the day.
On the negative side, the Patriots dropped 2 balls that could have been interceptions early in the drive, one by Vince Wilfork, and another that both Merriweather and Guyton got a hand on. The Ravens offense also had two early clock management issues on this drive, resulting in one spent timeout, and one delay of game penalty.
Still, it was a big drive for the offense, and left the Ravens up 7-3, midway through the first quarter.
Patriots 2nd possession… The Ravens’ defense looked to have it in for the Pats’ offense, as they appeared to force a punt with a foiled 3rd and long play, until Ngata was hit with likely the most costly penalty of the game, after hitting Tom Brady’s head. Even after that though, the Ravens had another opportunity to stuff the New England offense on 4th and 1 from the 3-yard line. Sammy Morris picked up the first down, but not the TD.
Side note: After Morris’ first down run was stopped short of the goal line, Ray Lewis began running and pumping his fist in celebration, seemingly unaware of the game situation. This seemed particularly un-Lewis-like, and was reminiscent of the Red Sox running off the field in mass against the O’s after recording the second out of an inning, setting the stage for the most monumental comeback in O’s history, and by far, their best game of the season. Again, maybe another subtle sign that this just wasn’t going to be the Ravens’ day.
Two plays later, Brady punched in the Patriots first TD, which may or may not have crossed the goal line. At the least, New England would have been left with 3rd and inches, and probably would have punched it in anyway. That leaves the score at 10-7 New England, just under a minute into the second quarter.
Ravens 2nd possession… It’s 16 minutes into the game, and Flacco is just getting his hands on the ball for the second time. After seeing Mason writhing in pain on the last TD play, he was right back in the mix, and Flacco targeted 3 times on this drive, but to no avail, under throwing him badly on a deep ball on the last play before punting. Sam Koch would punt the Pats down to the 9-yard line, with the Ravens still trailing 10-7.
Patriots 3rd possession… After a critical spot on a Sammy Morris first down, converting on 3rd and 7 (the spot was tough to see on TV), Ben Watson picked up a big play over the middle against Dawan Landry. Still, the Ravens dug in and forced the first New England punt of the day, for a touchback.
Ravens 3rd possession… This possession was pretty much defined by one play, the Gaither injury. On the play, Flacco got sandwiched between Patriot defenders Ty Warren, who came from the front and lead with his helmet, and Jarvis Green, who may or may not have been blocked into the back of Flacco’s knees. Neither hit drew a flag, and the end result was a long and scary scene unfolding in removing Gaither from the field. Also worth noting on this play, is that Willis McGahee dropped a would-be first down pass, setting up 3rd and 5 after the long delay.
Predictably the Patriots sent a lot of pressure from Gaither’s side on the next play, and to their credit, Michael Oher and Ray Rice did a good job at stopping the rush, but when Flacco rolled out to that side, he essentially walked right into a lion’s den of defenders. The result was a left handed intentional grounding call, and a punt back to New England, who would take over at the 36-yard line.
Patriots 4th possession… Here’s where the Suggs roughing penalty comes into play. From one angle, it does sort of look like a cheap shot by Suggs, but from the others it looks more like he was blocked and stumbled into Brady’s knee. Either way, it seemed harmless in comparison to the hit that just stopped play for nearly 20 minutes, just a few plays earlier. If not for the penalty, the Patriots appeared to be facing 3rd and 9 after a questionable spot, so there’s no guarantee that the drive wouldn’t have continued anyway.
Another Side note: Brady claims to empathize with the defensive restrictions according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, but nonetheless looked immediately to the ref after the Suggs hit, calling for the penalty. That, aside, we saw Brady melting down on the officials in the first quarter, melting down against teammates over the last few weeks, and big leaguing sideline reporters in the Monday Night opener. Something’s definitely different about this dude. I’m with Rex Snider on this one, and in my humble opinion, Brady seems to be losing more than a few people’s respect, he may be losing his mind.
On the play after the Suggs penalty, Wes Welker picked up a 15-yard completion on Landry. Again first and 10 defense is different than 3rd and 9 defense, but 15 yards would have made it a moot point anyway. Later, on the most surprising development of the day, Sammy Morris ran virtually untouched for a 12-yard TD, on which Landry appeared to have the only shot at a tackle and missed. That left the score at 17-7 Patriots with just under 4 minutes remaining in the half.
Side note #3: This is at least the 3rd time today that Landry seemed to be right in the middle of big Patriot gains. Combine that with Carr’s fumble on the opening kickoff, and I for one am beginning to miss Jim Leonhard a lot. It may also be worth noting that Ed Reed was largely anonymous in the first few games of last season, similar to this one. Reed’s stellar finish to the season also seemed to coincide with Leonhard’s insertion into the lineup. It’s certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on.
Ravens 4th possession… Again, the Ravens got the ball after what felt like an eternity. Factoring in the Gaither play, and subsequent delay, the Ravens’ offense has had 1 play in about the last 40 minutes at this point. The Ravens come right out running Rice at the spot vacated by Gaither and now filled by Oher on the first play, behind McClain. On the next play, Rice busted off another long run this time to the other side. Despite the Ravens success running, the Pats don’t fall for the play fake on the next play, resulting in a Joe Flacco sack that would have set up 2nd and 20-25 if not for a roughing call against Mike Wright for a slap to the head. It was enough to make a Ravens fan think that they just might get a fair shake in Foxboro, for a fleeting second anyway.
Later on the drive, Flacco threw a pass to Washington that was tipped and for the 3rd time at least on the day, the Ravens are fortunate to avoid a costly interception. A pass to Rice in the left flat seemed to take advantage of New England’s aggressiveness on that side, and Rice muscled his way for a crucial first down on a third down play that appeared to be stopped 2 yards short. The drive that had been the Ray Rice show though, was abruptly stopped when Flacco threw an interception deep in the red zone. The pick came after a play fake and a pump fake, and looked like Clayton ran a stop and go, but Flacco threw to the spot where he stopped.
It was an inauspicious end to an otherwise encouraging drive, and ended with New England getting the ball back for the 5th time in the half, and running out the clock. The announcers questioned Harbaugh’s use of the timeout, late in the play clock on second down. With 2 timeouts left, getting the ball back and scoring was a long shot, and I just assumed Harbaugh saw something that he didn’t like. It compelled New England to simply run out the clock, and the Ravens had to consider themselves fortunate to only be down 10 at that point in the game.
Patriots 6th possession… Here’s where the real melt down began. After getting the kickoff to start the half, again the refs asserted themselves on a critical 3rd down stop for the Ravens. Wes Welker, after apparently delivering a stiff arm to Chris Carr, drew an illegal contact flag, in another situation where the Ravens had appeared to force a punt.
At this point it was clear that coach Harbaugh had had quite enough. In his subsequent meltdown, the TV mics picked him up telling the ref he had made a bull shizzle call. Unfortunately for Harbaugh and the Ravens, the penalty didn’t come on the heels of the Welker first down; it came after another tough stop, which left New England at 2nd and 8.
The Ravens defense was still able to rally, forcing a New England punt, and giving the Ravens back the ball, still down 10, at the 16-yard line after a punt.
Ravens 5th possession… This was fortunately an uneventful possession for the Ravens. A tipped pass by Heap, and a dig by Clayton were both lucky not to result in Patriot interceptions again. After punting, the Ravens almost took advantage of a Kevin Faulk fumble, but the Patriots would recover, and keep possession, momentarily at least.
Patriots 7th possession… The first play of this possession for New England resulted in a Ravens TD. Suggs forced a Brady fumble, Edwards recovered it in the end zone, and the Ravens were back in business, trailing 17-14, midway through the 3rd quarter.
Patriots 8th possession… Dawan Landry popped Ed Reed on Sam Aiken’s catch on the second play of this drive. This time, the Patriots basically marched right down the field, mostly with the running game, but with a couple of big plays over the middle sprinkled in for good measure. The end result was Foxworth hopelessly overmatched and out of position against Randy Moss in the end zone, and a 24-14 New England lead with 2 and a half minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Ravens 6th possession… With 1:44 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Derrick Mason appeared to catch his first pass since the opening drive, but has it nullified on a pass interference call, on a play that looked remarkably similar to the one that resulted in an illegal contact penalty against the Ravens on Wes Welker earlier in the quarter.
Ray Rice broke a 50-yard run that changed field position dramatically, but stumbled on the next play, this would be the first of a series of Ravens stumbles in the backfield, most appearing to come in the areas where you could see the remnants of the MLS field logos. Maybe the Ravens missed that in the walkthrough.
After Merriweather broke up a pass to Kelley Washington, Ray Rice again muscles forward for a big first down on a third down play where he appeared to be stopped at least 2 yards short. McGahee then spelled Rice, and picked up a big TD catch over the middle, and held on after a big hit. That made it 24-21 New England just under a minute into the 4th quarter.
Side note #4: There’s certainly no shortage of attention being paid to McGahee’s resurgence, but this play in particular made me remember just how remarkable his season has been so far, after the way his season ended abruptly in the 4th quarter of the AFC championship game after a crushing hit.
Patriots 9th possession… This is the drive where the Ravens lost Ayanbadejo for the season. Ayanbadejo was forced to make the tackle on a 2nd and 11-play at midfield after Foxworth bounced off of a tackle that would have stopped the play short of a first down. After the review of Kevin Faulk’s catch, the Pats faced 3rd and 1, and may have cut the Ravens a break by taking a timeout while Foxworth was running late onto the field to join the play. A second challenge upheld on the drive came on the New England fake field goal, and the end result was another Patriots field goal, and a 27-21 lead with 7:10 left in the 4th quarter.
Ravens 7th possession… This drive began with an encouraging 38-yard kick return from Lardarius Webb, in for Carr. But it ended with another Rice slip in the backfield on 3rd down, and Willis McGahee being stuffed by the Patriots’ defense on 4th and 1.
Patriots 10th possession… This was a quick 3 and out for New England that ended with Ed Reed back to field the punt, but allowing it to go into the end zone. It was kind of funny, that Reed picked the ball up in the end zone, and even after the whistle, the New England defenders refused to let him go anywhere with the ball in his hands.
Ravens 8th possession… The last drive began with a beautiful completion from Flacco to Clayton in front of Jonathan Willhite. Next came another quick first down completion, this time to Derrick Mason, his first official catch since the opening drive. That was followed by 2 more completions to Clayton, with a Flacco sneak mixed in.
The fade to Clayton on first and 10 was catchable, but would have been tough. Give the defender some credit too, he played it well. Derrick Mason added a drop of his own on a catchable 3rd and 4 play, and of course Clayton’s final drop, along with the calls will be what fans remember most about this game.
I’ll also remember how truly giddy Bill Bellichick appeared to be after picking up the win, and how Harbaugh kind of gave him a taste of his own medicine at mid field afterward.
It’ll be a tough game to get over, but one that the team can certainly grow from, moving forward. Hopefully the tirades unleashed by the Ravens both during and after the game, directed at officials won’t come back to haunt them down the line. At the end of the day, they Ravens still had a chance to win, and failed to do so. That’s their own cross to bear. It’s safe to bet that there’ll be more chances ahead; we’ll see if they’re up to the task next time.