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Patriots - Ravens: Insiders Perspective

<p>It is the time of year when the good teams become great ones. Before Thanksgiving, teams work to establish an identity and positioning. After Thanksgiving they look to win a championship. That's the Patriots' mentality as they gear up for the season's final month when they often thrive in unpredictable weather. </p><p>Get the Insiders Report on the game, including a unit-by-unit report card. <b><a href="https://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=121&p=6" target="_blank">Free Trial</a></

INSIDERS PERSPECTIVE

In winning championships in two of the last three seasons, the Patriots went undefeated after Thanksgiving in both years, finishing the regular season on a 5-0 spurt while adding three more wins in each postseason. During that stretch, the Patriots were also 8-0 in home games, including the postseason. They are now 1-0 this year.

When the weather becomes inconsistent, the Patriots become consistent playing in it. Last year, they dealt with heavy rain in an October win over the Giants while winning in the snow against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Colts and in extreme cold temperatures against the Titans. So Sunday's win over the Ravens in a downpour was just par for the course.

"We like November and December weather in Foxborough," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "Once October ends, the weather gets bad and we love it. You breathe the air and feel we should be playing at a higher level."

The numbers support his feeling. New England allowed nine points in two November home games and has now allowed just 16 in its last three after allowing 54 in its first three. Last year, the Patriots allowed 13 points over their last four home games, which helped them secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, where they allowed only 28 points against the Titans and Colts, who were guided by league co-MVP quarterbacks Steve McNair and Peyton Manning, respectively.

Despite their 10-1 record, the Patriots will need some help to lock up home field this year since Pittsburgh is also 10-1 and has a win in hand over New England. But one can bet that when weather is a factor as it was Sunday against Baltimore that New England will thrive in the conditions.

"I think any playing experience in those conditions helps," coach Bill Belichick said. "We practice out in that from time to time. I know it drives everybody crazy, but there is no way to simulate it. You can talk about it, but the only way to get out there and deal with it is to get out there and learn how to play with your feet under you and learn how to handle the ball and throw the ball where the receivers have a chance to catch it around their body and defensively, making sure you defend the field from the inside out. You hope you can recall your experiences and build on them."

The Patriots, not surprisingly, seem to be able to do just that. They not only build on their experiences, but also thrive on the messy conditions. Now they hope to build on another post-Thanksgiving win as they prepare for a 3-8 Cleveland team as part of their three-game swing through the AFC North that ends with a home game against Cincinnati on Dec. 12.

NOTES, QUOTES

The Patriots snapped a rather dubious streak in Sunday's 24-3 win over the Ravens. Opponents and prognosticators often talk about New England's alleged ability to avoid mistakes, but the Patriots went 21 straight games with at least one turnover before protecting the ball in the win over Baltimore.

Before Sunday, the last time New England failed to lose a turnover was back on Oct. 26, 2003 in a 9-3 win over the Browns at Gillette Stadium. It should be noted though, that New England was plus-15 in turnover ratio over that 21-game stretch.

And even though they made a slew of mistakes in the first half against Baltimore, they avoided the big one that the Ravens defense thrives on.

"We were struggling," coach Bill Belichick admitted. "But the good thing was, offensively, we didn't turn the ball over. That is the first time in a long time we've done that, gone one game without turning it over. So that was good."

It was, according to quarterback Tom Brady, the key to the game. "That team was, I think, 43-2 under Brian Billick when it won the turnover battle. So that was probably the most important part of the game."

--Billick downplayed the Patriots' halftime adjustments in his postgame press conference, but New England's offensive coaches were forced to adjust to some Baltimore rush schemes for which they were unprepared and which gave them problems throughout the first half when Brady was under heavy pressure while only being sacked once.

"The Ravens gave us a lot of pressure in the first half," Belichick said. "They were bringing some secondary blitzers off the edge and we had a little problem picking that up. I thought Charlie Weis and Dante Scarnecchia did a really nice job at halftime and made some adjustments. That was a lot less of a problem in the second half."

"I think they had some things for us that we weren't ready for, things they hadn't shown," Brady added. "I think it was important for us to make some changes in the second half."

--LT Matt Light's status remains unclear. Light was helped off the field in the fourth quarter Sunday and could not put pressure on his left leg. It was an encouraging sign that he walked out of the locker room unaided after the game, but the fact that he was unavailable to address the media was not a good sign since injured players don't typically speak to the press. Of course, speculating on the nature or severity of the injury is fruitless. Coach Bill Belichick did not offer an update after the game saying only, "Hopefully he'll be all right." Keep in mind that Belichick said back in Week 2 that wideout Deion Branch, who was injured on the last play of the first half of that game at Arizona, wanted to come back in for the second half. He came back in eight games later.

--DL Jarvis Green scored his first career touchdown when he recovered a Kyle Boller fumble in the end zone after Tedy Bruschi strip-sacked the Ravens quarterback. "It felt good. Tedy Bruschi made a great play and I saw the ball bouncing around and I fell on it," Green said. "I told myself that I wouldn't let it out of my hands if I got the ball."

--RB Corey Dillon's 123 rushing yards against Baltimore was his third highest total of the season and marked the sixth time in 10 games that Dillon has reached the 100-yard mark. He not only became the fastest Patriots back to reach 1,000 yards, but he also set a new career high for 100-yard games in a season. He also is on pace to shatter his single-season personal best rushing total of 1,435 yards set back in 2000. He is averaging 112.1 rushing yards per game and his 4.8 yards per carry equals his career best mark set back in 1997 when he was a rookie for Cincinnati.

--LB Rosevelt Colvin notched his fourth sack of the season on Sunday against Baltimore and is now tied for second on the team with Richard Seymour behind Willie McGinest, who leads the club with six sacks. Colvin is now 11 games into his comeback from a fractured hip and appears to be improving steadily. If he can make a bigger impact over the final month, he could give New England a defensive boost in the pass rush department.

--CB Randall Gay intercepted his second pass of the season when he dropped off his man and picked off Kyle Boller in zone coverage. Gay started at corner against the Ravens opposite Eugene Wilson in what is becoming the secondary shuffle. Dexter Reid started at safety along with Rodney Harrison, who also lined up at cornerback with Gay moving back to safety and linebacker Don Davis also taking snaps at safety at times. Troy Brown was once again the slot cornerback in the nickel and recorded one pass defense. The team's top three corners, Ty Law, Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel, all missed the game.

--LB Roman Phifer missed his first game of the season with a calf injury. It was his first injury absence from the lineup since the 2002 season. His status for Sunday in Cleveland is unclear.

--S Rodney Harrison limped off the field on two different occasions during the Ravens game, but reported being fine after the game.

REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus

- It was tough going for the Patriots against a hard-nosed Ravens pass defense. Tom Brady hit only five different receivers and completed only 50 percent of his throws, completing 15-of-30 passes for 172 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. It was the first time Brady didn't throw a touchdown pass in 17 games, although he had one nullified when David Patten was called for pushing off on a 23-yard touchdown reception. Brady was under heavy pressure throughout the first half even though he only was sacked once. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 61 yards in the second half and had time to throw, but often had no open receivers, particularly in the red zone. The Ravens kept the clamps on New England's diverse passing attack, forcing some errant throws with its pass rush and some drops with its hard hits. The key for New England was to avoid turnovers, which it did.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A

- Corey Dillon has to garner consideration for league MVP. He had his sixth 100-yard game of the season by pounding away at a physical Ravens defense. He ran successfully both inside and outside the tackles and made some nifty cuts while also breaking tackles with strong stiff arms and power running. It was, in short, a typical Dillon performance this season. He ran 30 times for 123 yards and his seventh touchdown of the season when he ran through a late Ray Lewis tackle attempt. He had 13 runs for 40 yards at halftime, but gained 83 yards on his 17 second half runs. The offensive line did a good job, but Dillon's ability to pound it inside allowed him to pop some runs outside and gain yards on the perimeter. He made one mistake in the game when he ran out of bounds in the final minute of the half, which stopped the clock and gave Baltimore a scoring chance, which it used to kick a field goal for its lone points.

PASS DEFENSE: A-plus

- Sure, the Ravens' passing offense is one of the worst in football, but the Patriots played without starting corners Ty Law and Tyrone Poole and without starting nickel back Asante Samuel. A group that included Randall Gay, Troy Brown, Dexter Reid, Don Davis, Earthwind Moreland, Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison held Boller to 15-of-35 passing for 93 yards, although they were greatly aided by a strong performance from New England's front seven, which sacked Boller four times and pressured him throughout. The defense scored a touchdown when Tedy Bruschi forced a Boller fumble that Jarvis Green recovered in the end zone. This was a dominant performance in adverse conditions.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus

- For the second week in a row, New England did not have to face its opponent's lead back and Pro Bowl runner due to injury. Last week it was Kansas City's Priest Holmes out and this week it was the Ravens Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith. That left third string runner Chester Taylor as the lead back. He carried 16 times for 61 yards before being taken out of the game by the score. He did gain 18 yards in the fourth quarter when Baltimore fell well behind and the Patriots were happy to let him break off some runs in front of a deep zone defense designed to prevent any quick scores. But the front seven performer well as did Rodney Harrison in run support. Harrison had 12 tackles while Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi combined to make 16 stops. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork played well inside. The Patriots have steadily improved against the run and are now allowing 103.9 yards per game despite allowing 204 rushing yards against the Colts and 221 against the Steelers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

- The Patriots mishandled kickoffs and punts. They committed too many penalties and punter Josh Miller had his worst game of the season, netting only 25.6 yards on his eight punts. Only Adam Vinatieri saved the grade by converting all three of his field goal tries, including a season high 48-yarder, in the wind, rain and mud at Gillette Stadium. Troy Brown eventually took over for Kevin Faulk returning punts and averaged 9.3 yards per return on three tries compared with Faulk's 3.3. Bethel Johnson had a strong 27-yard kickoff return to open the second half, but was bailed out of a huge mistake when Reid recovered his fumble on the play. Four of the team's seven first half penalties came in the kicking game, including a pair of 15-yarders on the same play that set the Ravens up for their only points.

COACHING: B

- New England faced a tough task against a physical Baltimore opponent coming off a short week following a Monday night road game and was up for the challenge. But it took a whole half for New England to get going. The first half was marred by penalties and mistakes that didn't prove costly thanks to Baltimore's inept offense. Bill Belichick mishandled the clock at the end of the half, which aided Baltimore's cause in putting up its only three points. New England took over at its own 17 with 1:08 on the clock with Baltimore holding two timeouts. Brady took a knee on first down and Baltimore called timeout with :56 left. Rather than take a knee and make Baltimore use its second timeout, the Patriots called an outside run and Dillon ran out of bounds to stop the clock with 51 seconds left. The Patriots ran Dillon again on third down for two yards and Baltimore used its final timeout with :46 to go. Josh Miller then punted only 38 yards, B.J. Sams returned it 12 yards and the Patriots were hit with two 15-yard penalties, giving Baltimore a first down at the Patriots 16 with :36 left. If New England took a knee on second down and Baltimore used its final timeout with about :53 left, they could have taken a knee on third down and let the clock run down near 10 seconds before punting. That would have left Baltimore with very little time to score. Also, Brady admitted that New England wasn't prepared for some of the blitzes Baltimore threw its way early in the game. But the coaches deserve a lion's share of the credit for making important halftime adjustments and getting the team focused to play a strong second half to win the game. The Patriots stopped committing penalties and scored on their first three second half possessions. All in all, the coaches did a good job preparing for a difficult Ravens team in a short week despite some slip-ups that didn't prove costly.

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