Game Day: Patriots vs Baltimore Ravens

Game Day links, News and Notes. What you need to know for tonight's game between the 11-0 New England Patriots and the 4-7 Baltimore Ravens

New England Patriots (11-0) at Baltimore Ravens (4-7)

KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/03/07
LOCATION: M & T Bank Stadium, Baltimore MD
WEATHER: Game Conditions
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya

SERIES: 4th meeting. Ravens lead the series, 3-0. The Ravens haven't played the Patriots in Baltimore since the 1996 season. The last meeting was in 2004, when New England beat the Ravens, 24-3. The Ravens managed 124 yards of total offense, the fewest in franchise history. A shutout was only avoided because of New England's mistakes, as two major penalties (a facemask and an unsportsmanlike foul totaling 30 yards) set up the Ravens at the Patriots' 16-yard line. Matt Stover's 22-yard field goal represented the scoring for an offense that didn't cross midfield in the second half.

PREDICTION: Patriots 38-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Tom Brady admittedly tries to blow out every opponent, and the Patriots strike quickly as they lead the league with 58 points on their first possession of the game. Don't be surprised to see RB Laurence Maroney start to get more touches. The Patriots threw 54 times compared to 16 runs last Sunday, and Brady took too many hits facing constant blitzing. The imbalanced play-calling also could become a concern as weather becomes a bigger factor down the stretch. ... The Ravens' offensive struggles during their losing streak have come while playing several of the league's worst defenses. They know they'll face a lot of complex looks and pressure from the Patriots, and the only real counter is to control the ball behind RB Willis McGahee. QB Kyle Boller can get rattled easily by pressure, but he'll have to be willing to take hits to make plays downfield.

KEY INJURIES: Patriots: LB Rosevelt Colvin (foot) was placed on Injured Reserve. Ravens: WR Steve McNair (shoulder), TE Todd Heap (hamstring) and WR Demetrius Williams (ankle) are out; CB Chris McAlister (knee) is working hard in hopes of returning this week.

FAST FACTS: The Patriots have clinched the AFC East title. ... New England's 442 points through 11 games has already broken the previous single-season franchise record of 441 set in 1980. ... Boller is 15-5 as a starter at home, but has lost nine straight road starts.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Patriots:
--Rookie S Brandon Meriweather was a teammate of Sean Taylor's at the University of Miami and because the two played the same position, Meriweather looked up to the elder Taylor as a mentor. Taylor died of a gunshot wound to his leg on Tuesday and Meriweather spoke to the media about it for the first time Thursday.
"He's one of the great ones to ever come through there, Meriweather said about his former teammate." "Sean was one of my closest friends and helped me with everything. He did everything for me."
--RB Kevin Faulk (thigh), who did not practice Wednesday, was also absent for the media portion of Thursday's workout as well. Faulk was the only player not in attendance.
--WR Wes Welker (team decision) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Welker has been on the injury report the last two days but he's still expected to start on Monday.
--QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice but will start Monday night at Baltimore.

Ravens:
--OT Jared Gaither did not practice because of an illness. He is expected to be inactive Sunday.
--TE Todd Heap was limited in practice with a hamstring injury but this is an encouraging sign. He didn't practice all of last week. It seems like he will try to play this week.
--LB Jarret Johnson was limited in practice but he said that he expects to play with a fractured right thumb. He likely will play with a cast.
--CB Chris McAlister was limited in practice with a strained right knee but that's a good sign. He didn't practice last week and didn't play. McAlister said he was going to push to play Monday.
--RB Willis McGahee was limited with an ankle injury but it's not considered serious. He is expected to play.

SCOUTING REPORTS:

RAVENS

QUICK HITS

--Coach Brian Billick wouldn't dismiss the possibility that Todd Heap's hamstring injury is season ending, but he said Heap's status is considered week-to-week.

"I hate to be so vague, but I don't know that Todd knows for sure until he progresses during the week," Billick said. "He pushes it, and it comes to a point where it grabs again or it doesn't. It's not much of an answer, but it's the only one that I have."

Heap has missed five of the past seven games. He is out for Monday's game against the Patriots.

--Receiver Mark Clayton is having one of the most disappointing seasons of any Raven.

With Heap and Demetrius Williams injured the past two weeks, Clayton has made a total of four catches for 24 yards.

Billick speculated that Clayton's lack of production is the result of more three-receiver formations (which provide more options in the passing game) and the absence of Heap (defenses roll their coverage more toward the wide receivers).

"There are probably a number of things along those lines that have kept Mark from having the numbers that he might otherwise have," Billick said.

--The Ravens, who lead the NFL with 19 lost fumbles, aren't effective in taking the ball from their opponents -- they're tied for 27th in recovered fumbles with five.

"We expect to create turnovers ourselves," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "It's part of the game. You know there are going to be turnovers, but you do what you can to just give up a field goal or stop them on three-and-outs."

--There is speculation that offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel could be leaving for a college job. If he accepts a college job, Billick said, he would allow him to leave during the Ravens' season.

"Rick has been and will make an outstanding college coach," Billick said. "I would be very surprised if a number of these schools weren't interested in Rick Neuheisel, and we'll support that in any way that we can."

--The Ravens are 0-7 when not scoring first.

--The Ravens have lost five straight games for the first time in the team's 12-year existence. They haven't won a game since Oct. 14.

BY THE NUMBERS: 44 -- Total games missed by nine starters this season, including six former Pro Bowl players.

THEY SAID IT: "What better challenge than to face, arguably or non-arguably, the best quarterback in the league right now? Who else would you want to come in here and challenge yourself as a professional? And, that's the way those guys, I think, will approach it. And hopefully, we'll have a full complement that want to take on that challenge." -- Coach Brian Billick, on facing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

A LOOK INSIDE

Kyle Boller will be the Ravens' starting quarterback for a third straight week because Steve McNair still has a partially dislocated left shoulder.

With Trevor Pryce likely out for the season, Dwan Edwards will continue to start at defensive tackle in the Ravens' base defense, and rookie fourth-round pick Antwan Barnes will fill in for Pryce in passing situations. Taking Pryce's roster spot is Zarnell Fitch, who was signed from the practice squad.

No. 3 receiver Demetrius Williams is out with an ankle injury. In his place, Devard Darling will be the third wideout.

Rookie Marshal Yanda has replaced Adam Terry at right tackle. Terry has been benched because of ineffective play.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Kyle Boller has a quarterback rating of 97.2 in four Monday night games. He has completed 57.6 percent of his throws for four touchdowns and one interception.
--WR Derrick Mason has the third-most receptions (76) on Monday Night Football among active receivers. In three games against New England, Mason has averaged five catches for 64.3 yards.
--TE Todd Heap has averaged 3.7 catches for 40.2 yards in seven Monday night games. He has scored four touchdowns.
--K Matt Stover is 11-for-14 on field goals in eight games against New England.
--CB Samari Rolle has made five of his 28 career interceptions on Monday Night Football. He has two interceptions as a Raven on Monday Night Football.

GAME PLAN: The best defense against New England is a ball-control offense. The Ravens will rely on their running game and short passing attack to eat up time of possession. The Ravens are 4-2 when they win time of possession. But they have failed to do so during their five-game losing streak.

Defensively, the Ravens know they don't have the secondary that can hold up against Tom Brady. They need to get a consistent pass rush against him and force him to get rid of the ball quicker than he wants. Look for the Ravens to flood one side of the line to hurry Brady.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens RB Willis McGahee vs. Patriots run defense. McGahee could have a tough game against the Patriots because the Ravens likely will struggle to keep the game close. New England can be vulnerable against the run. The Patriots allow 4.1 yards a carry, which is 20th in the NFL. But they only allow 86.2 yards rushing because teams can't commit to the run because they fall behind so early against New England. Third in the NFL in rushing, McGahee has gained at least 77 yards rushing in seven of 11 games and has scored a touchdown in six straight games.

Ravens pass defense vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady. The Ravens have a secondary that could match up against New England when they're healthy. But the Ravens won't be at full strength because Chris McAlister (strained knee) is still not fully recovered. Brady is coming off his worst game of the season but he should get back on track against the Ravens. In the Ravens' five-game losing streak, the defense has totaled 10 sacks and just three interceptions. The Ravens are one of two teams (the New York Giants are the other) not to allow a passing touchdown to Brady in his career.

Ravens QB Kyle Boller vs. Patriots pass defense. Boller could have a respectable game against the Patriots. He plays his best at home, winning 15 of 20 starts at M&T Bank Stadium. He also has done well on Monday night, throwing four touchdowns and one interception in four games on Monday night. The Patriots, though, have the ability to rattle quarterbacks. New England ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks (31) and second in interceptions (16). Plus, Boller likely will be without tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and receiver Demetrius Williams (ankle).

INJURY IMPACT: QB Steve McNair (shoulder) is out. Boller will start in his place.
Demetrius Williams (ankle) is out. He will be replaced by Devard Darling.
Heap (hamstring) is questionable.
McAlister (strained right knee) said he will "push" himself through the week more than he did any other week. He wants to play against the Patriots.
LB Jarret Johnson (fractured thumb) said he expects to play. If he doesn't, rookie Antwan Barnes likely would replace him.

PATRIOTS

QUICK HITS

--Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi are the only current Patriots players to have played in each of the three meetings with the Ravens.
--The Ravens and New York Giants are the only two teams in the NFL that Tom Brady hasn't thrown a touchdown pass against. Brady will get a chance to end both those streaks when he takes on Baltimore this week and the Giants in the season finale.
--The Patriots will be making their first-ever appearance at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
--"It's great," he said. "I know he's excited. He's been working very hard for a long time, and it's great to have him up and available. I sure hope he makes a big impact on the team. He always does just with his leadership and his ability to kind of bring people together, and always has positive words. He's a great leader, he's a great teammate. Everybody loves having Troy around." -- Tom Brady, on the return of Troy Brown.

BY THE NUMBERS: 58 -- The number of points the Patriots have scored on their first offensive possession of the game, a mark that leads the NFL.

THEY SAID IT: "First of all, I'd like to, on behalf of our team, extend our condolences and thoughts and prayers to Sean Taylor's family, extended family, the Redskins and the University of Miami. We have a number of players from Miami on our team and there is a connection there. It's a terrible tragedy. There is no way to really explain it. Our sympathies go out to them." -- Bill Belichick, on the death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor.

A LOOK INSIDE

Willis McGahee is no stranger to the Patriots from his days in Buffalo, and those days generally were not good ones for the Ravens' new featured back. With the exception of his 136-yard performance at Gillette Stadium in 2005, McGahee has been thoroughly unimpressive in his outings against New England. He's not quite quick and fast enough to cause the Patriots' strong defensive front much trouble, even though he is among the league's top rushers as he nears the 1,000-yard mark for the third time. The Ravens offensive line hasn't been as strong as it has been in the past, particularly because of a painful toe injury to star left tackle Jonathan Ogden. Ogden is back but the old smashmouth style Baltimore featured in the past has not returned. Not many teams have had consistent success against the Patriots on the ground, and McGahee's style, coupled with Baltimore's limited attack, doesn't figure to change that much.

PLAYER NEWS

--The Patriots activated wide receiver Troy Brown to the active roster from the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list and re-signed linebacker Chad Brown. Additionally, the Patriots placed linebacker Rosevelt Colvin on the reserve/injured list and released rookie defensive lineman Kareem Brown. Colvin will miss the rest of the 2007 season with a foot injury.

"On our end of it, unfortunately we had to put Rosie on injured reserve yesterday. He's worked awfully hard this year, as he always does," coach Bill Belichick said. "I feel badly for him, as I do for the other players on IR -- Sammy (Morris) and Chad Scott and Dave Thomas, and all those guys. It's unfortunate.

"We signed Chad Brown, who has been with us, and gives us depth and experience at the position, as well as activated Troy from the PUP roster. As usual, we'll go into the game with the players we feel like -- from the 53-man roster -- gives us the best chance to compete against the Ravens. We'll make that decision at the end of the week. I don't want to lead anyone in any direction but that one. So that's where we're at as far as the Ravens go."

--RB Kevin Faulk was the lone player not present for the media-access portion of Wednesday's practice. With Faulk out, it left the Patriots with just three running backs at practice -- Laurence Maroney, Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel.
--OL Billy Yates and WR Bam Childress wore black jerseys on Wednesday, meaning they were practice players for the week.
--CB Randall Gay (back) had limited participation in Wednesday's practice. Gay left in the third quarter of Sunday's win against the Eagles and didn't return.
--G Stephen Neal (shoulder) had limited participation in practice on Wednesday. Neal has been battling a shoulder injury all season but was in the starting lineup last week.
--WR Wes Welker (team decision) had limited participation in Wednesday's practice. After catching 13 passes for 149 yards last week, Welker is expected to start on Monday against the Ravens.

GAME PLAN: Assuming the Patriots defense keeps Willis McGahee under wraps, as they have for the most part in the past, pressuring Kyle Boller will be key. When he has time, Boller has displayed a major-league arm and the ability to get the ball into the hands of Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, his solid wideouts. But Boller is a different quarterback when under pressure, which should be the case with the Patriots' tenacious front not making life easy for many opponents this season. Look for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to unveil some blitzes in an effort to confuse Boller, which has happened occasionally to the former first-round pick out of Cal. The pressure will lead to mistakes.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Ravens CB Samari Rolle. Rolle is making a dramatic return from a bout with epilepsy and now he'll be asked to cover Moss on Monday night. Moss has toyed with virtually every corner he's gone up against this year but the Eagles did a good job of controlling him last week. Expect Rolle and the Ravens to take a similar approach to Moss by being physical with him at the line of scrimmage.

INJURY IMPACT: With Rosevelt Colvin lost for the season, the Patriots will likely move Adalius Thomas over to outside linebacker most of the time. That means aging veterans Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau will man the inside. Both Bruschi and Seau have played well this season but they've been able to stay fresh by rotating with Thomas. Now with Thomas playing on the outside to fill the void left by Colvin, expect to see the Patriots use more 4-3, with Bruschi and Seau rotating in the middle. This will put the Patriots' best players on the field and keep the older linebackers from wearing down as the season moves forward.

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