In a night where fallen NFL player Sean Taylor was honored, the Baltimore Ravens pulled no punches as they fought a hard-hitting battle with the undefeated New England Patriots. Baltimore harassed Patriots receivers, smacked Tom Brady around and played the tough, hard-nosed style of football that they've been known for since winning their only Super Bowl in 2000.
It took 59 minutes and 16 seconds before New England was able to relax a bit with the 3-point lead. Yet even then, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller launched a Hail Mary pass that was stopped short on New England's two-yard line. Had Baltimore one more time out, they conceivably could have tied or won the game. Instead, Baltimore fell to 4-8 as the Patriots walked off the field, fortunate to have the win.
The intensity of the game was set by the Ravens defense, which appeared to knock the Patriots out of their offensive rhythm for most of the game. Bill Belichick knew the Ravens would give the Patriots trouble, but he couldn't have predicted such a difficult game.
"Like we thought all week, they're tough and they do a great job, and they played well tonight," Belichick said after the game. "There are a lot of things we need to work on."
The Patriots started the game just as they have 10 of their past 11, with a sustained drive that resulted in points on their first possession. The first drive red zone production was a sign of things to come when New England stalled inside the Ravens' 10 yard line. The Patriots had to kick a field goal after the Ravens' defense held firm against three first and goals from the 7, 5 and 3 yard lines, all courtesy of Ravens penalties.
Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady knew the offense was having more difficulty than normal getting things rolling. For the second week in a row the Patriots won by just three points when they entered the game favored by 20 or more.
"We have to execute better, run better routes, throw better passes, make better catches, block better," said Brady.
A 10-10 ball game at the half, the Patriots appeared out of sync and fortunate to be tied. A long interception return by Ed Reed was negated when Kevin Faulk stripped Reed deep inside Patriots territory just before the half. New England recovered and went to the locker room content with the tie.
The third quarter wasn't much better for New England as the Ravens directed two long scoring drives. The first was answered by New England with a touchdown. The second - which came 35 seconds into the fourth quarter put the Ravens on top 24-17 with all the momentum. When the Patriots punted and the Ravens took over on the New England 26, the game appeared to be over. Yet Boller made the biggest mistake of the game when he threw deep down the middle of the field into the waiting arms of James Sanders who returned the ball to the New England 43. The Patriots kicked a field goal to close to within 4.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense struggled throughout the first three quarters. New England had no answer for Boller's ability to find the open man, or Willis McGahee's ability to slice through the defense for big chunks of yardage. McGahee rolled through the Patriots defense on 30 carried for 138 yards and a touchdown.
One of the players responsible for holding McGahee in check, Junior Seau, gave credit to the much-maligned Raven's offense. The same unit that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis called out in the media just a few short weeks ago.
"Their offense played better than we did on defense," Said Seau. "It's as simple as that. All we can do is tip our hats to them. They ran the ball very well. McGahee had a great game. They did a great job."
New England's defense turned up the heat on McGahee in the fourth quarter after the Raven's final touchdown. Seau and crew limited McGahee to carries of 0, 1, 2, -1 and 1 yards on the Ravens next three possessions. - all three-and-out drives.
"I felt that this was the first time all year that we got bullied," Said Rodney Harrison. "We can't allow teams to run the ball and pound it like that. There are times this is a "mano-on-mano" battle and they were winning it."
Despite managing to drive down the field for the game's winning score, Tom Brady and the offense struggled. The offense needed help and it came in the form of more Ravens penalties, which sustained the drive when it appeared Baltimore's defense had the game won.
"It was a long drive, which came down to third downs and fourth downs," Said Brady. "We executed when we needed to. A lot of those calls definitely helped us out."
Late game heroics, defensive adjustments and a few fortunate calls helped the Patriots remain undefeated. For Ravens defensive back Samari Rolle, he wasn't surprised either by the score or the way the Ravens played.
"Everybody on this team knew that the Patriots weren't going to come in and beat us like that (20 pts)," said Rolle. "We've got pride in here and we've got a lot of good players. It just hasn't been our year this year. They're the best team that we've played, but they just weren't going to come in and beat us like that."
Rolle's fellow defender Chris McAlister had more to say on the officiating after the game.
"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," Said McAlister. "It is what it is. They put the crown on top, and they want them to win. They won."
New England improved to 12-0 on the season and will host the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on Sunday.
- Tom Brady finished the night completing 18 of 37 passes for 287 yards 2 touchdowns and an interception. The scores were Brady's 40th and 41st of the year. E is just 8 scores shy of tying Peyton Manning's single season touchdown record of 49 with 4 games remaining on the schedule.
- Laurence Maroney has a career game receiving. Maroney finished with 15 carries fro 44 yards and a pair of receptions for 79 more.
- Randy Moss' touchdown reception in the third quarter gave him 17 on the season, tying his career best seasons (1998, 2003) with the Minnesota Vikings. The score also tied him for the most in Patriots history for a single season.
- FB Heath Evans score for the third time this season. Prior to 2007, Evans had just one score in his 7-year career.