Ravens exposed by Patriots 24-3

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Exposed offensively despite a glaring mismatch that should have worked in their favor, the Baltimore Ravens were also bulldozed by the New England Patriots' running game. Without injured All-Pro runner Jamal Lewis and with quarterback Kyle Boller misfiring in an erratic outing against a threadbare secondary down to third-string cornerbacks, the Ravens proved incapable of maintaining stride with the defending Super Bowl champions.

Taking a major hit to its playoff hopes, Baltimore was defeated 24-3 on Sunday in a frigid downpour that created a quagmire at Gillette Stadium, where New England (10-1) has won its last 17 games.

"We weren't a good enough team today," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team was tied 3-3 at halftime but allowed New England to score 21 unanswered points in the second half. "It's very disappointing. We just had no rhythm, couldn't get anything going.

"Too many mistakes, just not enough to beat a championship caliber team. You can isolate any way you choose to, but it just wasn't good enough in any phase of the game."

The Ravens (7-4) couldn't run the football effectively and they couldn't pass it. They gained only 124 yards of total offense. Boller completed only 15 of 35 passes for 93 yards, an interception and a 38.4 passer rating. He gained just 1.2 yards per pass attempt.

The defense couldn't stop Corey Dillon from doing what he wanted, allowing him to rush for 123 yards and a touchdown.

The consequences of the defeat are quite serious. If the season ended today, the defending AFC North champions wouldn't qualify for the playoffs.

Between the Ravens' loss and the Pittsburgh Steelers improving to 10-1, Baltimore fell three games behind the AFC North leaders with five games remaining. And the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets' victories hurt the Ravens' wild-card prospects.

"There's a lot of teams in the AFC playing good football," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "The margin for error right now for us is very slim. We have to take care of business. I truly believe we will starting next week.

"You have to take it as a learning experience because we'll probably end up seeing these guys again."

In the second half, Baltimore lost any momentum it had built with a 22-yard field goal by Matt Stover to tie the game with two seconds remaining in the first half. Two penalties, including a facemask tackle by linebacker Matt Chatham on B.J. Sams' punt return, set up the scoring chance.
However, Boller overthrew Randy Hymes on a fade pass from the 4-yard line.

"We really couldn't get that good drive going," Boller said. "They're a great team, very fundamentally sound. They don't make mistakes. They force you to make throws you shouldn't make. They bait you into stuff that looks good at the time."

During the first minute of the fourth quarter, New England scored two touchdowns.

Dillon, the former Cincinnati Bengals' malcontent whose previous best against Baltimore was 127 yards on Dec. 23, 2001, scored on a 1-yard touchdown run. He broke linebacker Ray Lewis' tackle attempt three seconds into the fourth quarter while 310-pound defensive end Richard Seymour, playing fullback, kicked out safety Chad Williams. Dillon tacked on a 2-point run right up the gut. He rushed for 83 yards in the second half, stiff-arming defenders like cornerback Corey Fuller to the ground.

"Corey Dillon had a good day, and that's why he's a perennial 1,000-yard back," defensive end Tony Weaver said.

On the ensuing drive, Boller fumbled when linebacker Tedy Bruschi hit him from behind.
Chester Taylor, playing in place of the injured Lewis, tried to dive on the football, but it squirted free and the Patriots' Jarvis Green dove on it in the end zone for the final margin.

"The guy knocked the ball out of Kyle's hands," said Taylor, who rushed for 61 yards on 16 carries with Lewis out with a sprained right ankle. "I tried to dive on it, but it was slippery and it spurted right out."

Offensively, Baltimore wasn't able to exploit the absence of New England's top three cornerbacks: Ty Law, Tyrone Poole and Asante Samuel.

"They're still NFL cornerbacks," receiver Clarence Moore said. "It's not like they're garbage."
New England managed to hold Baltimore to 47 net yards passing by sacking Boller four times and helping suspect corners Earthwind Moreland and Randall Gay, who intercepted Boller in the first half, with safety assistance.

"You all make too much of halftime adjustments," said Billick, whose team didn't seem to change its strategy while New England increased its tempo.

The Patriots also lined up safety Eugene Wilson occasionally at cornerback, and moved reserve linebacker Don Davis to safety. Boller's longest completion was 20 yards to tight end Daniel Wilcox.

The Ravens converted only 3 of 14 third downs.

"We're not built to come out there in three and four wides all the time and take advantage of some of those mismatches," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "I don't know that having a couple of backup corners in there and a backup linebacker playing safety was a big deal to them. They play very conservative, keep the ball in front of them.

"We tried to go deep a couple of times. We didn't get anything out of it. If we hadn't turned the ball over, it would have been a relatively close game."

The Patriots built a 9-3 lead with Adam Vinatieri field goals of 28, 40 and 48 yards, running his streak to 21 in a row.

They gained 314 yards of total offense, controlling the football for 35:54 in comparison to the Ravens' output of 124 yards and 24:06.

The Ravens play the Cincinnati Bengals next week, but still face stern tests on the road against the Indianapolis Colts and Steelers.

"This is just a temporary setback," Boller said. "We'll learn from it. This isn't going to stop us. We're still going full ahead."

Aaron Wilson writes for RavensInsider.Com and the Carroll County Times

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