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Snap Judgments: Patriots let one slip away

09.24.12 at 12:37 am ET
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BALTIMORE — In a wild finish to a game that had its share of controversy, the Ravens pulled out a 31-30 victory over the Patriots on a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker as Baltimore rallied from a 30-21 deficit in the final four minutes.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished with 335 passing yards, while Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker both topped the century mark in receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 382 yards and the Ravens piled up over 500 yards of total offense.

The Patriots jumped to a 13-0 lead, and while the Ravens took brief leads of 14-13 and 21-20, New England was able to answer quickly with scores to regain control. The Patriots appeared to put the game out of reach with a 10-0 second-half run on scoring drives of 12 and 13 plays, but the Ravens rallied behind Flacco and Torrey Smith, who finished with 127 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

WHAT WENT WRONG

‘€¢ The Ravens put together their first scoring drive of the night in the second quarter, a 13-play, 82-yard sequence that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith that cut New England’€™s lead to 13-7 with 9:45 left in the first half. The Ravens followed that up with a 10-play, 92-yard drive that was the unquestioned lowlight for the New England defense, one that ended with a 20-yard connection from Flacco to Dennis Pitta that featured Pitta leaping over Steve Gregory and easily skirting past a weak attempt at a tackle by Devin McCourty. Both drives features defensive breakdowns by the New England defense, particularly when it came to tackling.

‘€¢ The replacement referees had a bad night from start to finish. There was confusion throughout the contest, and players on both sides took advantage of the inexperience to do a little pushing and shoving and try to get away with as much as possible.

‘€¢ The defense couldn’t hold on in the fourth quarter. A pair of defensive holding penalties on Brandon Spikes and McCourty proved costly, but Flacco was able to complete 5-of-6 passes on a drive that ended in a Smith touchdown to make it 30-28.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

‘€¢ The Patriots offense looked solid most of the night, and while the Ravens would take the lead from time-to-time, it wasn’€™t for long, as Brady and the passing game were in control. (New England had first-half scoring drives of eight and nine plays to get control of the contest early.) One of the reasons the Patriots enjoyed offensive success was because they were able to keep Brady upright much of the evening. The quarterback was sacked twice and had excellent time in the pocket for much of the game.

‘€¢ The first sequence was highlighted by a 59-yard pass play to Welker (and punctuated by a 2-yard touchdown run from rookie Brandon Bolden), and the second came just before the end of the half on a surgical drive for Brady that ended when he hit Julian Edelman with a 7-yard scoring strike to give New England a 20-14 lead just before the half. The Patriots were grinders in the third and fourth quarter — they had second-half drives of 12 plays (that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run from Woodhead) and 13 plays (on a 20-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski) that made it 30-21 early in the fourth quarter.

‘€¢ Part of the reason for the early lead was the fact that the defense played well throughout the first quarter-plus — the Ravens ran one play in New England territory in the first quarter and went three-and-out on two of their first three drives. (The Ravens didn’€™t get their initial first down until the start of the second quarter.) The defensive highlight early came when Gregory stepped in front of a Flacco pass and took it back 36 yards to help set up the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night. (There would be defensive breakdowns, but those would come later in the evening.)

‘€¢ After a rough outing last week, the Patriots’€™ specialists had a better night, with Gostkowski connecting on three of his field goal attempts (including a 49-yarder) and all of his extra-point attempts. Meanwhile, punter Zoltan Mesko didn’€™t get a punt blocked.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, joe flacco, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Key Moment: Devin McCourty penalty sets up game-winning field goal

09.24.12 at 12:08 am ET
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For the Patriots, the key moment in Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Ravens came on the game’s final play. For the second straight week for New England, a kicker faced a potential game-winning field goal. Last Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard kick in the loss to the Cardinals. Baltimore rookie kicker Justin Tucker was successful in his game-winning attempt, barely sneaking in a 27-yarder to give the Ravens the win and send the Patriots to 1-2 on the season and under .500 for the first time since losing the season opener to Buffalo in 2003.

(Vince Wilfork was adamant that Tucker missed the kick, yelling at officials in the end zone. Bill Belichick grabbed an official by the arm after the game, but the official ran by the New England coach and did not speak to Belichick.)

The Ravens started the game-winning drive at the New England 21, with Joe Flacco connecting with Jacoby Jones for a 24-yard gain. Dennis Pitta had a 17-yard catch on the drive, but it was Devin McCourty (who was beat by Jones on the 24-yard catch) with the key miscue of the game, flagged (correctly) for pass interference on Jones, setting up a first down at the New England 7-yard line. Two plays later Tucker kicked the winner, an attempt that very nearly missed to the right.

In Focus: Taking a closer look at Patriots inactives

09.23.12 at 7:10 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — The following Patriots players were deactivated for Sunday night’s game in Baltimore against the Ravens: defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick, Jake Bequette and Justin Francis; cornerback Alfonzo Dennard; tight end Aaron Hernandez; running back Shane Vereen and offensive lineman Nick McDonald.

Deaderick, Hernandez and Francis have all been dealing with ankle injuries over the last week, with Hernandez suffering his injury in last week’s loss to the Cardinals. Hernandez will reportedly be out up to a month — in his place, expect the Patriots to lean on tight ends Kellen Winslow and Daniel Fells, both of whom are active for the first time this season. In addition, Deion Branch will likely pick up some of the slack in the passing game.

In Deaderick’s absence, expect more playing time for Ron Brace, while rookie Marcus Forston could also see his first NFL action against the Ravens as well.

Vereen has been dogged by a foot injury since the preseason, while McDonald has been in and out of the lineup because of a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Francis and Bequette have yet to appear in a game this season. Dennard has been slowed with a hamstring since the summer, and hasn’t appeared in a game yet. (Francis, Bequette and Dennard could essentially be taking redshirts season, getting used to life in the NFL as a rookie.)

Two names who are interesting because they are active are left guard Logan Mankins and wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. Both popped up on the injury report this week, Mankins with a hip and Lloyd with a thigh, and both got a serious look from the strength and conditioning staff in on-field workouts before Sunday’s game.

Live Blog: Patriots take on Ravens in Sunday Night Football matchup

09.23.12 at 3:30 pm ET
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Patriots/Ravens

Setting the scene: Patriots-Ravens

09.23.12 at 12:40 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Emotions will be running very high on a number of different levels when the Patriots and Ravens kick off their AFC Championship rematch at M & T Bank Stadium as New England looks to avoid its first losing record since starting 2003 with an 0-1 record.

It will be a crisp night, as the forecast calls for clear skies and a temperature of 67 degrees for the 8:20 p.m. start (WHDH-TV). Wind should not be a factor as a light breeze out of the northwest at 6 MPH is expected.

As for the emotions, Ravens second-year receiver Torrey Smith lost his 19-year-old brother Tevin early Sunday morning. Tevin Smith was killed in a motorcycle accident when he struck a utility pole in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Smith confirmed the tragic news this morning on his Twitter page and moments later tweeted a picture of himself with his younger brother.

“I can’t believe my little brother is gone…be thankful for your loved ones and tell them you love them…this is the hardest thing ever.”

Smith was excused from the team to be with his family in Virginia. It was immediately unclear whether he would return in time for the game.

The Baltimore Sun reported just before 4 p.m. ET that Smith had rejoined the Ravens after spending part of his day with his family in Virginia and is likely to play.

“This is devastatingly sad, sad news,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Torrey and his family are a close, special family, and our hearts and thoughts reach out to all of them. Our hearts ache today. We pray for Tevin, his mother, Torrey and the rest of the family. God bless Tevin.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Torrey Smith after the passing of his brother, Tevin,” the team said in another statement.

Several Ravens, including LaQuan Williams, Tandon Doss, Bryan Hall and Vonta Leach, have also expressed their condolences to their teammate and his family on Twitter.

“My prayers and condolences go out @TorreySmithWR and his family through their trying times,” Williams tweeted.

The game was already expected to be played at very high level with the emotional Ray Lewis leading the Ravens in the “Purple Palace”, one of the loudest home field advantages in the NFL. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, New England Patriots

Will this be the week the Patriots and Tom Brady hit a deep connection?

09.22.12 at 9:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady has attempted 77 passes in two games.

He’s had one connection over 30 yards and that was 36 yards on a seam route to Wes Welker to open the second half last week.

He’s twice connected to Rob Gronkowski for passes of over 20 yards. He’s had one completion each of over 20 yards to Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Stevan Ridley.

Still the question remains, will the Patriots aim to go deep again this week?

There have been long shots targeted for Lloyd in the first quarter of the first two games. Both fell incomplete. There was a pass last week to Gronkowski in the end zone that the tight end couldn’t quite handle.

Coming into this season, it was assumed that with Lloyd in the arsenal the Patriots would be going deeper more to stretch the field. The intent has been there. The results have been mixed.

“I think, really just about every play is different in the game,” coach Bill Belichick said on Friday. “You try to simulate it in practice but it’€™s just different in the game. I think the big thing for the quarterback and the receivers is just to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. You call plenty of them, I won’€™t say every play but there are an awful lot of plays have guys running deep ‘€“ post patterns, flag patterns, go-routes, whatever it is ‘€“ you don’€™t throw them on every play but they’€™re there on every play depending on what the coverage is and what the matchup is.

“There’€™s also plenty of times that we go out in practice and run plays and then we get in the game and we see something and it takes us to that and maybe we’€™ve practiced it and maybe we haven’€™t. When you think about it, say you run 100 plays during the week in practice ‘€“ 35, 35 and 30 or whatever it is ‘€“ and then you have goal-line plays and you have a lot of other plays that are situational plays in there and then you think of all the different coverages a defense can play ‘€“ on third down, on second down, on first down, in the red area.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Tom Brady

What does Patriots’ history of moving on from players early say about Wes Welker’s situation?

09.22.12 at 3:40 pm ET
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With Wes Welker getting less playing time this year than the four-time All-Pro receiver has grown accustomed to, everyone’s looking for answers as to why. Some say it’s the emergence of fourth-year man Julian Edelman, while others wonder whether Welker’s contract status — he’s signed for the year under his franchise tender and will be a free agent at season’s end — has something to do with it.

If they don’t re-sign him to a multi-year deal, Patriots could franchise (the number for receivers is set to increase) Welker again with the intention of keeping him or moving him (a la Matt Cassel). They could also let the 31-year-old walk.

During his appearance with Mut & Merloni on Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King gave an interesting take on what the Patriots might be doing.

“I think they’re preparing for life without Wes Welker,” King said. “I think if you look at the reality of this situation, Bill Belichick has always — I mean always — had the future in mind when he is trying to figure out how he is going to put his team into play for both the present and the future. All you have to do is look back at Richard Seymour. When you look back at Richard Seymour you realize in essence good players can be traded and can be gotten rid of.”

King said that he didn’t think the Patriots would trade Welker this year, but that if someone presented them a strong offer — such as a second-round pick — the Pats would be wise to at least consider it. Either way, Welker departing even after the season would mark a rather abrupt ending to his Patriots career, which started in 2007. If the Pats were to part ways with Welker during the season or after it, it wouldn’t be the first time Belichick has let a big-name player go while they were still conceivably in their prime. In fact, it’s been established that the Patriots believe in parting with players — even popular ones — a year too early rather than a year too late.

Here are a few examples:

Lawyer Milloy

Accomplishments with Patriots: Super Bowl XXXVI Champion, three-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler

Departure: Released prior to 2003-04 season after he wouldn’t renegotiate his contract

Age: 29 Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Richard Seymour, Wes Welker,
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