Though the Baltimore Ravens only lost to the New England Patriots by a score of 30-23, this game feels like a far bigger loss. The reality is that the Patriots were in comfortable control for most of the game and were it not for some uncharacteristic miscues in the second half, they would have likely given the Ravens their most lopsided loss of 2016.
The first half was all Patriots as they roared out to a 16-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter. The Ravens could only muster two field goal attempts in that half, the first of which was blocked by the Patriots, thus making it Justin Tucker’s first miss of the season. The second kick attempt was converted from 50 yards with 16 seconds left in the half and mostly just prevented the Ravens from entering the locker room with zero points.
The third quarter seemingly resumed right where the first half had left off with Tom Brady marching his offense down the field and throwing a touchdown to Martellus Bennett to give the Patriots a 23-3 lead. Then came successive drives where the Patriots’ returner fumbled away the ball. The first fumble came on a punt return where Cyrus Jones let the ball hit his foot, enabling the Ravens to recover it at the Patriots’ 3-yard line. Darren Waller caught a touchdown two plays later and then on the following kickoff return, Matthew Slater gave the ball right back to the Ravens deep in Patriots’ territory.
Kenneth Dixon caught a receiving touchdown a few plays later and suddenly the Ravens were trailing the Patriots by just six points. Tucker added another field goal in the fourth quarter, to make the score 23-20. But that would be the closest the Ravens would get as the Patriots put together a scoring drive that effectively killed the Ravens’ comeback hopes.
This drive was capped off by the Patriots’ longest play of the night, a 79-yard passing touchdown from Tom Brady to Chris Hogan. A miscommunication between Eric Weddle and Matt Elam left Hogan wide open and he made the Ravens pay dearly. With just six minutes remaining in the game after the touchdown, the Ravens’ offense couldn’t score fast enough to overcome a two-score deficit.
The loss drops the Ravens to 7-6 and gives the Pittsburgh Steelers the top spot in the division. The Ravens now will likely need to win all three of their remaining games if they are to make the playoffs as the AFC North Champion. It’s a loss that hurts the Ravens deeply, especially given the fact that the Patriots made some rare mistakes that let the Ravens back into the game. Here’s a look at some of the big takeaways from the Ravens’ 30-23 loss to the Patriots.
1. The pass defense is not the same without Jimmy Smith in the lineup.
The Ravens suffered an injury scare in the first quarter when Jimmy Smith made a tackle near the goal line and then collapsed on the field in obvious pain. He appeared to have twisted his ankle on the field and he required the assistance of trainers to get off the field. After that, he needed to be carted to the locker room to get his ankle looked at.
With Smith out for the rest of the game, the Ravens’ passing defense clearly struggled. It was the same story as the game against the New York Giants where a Smith injury allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to have a massive second half and also the same as the game against the Dallas Cowboys, where Smith sat out due to injury and Dez Bryant had a massive day receiving. The secondary needs their top cornerback in, because without him they are vulnerable to giving up big passing plays to top caliber receivers.
The Patriots were able to capitalize on Smith’s injury as Brady threw for 406 passing yards and three touchdowns. Tavon Young has been solid as a rookie and Shareece Wright has been a solid starter in spurts. But neither of them has played as well as Smith and even though the Ravens entered the game ranked as the top pass defense, it’s likely they will fall in those rankings if Smith has to miss a lot of time.
2. The offense is still very one-dimensional under Marty Morhinweg.
Though it’s been almost two months since Marc Trestman was let go as offensive coordinator, it would be understandable for fans to still think he was calling plays. Marty Mornhinweg has kept the worst parts of the Trestman playbook and made many of the same poor choices as his predecessor. One of the most noteworthy ones came in the first half when Mornhinweg inexplicably abandoned the run game by calling just four running plays in the first half.
Even with the Patriots going out to an early lead, it was baffling that the Ravens would move away from the running game so quickly. They added nine more rushing attempts in the second half, ending the night with a grand total of 13. Kenneth Dixon was clearly the more trusted back as he got 11 attempts while Terrance West just had two. Dixon totaled 39 rushing yards and he also managed 42 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown, showing that his role on the offense is continuing to expand.
Mornhinweg has also shown a tendency to continue to rely on the short passing game. Joe Flacco seemed to be constantly throwing checkdowns to Kyle Juszczyk and Dixon. While we can’t possibly know which plays were designed checkdowns and which ones were called by Flacco, it makes no sense to have a strong armed quarterback who is constantly throwing short and not attempting many deep passes. The Ravens have got to get back to deep passing plays if they are strike any fear in opposing defenses.
3. Special teams miscues hurt the Ravens.
John Harbaugh’s background as a special teams coordinator usually leads to the team performing well on special teams. That was not the case at all on Monday night. In addition to Tucker’s blocked field goal, the Ravens seemed to be constantly losing the field position battle to the Patriots. Twice, the Patriots were able to punt the ball and pin the Ravens deep in their own territory.
One of those long punts led to a Patriots safety in the first quarter when Dixon was tackled in the endzone. Part of the blame for the horrible field position has to go now former return specialist Devin Hester, who made some questionable calls as to when to not attempt returning punts. His only punt return went for 12 yards and his two kick returns totaled 40 yards. He has not provided the burst that the Ravens had expected at returner and the Ravens responded to Monday’s poor performance by releasing him on Tuesday.
It was strange to see both the Patriots and the Ravens make poor special teams plays on Monday night. Ultimately, the Patriots proved to be the superior team by overcoming their special teams mistakes. The Ravens typically do not struggle on special teams as much, but it will be interesting to see going forward, how the team can replace Hester at kick returner and punt returner.
The Ravens have their final home game of the regular season in Week 15. They will be hosting the Philadelphia Eagles and will be trying to avoid being swept by the NFC East this season. The 5-8 Eagles are the last place team in their division and at this point in the season, they are mostly just looking to play spoiler. Nonetheless, the Ravens can’t afford to look past them with the crucial Week 16 game against the Steelers next on deck after this week.