The New England Patriots came into Sunday night’s matchup against their bitter rival-Baltimore Ravens in a must-win situation. They needed to win to keep their slim chances of a playoff berth alive, especially after the division-leading Buffalo Bills lost to the Arizona Cardinals on a Hail Mary.
It was a cold and rainy night at Gillette Stadium, resulting in many dropped passes, bad snaps and other miscues from both teams. In the end, the Patriots and Ravens produced another battle that came down to the wire with the Patriots coming away with a 23-17victory. Here is my breakdown of the game.
Quarterback Cam Newton came into this game confident after a strong outing on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets as he led a second-half comeback and game-winning field goal drive to give the Patriots the 30-27 win. Despite this, the fact remained he had not thrown a touchdown pass since Week 3 against the Las Vegas Raiders, the game before he tested positive for COVID-19. Against the Ravens, he would break the streak with a touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead in the first quarter. He also rushed for a four-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Patriots a 20-10 lead. Due to the conditions, he only threw for 118 yards on 13-of-17 attempts.
However, he was efficient and made big plays when the Patriots needed them most. He connected with Jakobi Meyers for a 26-yard completion to set up his aforementioned rushing touchdown and with 3:35 left to go in the game, he found Meyers for a four-yard gain, converting a third down, which extended the drive. Ultimately, the Patriots burned two more minutes off the clock, pinning the Ravens deep in their own territory with no timeouts. This conversion was instrumental in sealing the victory as Newton did just enough to put his team in the best position to win. Meyers finished the game with five receptions for 59 yards, but his highlight play was his 24-yard touchdown pass to Burkhead late in the second quarter to give the Patriots the lead 13-10 heading into halftime. His background as a high school quarterback gave the Patriots the big play they needed as Meyers has continued to fill in for Julian Edelman, who has made huge plays with his arm before against the Ravens.
As impactful as Newton and Meyers were, the two biggest factors for the success of the offense in this game were running back Damien Harris and the offensive line. The line had one of its best games of the season, only allowing Newton to get sacked once and opened up running lanes for Harris to run through. Harris ran for 121 yards on 22 carries, a career-high in both categories. His blend of blazing speed and power made stopping him a tough task for the Ravens defense. All game long, Harris was bouncing off tackles and gaining extra yards, along with bursting through the holes the offensive line opened up. While the return of former starter Sony Michel is soon approaching, Harris is making a strong case to be the permanent feature back going forward.
The defense faced dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson with the aid of stormy weather. The Ravens offense found some success in the elements with long touchdown drives in the first and third quarter and a field goal drive in the second quarter. All three of their scoring drives traversed over 65 yards on at least 11 plays. Outside of this, the Ravens offense could not get anything going due to some timely defensive stops from the Patriots’ defense and miscues of their own.
At the end of the first half, the Ravens looked to answer Meyers’ touchdown pass with a score of their own before heading into the locker room. However, the NFL’s interceptions leader, J.C. Jackson had other plans as he picked off Jackson with seven seconds left in the first half, his sixth of the season, and the fifth-straight game with an interception. With cornerback Stephon Gilmore still out due to a knee injury, Jackson, along with the McCourty twins, stepped up with huge tackles in open space and pass deflections in the fourth quarter to contain the Ravens’ attempts to take the lead.
The Ravens had bad snaps on their fourth-down attempt early in the third quarter and on their second-to-last drive of the game. While the Patriots were not able to recover the loose balls, they did not allow the Ravens to make something out of nothing. John Simon and rookie Josh Uche both sacked Jackson. The defense held the Ravens to 115 yards rushing, their third-lowest total of the season and 49 yards below their season average. The Patriots got more penetration into the backfield more consistently against the Ravens than most other opponents this season, an encouraging sign going forward.
Nick Folk made his one field goal attempt from 20 yards out but he missed one of his three extra points. While it ultimately made no difference in the outcome, it would have been costly if the Ravens were able to find the endzone in the fourth quarter. With the conditions, punter Jake Bailey became an important player in the field position battle. He did his job, pinning the Ravens inside the 20-yard line twice in the game, including on their final possession.
For the first time this season, the Patriots have won back-to-back games and have kept their slim playoff hopes alive. They will hit the road on Sunday as they travel to Houston to face the 2-7 Texans.