Monday, November 4, 2019

Patriots Undressed By Ravens, 37-20

The 2019 Patriots lost for the first time last night, 37-20, to the Baltimore Ravens. The win leaves them 1.5 games up on Buffalo for the division lead, and also 1.5 games up on those same Ravens in the race for AFC playoff seeding. Next week is a Bye, so no game but keep an eye out for a mid-season update/review.

The Ravens won this game because they were better prepared. They jetted out to a 17-0 lead in the first 16 minutes of the game. And after that, the Patriots got two turnovers and scored 20 points, and the Ravens got two turnovers and 20 scored 20 points. So if the Pats were better prepared at the start, they would have been right there.

Baltimore confused the Pats defense with their diverse running attack, using their confusion for the first three scores. But after that the game settled down and the New England offense and defense played markedly better.

It was a great adjustment to go no-huddle to wear down the Ravens D and then run it down their throats later in the game. And it helped that Baltimore fumbled twice (a punt and the running back). But after the blistering Ravens start, it was too-little too-late.

As with all close games, there were maddening moments that could have turned the tide.

The first Ravens TD came after the Patriots were offside on a field goal attempt. The Ravens got unneeded help from the officials on a few other plays (two examples: Hightower's offside should have been a false start on the long-snapper, and a killer non-call on an obvious pick play -- both of which gave the Ravens easy first downs). And James White was inches away from a TD at the end of the first half. 

But most frustrating of all was watching the Pats offense. Multiple times they had easy plays for short gains but went for long passes. With the almost the entire fourth quarter to play, the Pats were down 10 and had a first-down in Baltimore territory. Here is what happened next:

Play #1. Brady did not audible when there was an unusual 10-yard cushion on an outside receiver (I think it was Phillip Dorsett). A change of play, or just a knowing nod to the receiver, and a quick-throw outside picks up at least 5-7 yards easily. But instead, it was a throw to a covered Mohamed Sanu.

Play #2. Instead of taking a short gain over the middle, Brady forced the ball deep to tight end Ben Watson down the seam. It's the kind of pass Rob Gronkowski sometimes made; a low pass where he had to dive, catch, and roll to get it. But Ben Watson isn't Rob Gronkowski, so it fell incomplete.

Play #3. Knowing they were in a four-down situation, the Patriots should have tried to gain some yardage to give themselves a chance on fourth-down. Instead, Brady dropped way back and under pressure threw one up for grabs at the 5 yard line. Interception! It was so badly underthrown that the "intended receiver," (Sanu) couldn't even get to the intercepting player to touch him down at the 5, so he returned it to the 33 yard line.

In summary, the Patriots were unprepared, the defense was confused and overmatched, the offense was inconsistent and turned the ball over, and the referees helped the Ravens. Hence a 17-point loss.

Positives from the game:

1. Sanu had 10 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. With the Pats in desperate need of diversifying their offensive attack, adding Sanu to Edelman, James White, and Ben Watson is what the doctor ordered.

2. The overall plan of going up-tempo to wear the opponent down worked pretty well. Given that they started slow running but ended up averaging 4.4 ypc, it was impressive. And being able to run or throw to White against a tired defense actually helped.

3. The defensive adjustments were good, if not geat. Even though they came too late, the Patriots D settled down and slowed down the Ravens O. In the mid-game the Patriots outscored the Ravens 20-7. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to overcome the two turnovers.

4. Nick Folk > Mike Nugent. Not that he was great, but you have less fear with Folk coming out to kick than you had with Nugent. Most of the kicks were right down the middle; only one real exception moved to the left, but it was still good.

5. A big-picture positive: the Ravens beat both the Chargers and Browns the first time they saw QB Lamar Jackson -- and both trounced the Ravens the second time they played him. It might take that one game to see what you are up against. And the Patriots just got that out of the way.

Where does that leave us? 8-1 still isn't bad, but it does make things tighter in the AFC. I predicted they'd lose this game when I made my Preseason Picks in September, because it was a big spot and the Ravens had a Bye week to work on it. So take it as a given they would lose and move on. The Patriots Bye will give them a chance to regroup and better integrate Sanu.

Biggest on-going issue: If the kicking game holds up, then it's a tie between the O-line and wild INTs from Tom Brady. They need to give help to Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. And even more, they need Isiah Wynn to return to take his place.

As for Brady, I agree with Al the Weather God, who wrote that he'd like TB12 to look less like Brett Favre. Take what the defense gives you and live to play another down. It worked for your first three Super Bowls, it can work again!

Non-Brady MVP: Punter Jake Bailey, who had three of his five punts downed inside the 20, and who gave up an average return of 1.4 yards. He also kicked off and held on all those perfect kicks.

Statistical Oddity: The Patriots defense had given up just 40 points in the first 8 games. And they gave up 30 last night.

Water-cooler wisdom: "That game was bound to be tough; things should get better as they get healthier."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 8-1!

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