Three things we learned in a 30-23 Patriots victory over Baltimore Monday night.
1. Special teams are people too
To his credit, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was rather controlled postgame when asked about the frustrations mounting with rookie Cyrus Jones in the kick return game, a situation that hit Defcon 1 on Monday night when the cornerback watched the football bounce off his foot only to be recovered by the Ravens on the three-yard line. Baltimore quickly scored its first touchdown of the game, only to watch the normally-reliable Matthew Slater muff his own attempt at a return, helping lead to another quick Ravens score, turning a 23-3 laugher into a 23-17 nail-biter. If the Patriots weren’t so thin already, Jones’ continued mistakes on special teams would have found him released by now. But Belichick is seemingly keeping the faith in him (though, even Jones’ parents would have pulled him from the return situation as the coach eventually did Monday night). According to Belichick, all three of the Patriots’ turnovers were things they need to improve on, refusing to be goaded into blaming only Jones, which is quite different than the way Patriots fans reacted after watching more of Jones, a second-round pick who continues to baffle on special teams. “We turned the ball over three times tonight,” he said. “Three situations that all I would say are pretty preventable. We’ve just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball than we did tonight, and that’s everybody that handles it so we’ll work on those things.” On the other hand, Shea McClellin probably made a few people forget about Jamie Collins’ once-thought unbridled athleticism by pulling off the same leap on a blocked field goal kick, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s first miss of the season.
2. Tom Brady. Ho hum.
Even if Dallas Cowboys quarterback Das Prescott hadn’t rightly struggled against the New York Giants on Sunday night, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady probably would have leapfrogged him to become the favorite for the NFL MVP award with his performance against the Ravens. All Brady did on Monday night was throw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against a Ravens defense that came into the contest as the league’s top defense. He also threw his only red zone interception of the season, a matter that went forgotten since the Ravens didn’t turn the turnover into a score, and because Brady mastered the Baltimore defense at every other turn up and down the field, short, deep, inside, and outside. It was arguably Brady’s best performance of the season. His MVP season, that would be.
3. In their defense …
Despite their obvious flaws, the Patriots defense came into Monday’s contest as the fifth-ranked unit in the NFL thanks to its bend, don’t break mentality, a mantra that had become somewhat of a mocking cry in recent weeks with individual performances lacking toward the final product. It was different against the Ravens. Whereas defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may have deserved criticism earlier in the season, he gets kudos for a game plan that confused quarterback Joe Flacco all night long by bluffing the rush constantly, while Patriots players controlled the threat level of any Ravens completions, only to watch Jones and Slater make their jobs a lot more stressful in the fourth quarter. No, the Ravens aren’t the Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints in terms of high-powered offensive attacks, but the way the Patriots handled them will go down as perhaps there finest outing of the season, a bright moment particularly with a trip to Denver on the horizon next weekend, and the postseason creeping along about a month away.