Patriots vs. Ravens: Takeaways from New England's 41-7 Win over Baltimore
The New England Patriots didn't need to step on the field to win the AFC East on Sunday, but they made a playoff statement anyway.
The Pats locked up the division by virtue of Miami's loss to Buffalo, handing New England their 11th title in Bill Belichick's 14 seasons but sent a message to the rest of the conference with a thorough 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
For a team that was floundering after a tough loss to the divisional-rival Dolphins, the Patriots bounced back in a strong way by putting together their most complete football game of the season and showing that they can pull out a tough win on the road.
It was as impressive of a victory for the Pats as they've had in recent memory, even if it wasn't as much of a blowout as the score might indicate. But it wasn't all positive coming out of Baltimore.
Devin McCourty left the game and did not return due to a head injury. McCourty is now the third defensive captain to go down with an injury this season. Shane Vereen also exited in the first half and did not return after suffering a groin injury.
But the Pats remain in the driver's seat for a bye and have to be feeling pretty good about themselves after beating the rival Ravens.
What did we learn about the Pats and their fortunes in the now-assured playoff spot?
Here are the takeaways!
Vereen and McCourty Are Injuries to Watch
The two big injuries to monitor coming out of this tough, physical battle were to McCourty (head) and Vereen (groin).
Both players were standouts early in the contest, with Vereen picking up the second touchdown of the day and McCourty being close to two interceptions.
Vereen would pull up on a second-quarter deep route and head off to the locker room. He would return to the sideline but not re-enter the game.
McCourty banged his head hard while trying to make a tackle and was clearly woozy. He was not seen again after going to the locker room.
Both players are vital on their respective sides of the ball. The fact Vereen came back out is a positive sign. The Patriots can't afford to lose another weapon on offense, especially the mismatch-machine Vereen.
Despite some inconsistency from Steve Gregory, the Patriots safeties did a good job in the absence of McCourty, with Duron Harmon standing out with a nice pass breakup and Tavon Wilson securing an interception which he returned for a 74-yard touchdown.
McCourty is the leader of the secondary, and a prolonged absence could mean trouble against the more experienced passing offenses.
Rolling with Blount and a Splash of Ridley
LeGarrette Blount continues to show good burst and the ability to pick up yards after contact. He finished the day with 16 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Blount's arrival during the draft from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't get much fanfare, but he's been New England's most consistent running back this season.
Despite Blount's hard running, the Pats still got Stevan Ridley involved, and he picked up two key first downs on the final drive that iced the win for the Pats. Ridley picked up 54 yards on 15 carries, as he became even more involved with the departure of Vereen.
The trust the Patriots showed by giving Ridley the ball in the fourth quarter with the game still on the line should build some of his confidence back.
He and Blount combined to make a formidable duo and seem to be finding the stride at the right time of year.
No Solder, No Problem
The biggest injury storyline heading into this one was the absence of starting left tackle Nate Solder, who could not get cleared from a concussion suffered last week, his second in two weeks.
Logan Mankins and Josh Kline did an admirable job filling in, especially Mankins who was out of position. Kline was an undrafted rookie, just another unknown player stepping up as injuries strike and doing their job.
Brady was sacked just twice and almost always had all the time he needed to find the open man. Given the team and the environment, it was the most impressive offensive-line performance of the season.
Solder should be back next week, but it's nice to know they can still manage even if they're without him again.
Logan Ryan Stepping Up
Not much was made of the selection of Logan Ryan, but given how injuries always pile up in the secondary, it was only a matter of time before he got his chance.
Against the Ravens, he started on the outside opposite Aqib Talib and delivered with two game-changing interceptions. Ryan was solid in coverage and made few mistakes with the Pats mixing man and zone coverages.
Alfonzo Dennard was benched for most of the day after a brutal showing last week against the Dolphins where he had multiple missed tackles.
Kyle Arrington showed how much more effective he can be when he can focus solely on slot corner responsibilities. He led the team with eight tackles and also added a sack.
Ryan could be a big part of the Patriots defense and any potential playoff run. His ascension in this game made a huge difference and really sparked the Pats secondary.
Flacco struggled to find open receivers as the Pats' coverage was one of the big stars of the game.
Defense Making Big Plays
The Patriots stopped the Ravens on all three of the fourth downs they attempted. It had been a while since the Pats defense stepped up to make so many key, game-saving plays in one game.
Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones put together a stellar game as the front four of choice. They were not always getting the pressure they needed but were playing strong against the run and bringing the clutch sacks at the right moments.
Three of their four sacks came on third down.
Add in Ryan's two interceptions and the recovered fumble near the end of the game and it was a vintage performance by the Patriots defense. Just one touchdown drive, a nine-play, 90-yard one to start the fourth quarter, stands out as a negative.
Otherwise, the Pats defense played a full game, coming up with turnovers and stops from start to finish.
If they can replicate this performance in the playoffs, they won't give up many points. It's nice to see that the potential really is there.
Edelmandola Lighting It Up
Maybe it's wrong to group Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola together, but they were essentially the Patriots' entire passing game. They combined for 122 of the 172 total passing yards, with Edelman being targeted for a sizable 11 of Brady's 26 throws.
Amendola only had two catches, but one went for 34 yards. He continues to fly under Tom Brady's radar but comes through in big moments.
However, it's Edelman (seven catches, 77 yards) who has turned into the real star. He made tough catches with tight coverage and is developing a Welker-like synergy with Brady. He now has 96 catches on the season.
They might not be as fast as the 2010 offense with Deion Branch and Wes Welker, but they have two quick slot receivers who can win off the line.
But if Vereen is out for any length of time, will Edelman and Amendola be enough?
The Pats Can Play Sixty Minutes
Maybe the biggest question surrounding this Patriots team was whether or not they had a full game in them.
We saw them play well in spurts, oftentimes looking unstoppable late in games as they came storming back from a large deficit. The Pats weren't that unstoppable against the Ravens, but they were consistent.
It was a far cry from the total ineptitude we've also seen from time to time this season.
Yes, they punted on four of six second-half possessions, and it was starting to look bleak. Despite that, they came through in the clutch with a nine-play, 48-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that took 4:32 off the clock.
The defense gave up just one big drive the entire game and came up with key turnovers and stops that helped extinguish any momentum the Ravens offense seemed to generate.
The Patriots showed they were capable of playing a full 60 minutes, now the question is if they can string together a few of them in the playoffs.
The Patriots Are 11-4
Ultimately, what matters most is that the Patriots are in the playoffs, and they still hold their own fate in securing a bye.
It's been one of the best seasons in recent memory, perhaps since 2007. This team continues to fight through injuries and never do they feel sorry for themselves or give up. Beating the Ravens on the road should be a huge morale boost for the Pats.
This was a Ravens team that was fighting for their lives and one that had dominated the Pats pretty thoroughly in last year's AFC Championship. To make this kind of a statement win, without many of their top players, is a true testament to Bill Belichick's program.
The Pats are now in prime position to pick up a bye week to help them get healthy. They need it as badly as ever and expect the Pats to be excited to return home for the first time in two weeks to close out the season.