November 28, 2004
Ravens vs. Patriots
At Gillette Stadium, Patriots WIN, 24-3
By Scott A. Benson

Where for art thou, Dennis Brolin?

Surely if the Michael Vick of groundskeepers were still in the Patriots’ employ, the Gillette sod would have looked and played like Augusta National’s today despite the wind and rain, and the poor Baltimore Ravens would have had a sporting chance against the duplicitous defending champions and their deliberately untended, quite nasty field. Oh, and Matt Light probably wouldn’t have gotten hurt, either.

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But you know how they do things down there. On Morrissey Boulevard, I mean.

I’m sure they’ll be a few hundred column inches devoted to Max Yasgur’s little farm down on Route One this week (the only thing missing was Hendrix doing the anthem), so the Boston Globe may never get around to telling you that the New England Patriots pulverized the Ravens in Foxborough on Sunday, seizing control in the second half before winning in a walk, 24-3.

With a steady rain falling and the middle of the field reduced to something resembling chocolate pudding, it was a day for defense. And the still-shorthanded Pats laid the wood to Baltimore, holding them to just 124 total yards (on only eight first downs) and forcing every critical error of the game.

The New England offensive unit, which struggled mightily with the Ravens’ all-star D for most of the first two quarters, ran off three consecutive scoring drives to open the second half, putting the game safely in the hands of the Patriots.

With the win, the champs go to 10-1 and remain the AFC East leader and 2nd seed in the conference. The Patriots have won 24 out of their last 25 games.

Before we move on, go back and read that last sentence again. You’ve got to smell the roses.

Patriots on Offense

The Pats won their fourth in a row and continued their march towards a possible best-ever regular season, but today could linger like a punch in the stomach if left tackle Matt Light is as seriously injured as he appeared to be after a 4th quarter running play. As Corey Dillon sloshed for a clock-burning first down behind him, Light went down with what appeared to be a left ankle injury. He was unable to put weight on the ankle as his teammates helped him to the sideline. The whole thing looked bad.

Brandon Gorin finished the game at Light’s spot, with Russ Hochstein filling in at right tackle. Given the Patriots’ proclivity for overcoming injuries to even their most valuable players, it’s hard to play Chicken Little with this one, particularly since we can’t be certain how badly Light was hurt. But if you can think about the impact of Light’s loss to the Patriots’ running and passing games without feeling a little shiver down your back, you’re a better man than I.

It was a tale of two halves for the Patriots offense today. Save for a 2nd quarter drive that netted a lone field goal (albeit one that set a record, as New England has now scored first in 16 straight games), the Pats struggled to move the ball on the Ravens during the first half. Often eschewing the run in favor of the pass, they accomplished little more than to set up one bad Josh Miller punt after another.

Yet the Pats came out in the 2nd half (with the teams tied at 3) and controlled the ball, the clock and the scoreboard for the rest of the afternoon. They notched two quick field goals to open the half, then went on a five minute touchdown drive to close out the 3rd quarter and extend their lead to 17-3. With Kyle Boller and the Baltimore offense still straining to make first downs, much less produce points, the Pats offense had put the game out of reach with a productive, error-free 15 minutes.

This was in large part due to another strong performance by Corey Dillon, who piled up 123 yards on 30 carries, 19 of them coming in the 2nd half. It was his ninth 100-yard performance of the season (most by a Pats back since Curtis Martin in 1995), giving him a total of 1121 yards through eleven games. His one yard plunge to open the final quarter was the team’s only offensive touchdown of the day.

Tom Brady battled Baltimore’s blitzes in the first half (the Ravens sacked him but once, but often hurried his throws and filled his lanes with onrushing defensive backs and linebackers) and then a damp and muddy ball in the second. Brady finished with only 172 yards and just a 50% completion rate, but still made a key throw here and there on the Pats scoring drives. His 15 yard pass to Deion Branch on a 3rd and 1 brought New England to the Ravens 5 and set up Dillon’s score.

David Givens (6 catches) was Brady’s most dependable receiver.

Patriots on Defense

With Asante Samuel back on the shelf (shoulder) and Earthwind Moreland fresh off a tough Monday night, the game opened with second-year free safety Eugene Wilson starting at cornerback and veteran special teamer Don Davis, a linebacker, at safety.

And the result? Let’s put it this way. Those three points the Ravens scored were a gift.

With two strong defenses and weather straight out of a Boris Karloff movie, field position was at a premium today, and it was here that the Patriots defense truly shined.

In the first half, they often found themselves defending little more than half the field, as the offense and special teams sloppily conspired to dig one hole after another for their defensive teammates. Baltimore started 2nd quarter drives at their own 49 and 45, and another at the Patriots’ 48. Yet time and time again, the Pats D dispatched Kyle Boller and the overmatched Ravens offense without so much as a first down. Only when the Ravens started a drive at the Patriots’ 16 were they able to marshal a field goal.

In the second half, with the tables turned and the Pats offense moving, the Pats defense kept Baltimore pinned deep in its own end. The Ravens’ best field position to start a drive was at its own 30. This sequence came early in the 4th, with Baltimore trailing by 14, but a blitzing Ted Johnson immediately set the Ravens back on their heels, sacking Boller at the Ravens 20.

On the next play, Tedy Bruschi blitzed again and forced the ball loose from Boller at the Baltimore 10. Players dove from every direction to recover the ball, but it squirted (literally) free until it was finally grabbed by Jarvis Green in the end zone. It was Green’s first professional touchdown, and the Pats had a well-deserved three touchdown lead.

So the defense without its top three cornerbacks rolls on. In its last 12 quarters, the Patriots defense has surrendered only 28 points. Most of all, the secondary continues to be a marvel. Though they were no doubt aided by the wind and rain, as well as some well-timed blitzes, the patchwork group held Boller to just 95 yards on 35 throws.

Wilson started strongly in his return to corner, defending a pass and making a sharp tackle on the Ravens opening three-and-out drive. On Baltimore’s next possession, Randall Gay grabbed the second interception of his young career when he drifted back in a zone and picked Boller for the first time in his last 123 throws.

And Don Davis? How can we explain this? Well, I’ve got an idea that Davis is always where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there. In his second year with New England, Davis is getting the chance that seemingly every Patriot gets at one time or another – the chance to provide incontrovertible, irrefutable evidence of his worth to the team. I’d say he’s coming through with flying colors.

Rodney Harrison, as is the custom, lead all Patriots with 13 tackles. Johnson, critical in rendering Baltimore’s runners (minus Jamal Lewis, of course) a non-factor throughout, added nine.

There was a blinding flash of the old Rosevelt Colvin when the recovering linebacker surged in the open field to sack Boller in the 2nd quarter.

Patriots on Special Teams

Josh Miller had a horrific game for the Pats, reacting like Seinfeld’s recalcitrant Newman to the inclement weather. He averaged a little over 32 yards despite kicking 8 times. Miller slightly redeemed himself later on with an excellent pooch kick that dribbled (literally) out at the Baltimore 3. Ah, all’s well that ends well.

Adam Vinatieri, no mere mortal he, was as usual unaffected by the elements, as his three field goals (including one from 48) were so straight and true they could have been kicked in domes. Hermetically sealed domes.

Someday I’ll figure out why the NFL feels it has to throw a penalty flag on every special teams play. Nothing slows up your afternoon like NFL referees officiating a play where a kick of any type is involved. I’m thinking they’re throwing these flags purely out of reflex, or spite, or both maybe. I’m pretty sure it’s not because these penalties are legit. I’m seriously supposed to believe that not one NFL team can ever run one freaking punt play without committing a foul?

But I don’t think I had any beef on the double whammy of Matt Chatham’s facemasking penalty and Bruschi’s personal foul on the same second quarter Miller punt. Thanks to the work of the Dynamic Duo, the refs spotted the Ravens at the Pats 16, and Matt Stover quickly broke the shutout. Awful.

Patriots on the Sidelines

What can you say? Five weeks ago, the Patriots were having their 21 game winning streak end badly in Pittsburgh, and the team’s top defensive back (and past Super Bowl hero) was being wheeled to the sidelines. Since then, they’ve won four straight using (apparently) nothing more than chewing gum and the contents of a men’s shaving kit. And they’ve gotten better each week. Not a one of us would have given them that chance when the Steelers had them reeling. Bravo.

Patriots Next Week

Another AFC North match up, this time on the road with the Cleveland Browns. Hey, before you get ahead of yourself, remember not to take this one lightly. If the Kelly Holcomb-led Browns have proven nothing else, they’re proven they can score through the air. If I were you, I’d temper the cockiness. It’s not very becoming anyway.