Patriots' 'D' gets an 'A' versus Ravens


Patriots' 'D' gets an 'A' versus Ravens

By Mary Paoletti

FOXBORO -- Reporters have been asking the Patriots all week how they remembered last season's playoff pounding by the Baltimore Ravens. Everyone -- from Belichick to Brady -- said that it's not the kind of game you just "get over."

The pain was especially fresh for New England's defense. Who could shrug off that 83-yard rushing TD by Ray Rice? It was the first play from scrimmage, the second-longest rushing TD in postseason history, and a foreshadowing of the full-throttle offensive outburst that would boot the Pats from postseason play.

But that was last year.

Painful as that loss was, the Patriots defense went into this weekend with fresh focus. They couldn't go back to the 2010 playoffs; they couldn't change history or even call it a second chance. All they could do was try and shut down Ray Rice and win a new game in a new season.

Mission accomplished.

Ray Rice was limited to 88 rushing yards and zero touchdowns in New England's 23-20 win over Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens ran for just 99 total and Joe Flacco was forced to throw. It was a complete turnaround from the 234 yards that the Patriots allowed last season. And the effort can be chalked up to New England's front line.

The D-line and linebackers were shutdown. Bill Belichick praised his defensive captains specifically in the postgame.

"Team defense. I don't think you can say anything about one guy. I thought our captains this week did a real good job, I'll say that.''

Vince Wilfork, in particular, was a monster.

The nose tackle had a huge hit on Rice in the backfield for a 1-yard loss on first down in the second quarter. He never let up. In the fourth quarter he combined with Gerard Warren to derail Flacco on a QB sneak for no gain on third-and-1. The play forced the Ravens to punt and set Stephen Gostkowski up for the game-tying field goal with just 1:51 left in regulation.

"We were on the same page,'' Wilfork said. "Communication was good as a defensive force and we just rose to the occasion. Fourth-quarter hit and we knew what to do. It seemed like everybody was on the same page. And you know what? You can win it like that."

He certainly had help. Jermaine Cunningham, a second-round rookie, had a standout night. The outside linebacker punished Rice in the first quarter for a loss of 3 yards when Rice attempted a hesitation move. It was an impressive heads-up play for a first-year player to set up a third-and-9 for his team. Cunningham also recorded his first NFL sack for a 4-yard loss in the second quarter when he bumped Flacco's arm and forced a fumble. He showed more of that awareness later on when he baited Michael Oher into a 10-yard holding penalty in the same quarter.

It appeared everybody knew what was at stake this Sunday

"The captains told each person how important this game is, what we need to do to win this ballgame and they responded,'' Wilfork said. "We just told them, 'Hey, look; this is what happened the last time we faced these guys and we're not living in the past but this is what happened.' Everybody understood. We were talking in practice and we were just after one another. It showed today.''

So why overtime?

Despite such unity up front, there were breakdowns in the young secondary. Whether it was Devin McCourty failing to set the edge, Meriweather getting beat on third-and-short, or both the corners and safeties committing stupid penalties, the Patriots front seven were basically forced into excellence because their backup was often unreliable.

That's what makes the defensive stats so impressive. Even though McCourty and Meriweather allowed Baltimore conversions on third down, New England held the Ravens to 31 percent (5-for-16) efficiency on third down overall.

"We stepped up when we needed to step up. All year on third down, we've had problems in that area. Then, something went off and we basically turned it around. It's third down and we get off the field,'' Wilfork noted. "Once we get off the field, we're a totally different defense. We never gave up. I don't care what the clock said, we always believed that we were going to win that ball game.''

Key to the win was adjustments. The Patriots were down 17-10 at the end of the third quarter and had to make a push. That's when captains like Wilfork had to rally the troops. Luckily, the soldiers fell in line.

"They responded,'' he said. "That's people looking up to you. They're not sitting back asking us questions, 'Why are we doing this? Why are we doing that?' No. They put their heads down, they went to work, and it showed up today."

New England really tamped down in overtime and forced the Ravens to punt three times. The offense may have put up the points to bring the Pats back, but the defense put them in the position to get it done. Wilfork was effusively encouraged by his crew.

"We're going to need more of this going forward,'' he said. "I see this as an opening. We're far, far from where we want to be but if we keep putting weeks like this together and keep putting practices like this together like we did this week then we'll keep getting better as a team."

Better is the operative word.

They wanted to be better than the playoff Patriots of last season. They were. But more importantly, New England's defense had a better effort than Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens of this season.

Which, on this Sunday, is all they had to be.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?


EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study


Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."