It was such an uncommon sight: the Patriots defense – suffocating since last December – getting summarily stomped by the Ravens running game.
It was so foreign that, in trying to come up with a reason for the defense allowing 210 rushing yards and 30 points, more than a few people wondered whether the Patriots didn’t show their whole bag of defensive tricks against Lamar Jackson and Co.
I would put the Ravens #1. Patriots always play better when they are the underdogs. Also do you think BB showed his entire hand?? No way! Harry being a scratch is one indication. He knows we will see them in the playoffs...— maxwell de winter (@maxwelldewinter) November 5, 2019
Unrelated to this play but curious...is it fair to say Bill didn't show all his cards on stopping Jackson and offense-- assuming we could see them in January? Or am I just pathetically trying to spin that embarrassing defensive performance?— Matthew Kronert (@MKronert) November 5, 2019
Can I ask a question. Even though Bill said the ravens aren’t on their schedule so he’s not worried about it. Do you think Bill didn’t show his hand? While he let Baltimore show theirs? Knowing they might see each other in the playoffs?— Joshua (@Joshroush12) November 6, 2019
I was wondering that too, that was actually my 1st thought. But do you think he'd risk a perfect season for it?— kim (@kimmyd54) November 6, 2019
My initial reaction to that theory was that it was nuts. To borrow from Herm Edwards, “You play. To win. The game. Hello?”
This was Week 9, not Week 17 or the last game of the preseason. You empty the tool chest trying to find the right wrench to tighten on a team that’s having its way with you like Baltimore was.
But just to be sure, I asked Matt Cassel on our Patriots Talk Podcast this week whether a team would ever hold something back in a game against an opponent it MIGHT see in the postseason.
“No,” said Cassel. “I’ve never been a part of (a plan) where they said, ‘Let’s save this play. It’s a really good play and it might be the difference maker, but let’s save this play because we might play them later.’
“It’s never been that type of situation where they’re holding anything back,” he added. “If they have something that’s going to put them in a good position to win or an advantageous situation when they’re out there and you have a great third-down concept that you want to use that week, you’re gonna use it.”
Another reason that would be a horrible idea, especially against the Ravens? The 8-1 Patriots are, in essence, now just one game ahead of 6-2 Baltimore in the AFC standings. Because the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over New England, if the two teams finish with identical records, the Ravens would be the higher seed.
The only time I can recall the Patriots planning for the postseason during games of import was in 2015. In Week 16, a banged-up Patriots team went to New York with a conservative game plan and lost in overtime to the Jets. The next week, they put wind in the sails of a 5-10 Dolphins team under an interim coach by trying to hammer the ball on the ground early. They ran it 21 times in the first half, threw it just five, lost 20-10 and had to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game which they lost, 20-18.
The logic then, though, seemed to be trying to keep players healthy for the postseason and establishing a ground game after losing LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Their hand was somewhat forced.
But against the Ravens with a fully healthy team? No. They wanted the win and needed the win.
Cassel did allow that there’s one scenario where a team would hesitate to use something.
“Sometimes if there’s a really good concept that comes up during the week … you might hold it for down the road because you haven’t had a lot of reps with it,” he explained. “Guys aren’t familiar with the route concept or what we’re trying to accomplish with the release pattern or something like that. So you might not feel as comfortable having repped it just once or twice a week in practice. You might hold that for the next week because guys may not understand how this concept or scheme itself is gonna play out.
“But there’s only so many games in an NFL season and everybody goes out week in and week out and puts together their best game plan that they think is going to work,” he added. “The only time I’ve ever seen anything held back is when teams haven’t had enough time to prepare it. Other than that, everything is full-go. When you put that game plan together, the reason you’re doing it is you want to go out and win that game.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.