FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Five instant observations after the Ravens fell to the Patriots, 30-23, on Monday Night Football, after a second-half Baltimore rally fell short:
1: The Ravens fell out of first place in the AFC North, but still control their playoff destiny.
At 7-6, the Ravens trail the Steelers (8-5) by a game. However, the Ravens have already beaten the Steelers once, and face them again on Christmas in Pittsburgh. The Ravens will win the AFC North if they win their last three games (vs. Eagles, at Steelers, at Bengals).
2. Losing cornerback Jimmy Smith to an ankle injury could be devastating blow to the Ravens’ defense.
Smith was injured in the second quarter and never returned. He was in obvious pain and was helped off the field without putting any weight on his injured leg. Smith is the Ravens’ best corner, capable of covering the opponent’s best receiver one-on-one. Ravens cornerback Jerraud Powers also left the game with a fourth-quarter concussion. It was uncertain how long Smith would be out, but imagine if Smith were still out of the lineup on Christmas against the Steelers. In that scenario, how would the Ravens defend Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown? The answer to that question could be – not well enough.
3. Ravens safety Matt Elam got torched for a touchdown at a critical time.
The Ravens had pulled to within 23-20 and had momentum in the fourth quarter. But after Powers left the game, Matt Elam entered the game to play safety. The Patriots immediately took advantage. Chris Hogan ran right past Elam on a post pattern, and Tom Brady hit Hogan in stride for a 79-yard touchdown. It was a tough spot of Elam to be in. But to give up a touchdown that quickly, that easily, was unacceptable. To say Elam has been a bust as a former first-round pick (2012) would be an understatement.
4. Tom Brady was magnificent – again.
Other than Elam’s gaffe, the Ravens were not that bad defensively. That shows you how good Brady is (25 for 38, 406 yards, three TD’s, one interception). Brady made one big mistake, when he was intercepted in the end zone by Eric Weddle. But the Patriots made uncharacteristic turnovers on special teams, and left the door open for a Ravens comeback. Brady slammed that door shut.
5. The Ravens still have to be more consistent running the football.
Joe Flacco had another 300-yard passing game, but Kenneth Dixon (11 carries, 39 yards) and Terrance West (two carries, two yards) didn’t give the Ravens enough balance. You have to wonder if the Ravens will ever find a consistent rushing attack before next season.