The true start of the Ravens and Patriots’ rivalry can be traced back to a cold December night in 2007.
The two had played just three times before Dec. 3, 2007, with all three results in the Patriots’ favor. The last two games, which took place in 2000 and 2004, were multiple-score wins by the Patriots.
But the 2007 matchup had a different feel to it.
New England was 11-0 and en route to the best season in NFL regular season history. Baltimore was 4-7 in the midst of a disappointing season after a 4-2 start to the season.
But the Ravens had the chance to play spoiler to the Patriots’ unbeaten season and finish the season with some momentum. Instead, one of the league’s best rivalries was forged.
On Monday Night Football, the Ravens jumped out ahead of the Patriots with a Derrick Mason touchdown late in the first quarter and maintained control over the game for nearly the rest of the way.
The Patriots tied the score twice, but couldn’t rally any further to take a lead over the Ravens. Kyle Boller had a good night through the air and went 15-for-23 for 210 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception. But the Ravens dominated the Patriots on the ground.
Willis McGahee had 138 rushing yards on 30 carries and a score as the Patriots didn’t have an answer to keep the Ravens off the field.
And early in the fourth quarter, Daniel Wilcox caught a one-yard pass from Boller to give the Ravens a 24-17 lead. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal cut the lead to 24-20, but the Patriots still needed a touchdown to win the game and keep their perfect season alive.
Then all Hell broke loose.
The Patriots were in Ravens territory when they stalled and faced a 4th-and-1 at about the Ravens’ 30-yard line with time ticking away. The Ravens appeared to have Tom Brady stopped on a quarterback sneak, but defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called a timeout from the sideline.
The Patriots tried a fullback dive on the second 4th-and-1 and were stopped for a loss. But a false start penalty negated the play. And on the third 4th down attempt, Brady scrambled for a first down.
New England moved to the 13-yard line, when again it was bailed out by another penalty flag on a 4th down. Brady threw for tight end Benjamin Watson in the end zone and the pass fell incomplete, but a holding penalty committed on Watson gave the Patriots another first down.
On the ensuing play, Brady found Jabar Gaffney for a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone to give the Patriots a 27-24 lead.
But the drive had more controversy, too.
Outside linebacker Bart Scott was penalized for berating an official on the field. He launched the penalty flag into the stands, and thus received a second unsportsmanlike foul. Cornerback Samari Rolle had words with one referee on the drive, who Rolle claimed called him “a boy,” which resulted in an investigation from the league.
“It’s hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time,” Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said after the game. “They put the crown on top and they want them to win.”
After a near-successful Hail Mary attempt, the Ravens officially fell to 4-8 on the season.
Now it’s worth asking the question: What would’ve happened if the Ravens had won?
The loss was the sixth of nine in-a-row for the Ravens, and a win would’ve stopped the bleeding and lifted the Ravens to 5-7 with four games to play. The Ravens hosted the Colts the following week, who finished the season 13-3, so any dreams of a strong finish were quickly going to be squashed.
Plus, even if the Ravens had won out down the stretch and finished 9-7, they wouldn’t have surpassed the 10-6 Browns or Titans, as well as the 11-5 Jaguars.
But in Week 15, the Ravens hit a low-point and lost to the 0-13 Dolphins on the road. They finished the season with a loss to the Seahawks and a win over the Steelers.
By that point, the Ravens knew their offense needed upgrades. So much so, in fact, that they offered their entire draft to the Rams at second overall for the ability to pick quarterback Matt Ryan. Instead, when the Rams wanted more, the Ravens traded back and selected Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco 18th overall. In the second round, they picked running back Ray Rice.
Where this alternate history takes an interesting turn is where the game changed the outlook of the franchise.
Brian Billick, who had received an extension 10-months prior, was fired at the end of the season. Some viewed that game as the beginning of the end for his tenure in Baltimore.
The Ravens replaced him with John Harbaugh at the end of the season, who has since been the most successful coach in franchise history.
If the Ravens had finished 6-10, at the very least, or perhaps even with an additional win or two, it’s possible owner Steve Bisciotti would’ve been swayed to hang onto Billick for another season. And if the Ravens had still selected Flacco in 2008, Billick might’ve been given more than the 2008 season to work with his new quarterback.
While the Ravens brutal loss to the Patriots, fair or unfair, was a bitter pill to swallow, there’s a compelling case to make that everything worked out well for the Ravens in the end.
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