By Gregory Hunt
Going into this game, the New England Patriots knew they had already won the AFC East title thanks to a Miami Dolphins 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills earlier in the day, but that didn’t keep New England from getting an impressive 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
To be fair, a couple of defensive touchdowns late in the game made the final score deceivingly lopsided, but it was still a tremendous victory by a team that has struggled on the road against teams with winning records. A win next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills will clinch a first-round bye for the Patriots, and if the Denver Broncos also lose to the Oakland Raiders that day, the Patriots will earn the number one seed in the AFC playoffs.
Offense Grade: B
Although the New England offense didn’t do much damage after rushing out to a 17-0 lead by early in the second quarter, it was good enough to get the Patriots the victory. Quarterback Tom Brady passed for only 172 yards and one touchdown, but the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing New England to rush for 142 yards. Running back LeGarrette Blount rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots overcame the loss of running back Shane Vereen, who left the game with a groin injury after only two rushing attempts and one pass reception. One of Vereen’s rushing attempts did go for a touchdown, however.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman was the standout pass catcher with seven receptions for 77 yards. No other Patriots player caught more than two passes, but a 34-yard reception by Danny Amendola was a key play in New England’s second touchdown drive of the game.
Defense Grade: A-
After forcing only two turnovers in the past three games, the New England defense intercepted thee passes and recovered one fumble against Baltimore. Two of the interceptions were by rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in perhaps the best game of his young career. It’s significant to point out that both of his interceptions occurred when the game was still in doubt, while the other two takeaways, a fumble recovery by defensive end Chandler Jones and an interception by safety Tavon Wilson that were both returned for touchdowns, happened during garbage time late in the game. New England’s takeaway total might have been higher had it not been for safety Devin McCourty dropping a couple of potential interceptions.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked four times, and Baltimore’s only touchdown came on Flacco’s one-yard quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter.
Special Teams Grade: B+
Special teams captain Matthew Slater had another terrific game. On both kickoff and punt coverage, he’s the first player to meet the return man on almost every play. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski made both of his field goal attempts and he kicked six touchbacks, including one that went through the end zone on the fly against the wind. Punter Ryan Allen averaged 47.7 yards per punt on seven punts, but he occasionally out-kicked his coverage team as Baltimore returned four punts for 36 yards.
Coaching Grade: A
Bill Belichick’s coaching staff did an excellent job in preparing the Patriots for this game. The team looked very motivated and highly efficient, especially during the first half of the game. Sunday’s game was a nice recovery after last week’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, and it’s not an accident that the Patriots rarely lose two games in a row. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels implemented a very balanced game plan as New England ran 34 rushing plays and only 26 passing plays.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.