The Ravens, outmuscled and outhustled by the New England Patriots for most of the afternoon, had a chance to get back into Sunday's game late in the third quarter. Trailing, 20-0, at the time, they moved the ball inside the red zone after quarterback Joe Flacco, hobbled by a sore knee, started to get into a groove. After a short pass to tight end Ed Dickson moved the Ravens offense to the 4-yard line, they needed just 1 yard to move the chains and put themselves in position to make the game interesting with a touchdown. Of course, we know now that they couldn't get that yard -- the latest failure in a season filled with short-yardage shortcomings -- but that sequence would not be forgotten after the 41-7 blowout loss. "There were a lot of big wins, but that was huge," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, adding, "And that was a close play. Only a few inches. But it was definitely a heads-up play from our guys up front." On third-and-1, the Ravens motioned running back Ray Rice out wide and let Flacco throw out of an empty set. Flacco tossed a corner fade to Dennis Pitta, but he overshot the tight end in the corner of the end zone. On fourth-and-1, they went with an empty set again, but coach John Harbaugh didn't like the look and called a timeout. After the timeout, the Ravens came out in the pistol formation with Rice lined up 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown were on the left side of the formation with Pitta in the slot next to them. Wide receiver Torrey Smith was alone on the right side of the field.
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But with a few seconds left on the play clock, Flacco hurried up and moved under center behind Gino Gradkowski. Rice inched up a couple of yards into a traditional depth 6 yards behind his linemen. Flacco snapped the ball with just one second left on the play clock and the Patriots, aware of the situation and also preparing for a sneak by Flacco, got a great jump after the snap and got penetration right away. "We had a couple of players that seemed alert when Flacco came up under center. We certainly had to be aware of the quarterback running the ball," said Belichick, whose Patriots clinched the AFC East title. "He, of course, gave it to a great back in Ray Rice, and we were pretty alert when he jumped in there." Patriots defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, who was lined up in the "A" gap between Ravens center Gino Gradkowski and right guard Marshal Yanda, immediately knocked Gradkowski back at the point of attack. Right tackle Michael Oher whiffed on his block on Patriots left defensive end Rob Ninkovich, flailing as he fell to the turf. Yanda, though, came off his combo block on Siliga and moved to the second left to bulldoze Patriots inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower backward a couple of yards, giving Rice a small sliver of daylight.
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Each week, reporter and blogger Matt Vensel breaks down a critical play, sometimes with the help of Ravens players and coaches, from that week's game. Today, he breaks down the third-quarter play when running back Ray Rice got stuffed by the New England Patriots on fourth-and-1.