The Ravens achieved the improbable when they made a remarkable comeback to beat the New England Patriots, 31-30. But that doesn't mean that the guys who play on the defensive side of the ball were entirely pleased with their efforts Sunday night.
For the second week in a row, the pass defense surrendered an alarming number of yards to its opponent. After surrendering 486 yards of offense and 371 passing yards to quarterback Michael Vick in a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles eight days ago, the defense allowed 396 total yards and 335 passing yards to Tom Brady on Sunday night.
“We just want to get better every week,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “We want to be better than we were the week before. Like I said, that comes with correcting out mistakes, correcting what we didn’t do well the game before, and correcting it for the next game. I guarantee you, we’ll be correcting some things this week and moving on.”
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Last week, Eagles tight end Brent Celek gouged the middle of the field for a career-best 157 yards, raising concerns that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski — the NFL's single-season record holder in yards and touchdowns at that position — might enjoy similar success.
Gronkowski was held in check, making just two receptions for 21 yards. But New England found other options in wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd.
Welker, whose limited playing time in the team's first two games of the season generated speculation about his future with the Patriots, caught six passes for 120 yards. Lloyd, the offense's biggest catch in the offseason, free-agent market, made nine catches for 108 yards.
The Patriots did most of their damage in the second half by targeting cornerback Cary Williams, who usually lines up against the wide receiver standing to the left of the offensive line.
On New England's last touchdown drive in the third quarter, Brady completed passes to receivers lined up against Williams four times, and each reception was long enough to gain first downs. Lloyd caught an 11-yarder on first -and-10 at the Patriots' 20-yard line, Welker got another 11-yarder on third-and-5 on the 36, Lloyd completed a 10-yarder on third-and-6 on the Ravens' 49, and Lloyd added a 9-yarder on second-and-7 on the 18.
“He’s Tom Brady. He’s not Joe Smoke,” Williams said when asked about Brady. “He’s a future Hall of Famer. He came out and did what he’s supposed to do.”
On New England's next possession, Brady also took his shots against cornerback Jimmy Smith on the opposite side of the field. Brady completed a pair of 10-yard passes to Lloyd against Smith before returning his attention to Williams.
Brady connected with Welker on a 7-yarder and then went to Branch, who didn't hang onto the ball after absorbing a helmet-to-helmet hit by free safety Ed Reed that drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty. The Patriots finished the drive with a Stephen Gostkowski 20-yard field goal.
New England generally avoided cornerback Lardarius Webb. But on the offense's final series, Brady went to Welker, but his ill-timed pass was intercepted by Webb. Webb, however, was flagged for defensive holding — and replays showed that he was holding onto the back of Welker's jersey beyond 5 yards — and the interception was wiped off the board and the Patriots were given a fresh set of downs.
The Ravens, who entered the contest ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense and tied for 26th against the pass, will almost assuredly fall even farther in the rankings after Sunday night's display.
But after facing three Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton, Vick and Brady in the first three weeks of the season, the unit will get a break with a visit from rookie Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night before facing another Pro Bowler in Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 7.
It might be just the relief the Ravens need.
Williams, however, expressed confidence that the defense will rebound.
“We’ve still got some communication issues we’ve got to work out,” he conceded. “We’ve got some technical issues we’ve got to work out. But once we come back and get those things situated, the games will be a lot different for us.”