1.) As it turned out, the Dolphins game was an anomaly.
1.) As it turned out, the Dolphins game was an anomaly.
We all scrambled to reassess the Ravens' chances for a significant postseason run after their offense finally played a great game in burying Miami 38-6.
But that team was nowhere to be seen in Foxborough, Mass. In their biggest game of the season, the Ravens reverted to the tentative, discombobulated, frustrated offense we saw over the first 11 weeks of the season.
They didn't establish any ground attack, attempting just four rushes in the first half. Joe Flacco found perfect timing with his receivers the previous week, but that was gone, especially before halftime. Flacco held the ball too long and flat out missed his targets on several early throws that could have sustained drives. On a few of those missed chances, his intended receiver didn't seem to have any idea the ball was coming.
Whether by design or not, wide receivers Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith were ghosts until the game was two-thirds gone.
Flacco did pick it up after the Patriots essentially handed him two touchdowns with a pair of special teams turnovers in the third quarter. He finished with nice numbers — 37-of-52 for 324 yards and a 92.1 passer rating.
But he'll be the first to say you can't cede the Patriots a 23-3 lead.
We've seen this too many times now to believe the Ravens are on the cusp of a sustained offensive breakout. They've been erratic all season, and erratic they'll likely remain.
2.) We can only marvel at the resourcefulness of Tom Brady and the Patriots coaching staff.
The Ravens have defended the great Brady as well as anyone over the years. And they appeared on track to do it again, holding him to 3-of-9 passign for 29 yards on New England's first three drives. From that point on, Brady was 22-of-29 for 377 yards and three touchdowns.
At age 39, he's still a joy to watch — so decisive and precise on a wide variety of passes. The Ravens hit him seven times but as usual, he made some of his best throws in the teeth of pressure.
Only the most diehard NFL fans are deeply familiar with Chris Hogan, James White and Malcolm Mitchell. Yet Brady turned them all into significant threats against one of the league's best defenses.
The Patriots spread the Ravens out and forced their linebackers to cover from unfamiliar spots. Then Brady carved them up in the middle of the field.
As well as he played, the Ravens also gave him a huge gift in the fourth quarter when they had pulled within three points. Matt Elam, only in the game because Jimmy Smith and Jerraud Powers were hurt, allowed Hogan to run by him unimpeded for a 79-yard touchdown catch that essentially buried the Ravens. You give Brady that kind of look and he might as well be playing catch with his kids in the park.
Brady showed he was human in the second quarter when he inexplicably dumped a pass into double coverage as he was absorbing a hit from Lawrence Guy. Eric Weddle's interception in the end zone kept the Patriots from putting the game away right then and there.
But just as he did in the playoffs two years ago, Brady delivered like the inner-circle Hall of Famer he is. And that, combined with a clever scheme from Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, was the difference.
3.) The Ravens stuck with Devin Hester too long, and it cost them dearly.
We've talked for weeks now about how tentative Hester has looked fielding punts in traffic. And on Monday, his hesitancy led directly to New England's first score of the evening.
Hester again failed to move up and catch a punt, allowing the ball to roll past him to the Ravens 1-yard line. On the very next play, Kenneth Dixon ate a safety when right guard Vladimir Ducasse couldn't stop Patriots defensive lineman Malcom Brown from bursting into the backfield.
By almost any metric you choose, Hester has hurt the Ravens on punt returns this season (according to Football Outsiders, for example, they entered the weekend fourth worst in the league). John Harbaugh must have cringed more than once watching him sacrifice field position. And Hester has not compensated with the home-run plays that used to be his trademark.
Yet the Ravens have inexplicably refused to try any alternatives. Their intransigence finally bit them hard in a game they badly needed to win.
With Patriots' rookie Cyrus Jones (Gilman) also treating punt returns like circus routines, we saw a lowlight reel of bungled special teams plays in what was supposed to be a marquee game.
4.) Zachary Orr is the unsung hero of the Ravens' defense, but the Patriots exploited him in pass coverage.
Orr certainly does not play the most glamorous role on a very good defense. He rarely rushes the passer. He's not a monster at the line of scrimmage like Brandon Williams or a coach on the field like Eric Weddle. He doesn't make as many plays in coverage as fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley.
But much like the guy he replaced, Daryl Smith, he produces every game, leading the Ravens in tackles as he swoops in to clean up the ball carriers who've been diverted by Williams and Co. He's just a sound cog in the machine.
Orr played with great energy against the Patriots, accumulating 11 total and seven solo tackles. But he was also one of the culprits as Brady picked apart the Ravens' coverage in the middle of the field.
His performance spoke to a generally mixed outing from a defense that needed to play better for the Ravens to have a chance.
5.) The Ravens now must win out to make the playoffs.
We've officially hit the point when that Oct. 23 loss to the woeful New York Jets throbs like an old war wound. Because the Ravens are out of wiggle room.
Harbaugh said as much in his postgame press conference.
They have to assume the Pittsburgh Steelers will beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday and the Cleveland Browns on the last weekend of the season. That would take the Steelers to 10 wins, so the only way for the Ravens to take the AFC North would be to win in Pittsburgh and hold the tiebreaker advantage. It's certainly possible. The Ravens have gone to Heinz Field and won big games before. But they won't be favored in that Christmas showdown.
First they need to get past a Philadelphia Eagles team that's better than its 5-8 record. And we know that even if everything else breaks right, the Bengals will do their darndest to play spoiler when the Ravens close out their season in Cincinnati.