Outside linebacker Matthew Judon delivered a crushing blow to the midsection of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who lofted an errant pass in the direction of Ravens safety Earl Thomas III.
As Thomas leaped to grab the interception and picked up steam on his return, the sequence of events felt similar to that of classic Ravens-Patriots matchups, which hadn’t been renewed for three years.
A Ravens defender pressuring Brady and forcing him into mistimed throws. Another patrolling the back end and capitalizing on his errors.
Brady, speaking Friday at his weekly news conference, acknowledged that while many of the Ravens greats he faced for years no longer remained, their standard for defensive play had been established.
On a night in which Ed Reed and Ray Lewis were in attendance, as Reed received his Hall of Fame ring, the Ravens defense delivered another standout performance in Sunday night’s 37-20 win.
“Aggressive. That’s what we are,” said Judon, who tied a season-high with four quarterback hits. “We came out trying to be physical and trying to be aggressive. We did what we do. We didn’t try to change for anybody. I think the results show what’s up.”
The Ravens defense sacked Brady twice, hit him 10 times and forced two turnovers Sunday night. The unit complemented an offense that jumped to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, allowing one first down and forcing three punts on the Patriots’ first three offensive possessions.
Even after two first-half fumbles, and New England cutting the lead to 17-13 at the end of the half, the defense responded for the second straight game with a well-timed takeaway.
On the Patriots’ first possession of the second half, Brady threw a bubble screen to wide receiver Julian Edelman, who evaded Judon’s tackle. As inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor wrapped up Edelman and brought him to the ground, the ball popped out, right into the hands of nearby cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Humphrey returned the fumble 70 yards for a touchdown, his second score in as many games, giving the Ravens a 24-13 lead.
“We knew it was going to be a long fight,” cornerback Marcus Peters said. “When you’re going against Tom Brady, and you’re up by 17, you never know. Tom’s pulled off some miracle games, so we just stuck together. We told everybody, ‘We’re going to make them drive. Make them drive, make them drive, make them drive.’ We kind of did that.
“When they were passing the ball, we got them down a lot of times, and our mistakes were limited today. We have to clean some things up on the film, but I think we played a good game."
The return of starters Onwuasor and cornerback Jimmy Smith added to a defense that had already improved during the team’s previous three games.
Onwuasor, who missed the team’s previous two games with an ankle injury, added a team-high eight tackles, along with a first-quarter sack of Brady on third down.
“The Mike-Will thing is no big deal,” coach John Harbaugh said of Onwuasor moving from middle linebacker to weak-side linebacker, his more natural position. “[Those are] two inside backer spots. We move guys around. But he played quite a bit tonight, and it was the first time he’s been healthy enough to play since he hurt the ankle. He played just like you’d expect him to play. He played at a very high level, and personally, I’m really proud of the way he played.”
Smith, playing in his first game since spraining his knee in Week 1, was solid in coverage, recording three tackles and one pass breakup. With his addition to a now-replenished secondary, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale at times played cornerback Brandon Carr at safety to get the team’s top cornerbacks on the field at the same time.
“It was huge to get Jimmy back tonight and Peanut,” Humphrey said. “But after we lost that game to the Browns, it was like a time of reflection for us. We had to figure out what we needed to do to get better. Yes, we got some new people, and since then, we’ve been looking alright. And then with our guys coming back tonight, it makes us look even better.”
Early struggles likely won’t allow the Ravens defense to finish atop the league’s defensive rankings, as it did last year. The stats might not indicate it, but the unit is once again resembling last year’s defense, from its pressure on quarterbacks to its ability to force turnovers.
After the game, Judon was asked whether he believed the defense was “coming together.”
“Do you think this defense is coming together?” Judon plainly responded.
Latest Baltimore Ravens
“We’re just going to go out there and keep executing,” he added. “It doesn’t matter who’s out there. It doesn’t matter that we’ve had injuries, that we’ve had new guys. A lot of stuff has been happening. We had two games back-to-back where we gave up 500 yards [against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns]. We’re going to work every day, and we continue to right and press forward. It’s paying off in results and we’re getting turnovers now.”