FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — The Ravens came into their Monday night matchup with the New England Patriots probably as healthy as they've been all season. It took less than a quarter for that to change.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith, one of the most indispensable players on their top-ranked defense, went down with a right ankle injury while tackling rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell at the 1-yard line late in the first quarter. Smith, whose ankle appeared to get pinned under him, immediately slammed the turf in obvious discomfort and frustration.
He tried to get up and hobble off the field, but he immediately went down to the turf before he was later helped off by two of the Ravens' athletic trainers. Smith was unable to put any weight on his right leg. He was carted to the locker room after LeGarrette Blount scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a 9-0 lead.
Coach John Harbaugh said after the game that Smith suffered a sprain, but Harbaugh did not elaborate on the severity of the injury. But it's the latest health problem that has sidelined the former first-round pick. A muscular injury in his back forced him to miss two games earlier this year. A Lisfranc foot injury also sidelined him for the final eight games during the 2014 regular season, and ultimately required surgery.
Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah also went to the locker room and was admitted into the concussion protocol. He was hurt while trying to make a tackle on Devin McCourty's second-quarter interception return. Zuttah passed his concussion test and returned to the game, missing just one series.
Not so special: The Ravens' normally reliable special teams units played a big role in the team falling into such a big first-half hole. Their issues started when returner Devin Hester Sr. failed to field a punt by Ryan Allen following New England's second possession. The ball rolled to the 1-yard line, where it was downed by Matthew Slater. On the Ravens' next play, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon was tackled in the end zone for a safety.
When the Ravens got the ball back, they moved into field-goal range, but Justin Tucker's 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Shea McClellin, who timed the snap perfectly and hurdled over the interior of the Ravens offensive line. It was McClellin's second block of the season and it counted as Tucker's first missed field goal of the season. The kicker had been 28-of-28 on the season and had hit 35 consecutive field-goal attempts dating back to last season. The block was his first miss since Dec. 6, 2015.
Tucker hit from 50 yards with 11 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the Patriots' lead to 16-3.
Progress stopped?: The Ravens seemed to catch a significant break on their first possession when Flacco was sacked and had the ball ripped out of his hands by Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers.
However, the referee crew ruled that Flacco's progress had been stopped before Flowers had wrested the ball away. Patriots coach Bill Belichick wanted to challenge the play, but it was unreviewable.
Familiar voice: When Harbaugh was inducted into Miami University's Cradle of Coaches in April 2014, broadcaster Sean McDonough traveled to Oxford, Ohio, to show support. The two men became friends more than 20 years ago at Jim Harbaugh's celebrity golf tournament at the University of Michigan, and McDonough has been on the sideline for several Ravens games over the years.
Monday, however, marked the first time McDonough, the play-by-play voice for "Monday Night Football," called one of Harbaugh's games.
"He's been phenomenal with what he does," Harbaugh said Friday. "I always enjoy listening to him, because he's really funny. If you listen to him, he's kind of irreverent. He'll drop some bombs in there pretty good; you just have to listen closely. It's going to be funny. It will be subtle, but it will be very funny. Yeah, we're looking forward to that."
McDonough first met Harbaugh through college basketball coach Tom Crean, Harbaugh's brother-in-law. McDonough was the broadcaster for many of Crean's games when he was an assistant at Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Western Kentucky. However, Harbaugh and McDonough didn't become close until they were paired together during Jim Harbaugh's celebrity golf tournament.
Making it back: When tight end Dennis Pitta agreed to a reworked contract in April, he accepted a significant pay cut in his return from a twice-fractured and dislocated right hip. Pitta's 2016 base salary went from $5 million to $1 million with an opportunity to make the money back in incentives.
Pitta, who had played only seven games in the previous three seasons and didn't play at all last year, is doing just that. With 61 receptions coming into Monday's game, Pitta has already earned back $1 million for having 50 receptions or more.
He's also on pace to make an additional $2 million in incentives for playing 50 percent or more of the Ravens' offensive snaps. Heading into the Patriots game, Pitta has played in 71.9 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps.
End zone: Blount's first-quarter 1-yard touchdown run was the first one the Ravens have allowed to an opposing running back since Oct. 23 against the New York Jets. … For all the talk about inclement weather in the days leading up to the game, it was a clear and relatively calm night, although the wind chill at kickoff was 28 degrees. … Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. wore a purple T-shirt in warmups that said, "Stop DV." Smith's foundation works to call attention to and stop domestic violence. … Ravens left guard Marshal Yanda is one of eight finalists for the 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, the league announced Monday. … The Ravens game captains were Smith, Yanda, Flacco, rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, safety Eric Weddle and long snapper Morgan Cox.