FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — When the Ravens needed a stop Sunday night in a waterlogged game from hell, this is what they got: Marcus Peters unable to fight off a block and derail Cam Newton. Chuck Clark jumping offside on second-and-short. A defensive line powerless to stop much of anything up the middle.
When the Ravens needed a play Sunday night in a gut punch of a prime-time loss, this is what they got: A Bradley Bozeman holding penalty on a busted passing play. Mark Andrews and J.K. Dobbins unable to get out of bounds on short catches against prevent defense. A dropped ball on fourth-and-short snuffing out their hopes.
The Ravens' 23-17 loss Sunday night to the New England Patriots (4-5) might ultimately be remembered for the toll it exacted on the team’s health and its Super Bowl bona fides. But for four quarters of below-average football, it was defined by an inability to do what was once taken for granted.
“We have to find a way to pull through, pull out a victory," quarterback Lamar Jackson said. "And we just didn’t tonight.”
Jackson finished 24-for-34 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, along with 55 rushing yards, but he could not move the Ravens past midfield in the fourth quarter. The Ravens held Newton and New England to 308 yards, but they were gashed time and again on the ground. They had advantages up and down the field, but watched them disappear amid the wreckage of the team’s first road loss since September 2019.
Now the Ravens will return home to Baltimore with a 6-3 record, a tenuous spot in the AFC playoff race and more uncertainty than ever. How significant are the injuries that struck them at already vulnerable spots? How does Jackson re-establish a connection with wide receivers Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, who combined for two catches (both by Brown), for 16 yards? How does the defense stop the Tennessee Titans and All-Pro running back Derrick Henry next week, after he punished them so thoroughly in last season’s playoff loss?
Those are questions for the days to come. On Sunday, the Ravens just could not seem to get out of their own way at times. On their second-to-last drive, they turned a first-and-10 into a second-and-26 after a bad snap by center Matt Skura, who struggled with the rainy conditions all night. They punted two plays later, hoping to get the ball back. When the Ravens did, with just over a minute and no timeouts left, they moved 4 yards against a New England defense that would’ve settled for allowing 40.
It was not a pretty game, not on the field or for the Ravens' medical staff. Players seemed to fall like the sheets of rain that covered Gillette Stadium. In the first quarter, it was defensive tackle Brandon Williams who went down with an ankle injury; he did not return. Early in the third quarter, it was reserve cornerback Terrell Bonds who suffered a knee injury on a rushing touchdown by Newton. Later in the quarter, tight end Nick Boyle was carted off the field with a season-ending left knee injury after a short catch.
“We have a lot of injuries; those are uncontrollable,” said wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who had a game-high 64 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He lamented having to address the team’s health again, only two weeks removed from a Week 8 loss to the still-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in which All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was also lost for the season. “Those are part of the game. Whoever that next guy is to step up in there and help our team, we’re going to trust them, and we’re going to move forward.”
The Ravens had to adjust on the fly. Backup defensive tackle Justin Ellis was a regular presence on early downs. Cornerback Tramon Williams, signed only Tuesday, became the Ravens' top option behind All-Pros Marlon Humphrey and Peters. On offense, the Ravens turned to Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard to help with clearing space — a matter that took on even greater urgency after right tackle D.J. Fluker was benched. Right guard Patrick Mekari was moved over, and backup Ben Powers replaced Mekari.
The Ravens wobbled early in the second half, almost to the point of collapse. After Newton strolled in from 4 yards out on a designed run that capped a dominant opening drive, the Patriots led 20-10 almost 100 seconds into the third quarter. Their lead soon grew to 13 after an errant shotgun snap on fourth-and-1 gifted New England a short field; the Patriots settled for a 20-yard field goal after Newton (13-for-17 for 118 yards and a touchdown) missed a wide-open Jakobi Meyers (five catches for 59 yards) in the end zone on third down.
Then the Ravens stabilized. On the drive they lost Boyle, they found a lifeline. New England, with one of the NFL’s worst defenses, dared Jackson to pick its Stephon Gilmore-less secondary apart, and here he obliged. His 18-yard touchdown pass to Snead — their second score of the night — drew the Ravens to within 23-17 late in the third quarter. But after their defense forced their first three-and-out all game, the Ravens punted the ball right back after their own short drive.
“We’re ticked off,” Jackson said. “Don’t nobody like losing. I know none of you guys would like losing, especially when we have a lot of talent on our team.”
New England’s strategy, to run the ball on offense and make Jackson earn it on defense, wasn’t surprising. The Ravens entered Week 10 with their depth compromised at cornerback — Jimmy Smith was out with an ankle injury — but well aware that their run defense would be most crucial.
The Indianapolis Colts had rushed for 112 yards and over 5 yards per carry the week before, after defensive end Calais Campbell went down early with a calf strain. The run-heavy Patriots, even with a banged-up offensive line, weren’t going to want to pass if they didn’t have to.
Late in the first quarter, they found even more encouragement. With Campbell out, along with starting inside linebacker L.J. Fort (finger), the Ravens were down one of the best NFL’s edge-setting defensive ends. And when Williams hurt his ankle, the Ravens lost nearly 340 pounds of reliable run stuffing. They then proceeded to lose the line of scrimmage, over and over.
New England rushed 18 times for 85 yards in the first half and had 173 yards by game’s end. Running back Damien Harris finished with a career-high 121 yards (5.5 per carry). When the Patriots weren’t getting to the edge or knifing up the middle, they were using the threat of the run to get what they wanted elsewhere. Newton found running back Rex Burkhead after a faked end-around for a 7-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
“When we let up that many rushing yards from a team, that’s unacceptable," said outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who had the Ravens' only sack. "We’re going to get on film and get it fixed. ... If a team runs the ball like that, you usually lose. So there’s no excuses.”
New England’s second touchdown drive was even more dispiriting. Trailing 10-7 with less than five minutes remaining in the half, the Patriots covered 75 yards in 10 plays, seven of them runs. The drive’s best play, its last play, was either team’s best throw all night — and it wasn’t even a quarterback who threw it.
After Meyers caught a quick lateral behind the line of scrimmage from Newton, he backed off and got his fingers on the ball’s laces. Burkhead was leaking out again. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen was running step for step with him, but the moment of hesitation — was Meyers really going to pass it? — was all Burkhead needed. Meyers, a former high school quarterback, dropped in a picture-perfect pass for a 24-yard touchdown. New England never trailed again.
When Jackson threw away a potential last-minute field-goal drive with an interception to former Maryland cornerback J.C. Jackson, it was clear the Ravens were in for a long night. When it finally ended, nothing seemed as bright as it had before.
“A lot of guys have to step up, and we’re going to find out about ourselves,” Snead said. “We’re going to find out about the mold of this team.”
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