The Ravens were one nightmarish quarter away from rising to the top of the AFC North. Now they’ll have to rally to avoid falling into one of their worst starts in years.
One week after blowing a 21-point lead in a stunning loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens (1-1) will face the New England Patriots (1-1) on Sunday. The Ravens have won at least two of their first three games in every year since 2015, when they started 0-3 and missed the playoffs.
A victory inside Gillette Stadium would help correct their course ahead of a much-anticipated Week 4 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. A loss to New England would raise further alarm in Baltimore. Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 3 matchup.
1. Patriots coach Bill Belichick has long been a Lamar Jackson admirer. He said Wednesday that he spent “a lot of time” with the then-Louisville quarterback during a predraft visit in 2018. Ahead of their 2019 matchup in Baltimore, Belichick acknowledged that the Patriots didn’t have anyone who could replicate him in practice, then added: “I don’t know if anybody else in the league has a guy, either.” Ahead of their 2020 meeting in Foxborough, Massachusetts, he said the Ravens’ Jackson-led offense is “a little bit different, and they execute it extremely well.”
Jackson is 1-1 against the Patriots as a starter, having recorded a 102.4 passer rating, three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and an interception. With his contract situation beyond this season unsettled, he got an endorsement Wednesday from Belichick, who said Jackson has answered questions, “without a doubt,” about his skills as a pocket passer.
“I think he’s more than answered them,” he told local reporters. “But we’ll see what his contract is. That’ll answer them.”
2. In the third round of the 2020 NFL draft, the Patriots jumped one spot ahead of the Ravens in the third round, trading up for the No. 91 overall pick. “We were kind of sweating it,” general manager Eric DeCosta said afterward.
Then Ravens officials saw the first name of New England’s pick: Devin. As in, UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi. TV cameras later captured Harbaugh pumping his fist after the Ravens’ selection: Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay.
“We were all stunned that they were taking our Devin, but they took their Devin,” DeCosta recalled in 2020. “So it all worked out for us.”
Two years later, it’s clear who got the better Devin. Asiasi was waived in August after two unproductive seasons in New England. Duvernay earned All-Pro honors last year as a punt returner and is on pace for his best season as a receiver, with six catches on six targets for 96 yards and two scores. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
3. The Ravens and Patriots have taken drastically different approaches to building their wide receiver rooms.
Until signing Demarcus Robinson ahead of the season opener, the Ravens’ receiver room was young and homegrown. Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace were first- and fourth-round picks in 2021, respectively. James Proche II and Duvernay were drafted the year before. No team has less salary cap space tied up in wide receivers this year than the Ravens ($6.9 million), according to Spotrac.
The Patriots, however, have been happy to spend on the group. Nelson Agholor signed a two-year, $26 million deal last year. Kendrick Bourne is in the second year of his three-year, $15 million contract. DeVante Parker, whom the Patriots acquired from the Dolphins in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick, has a $6 million salary cap hit. Only the Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants have committed more cap space to wide receivers this season.
The Ravens’ investments have been been the better bet so far, though. Bateman, Duvernay and Wallace have combined for 272 receiving yards this season. Agholor, Bourne and Parker? Just 204.
4. The last time Nick Boyle visited Gillette Stadium, he had to be carted off the field. In the Ravens’ first return trip since that 2020 loss, the veteran tight end could make his 2022 debut.
Boyle, one of the NFL’s most well-regarded blocking tight ends, is still working his way back to his pre-injury form. He underwent what he called “the worst surgery of my life” two years ago after an open-field Patriots tackle damaged the meniscus, PCL and MCL in his knee and ripped his hamstring off the bone. “The way the guy hit me, it kind of came through, and my whole inside of the knee blew out,” he said last year.
Boyle returned to play in five games last season, though injuries limited him, and he dropped weight this offseason to better manage the strain on his knees. Harbaugh said Monday that Boyle, who’s dealt with an early-season ankle injury, is “close to 100% right now” and said there’s a “good chance” he’ll play Sunday. He could boost the Ravens’ run blocking, which has struggled to open holes through two weeks.
“I think we’re blessed with some talent there [at tight end], so you don’t have to rush Nick back, necessarily,” Harbaugh said. “But I wouldn’t mind putting Nick out there at all right now, the way he’s practicing. So we’ll see.”
5. Over five seasons in Baltimore, outside linebacker Matthew Judon had 34 1/2 sacks, was named to the Pro Bowl twice and made a lot of friends inside the Ravens’ locker room.
In his first season with New England, which signed him to a four-year, $56 million deal last year, he finished with a career-high 12 1/2 sacks and made another Pro Bowl. With a sack Sunday, Judon would become just the second Patriots player to start a season with at least one in each of his first three games. But he told local reporters Thursday that his first game against Harbaugh, Jackson and the Ravens wouldn’t be overly significant.
“It’s just another game, honestly,” Judon said. “If we win or if we lose, we just get one win, we just get one loss. I want to win. I want to win every game. But there’s no bad blood. It was all business. I still talk to a lot of the guys on that team. After the game, I’m going to shake their hand and love on them and all that. I wish nothing but the best for anybody over there. But it’s just one game.”
6. Safety Marcus Williams is the first Raven in franchise history to record three interceptions in the first two games of a season. He could be busy again Sunday.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is one of the NFL’s more aggressive quarterbacks, ranking seventh in the NFL in average depth of target (8.9 yards downfield), according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. He attempted five passes of at least 20 air yards in a Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, completing two and throwing one interception, and threw three more deep shots in a Week 2 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing one for a touchdown and having another picked off.
“He’s a good quarterback. I’ve faced him before,” Williams said Wednesday, referring to a game last season in which Williams’ New Orleans Saints teammates came away with three interceptions in a 28-13 road win. “He likes to get the ball out quick. He’s a talented guy. [If] we just get some pressure on him, take the ball away, we’ll be all right.”
7. Through the Ravens’ offseason workouts and preseason ramp-up, defensive coaches praised rookie safety Kyle Hamilton’s adaptability. The first-round pick, Ravens pass game coordinator Chris Hewitt said in June, is not an “error repeater.”
Now Hamilton has to show it. He acknowledged Thursday that his “mental errors” Sunday — most notably, when he allowed Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill to coast by him on a 48-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — are “just unacceptable.”
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“At this level, people are going to take advantage of your mental errors,” he said. “Just got to cut down on those. Can’t use being a rookie as an [excuse], because guys are trusting me to be in the right place at the right time, and it kind of sucks to let coaches down, fans down and family down, but most of all my teammates, because I’m with them every single day.”
8. Sunday’s game is something of a homecoming for Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who was born and raised in the Boston area until he was 7, when his family moved to Georgia. He was 5 years old when the Patriots drafted Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1993 draft.
“I was at the stadium [Foxboro Stadium] and saw it, and I didn’t know anything,” he joked Thursday. “I was like, ‘Well, I guess this is important; there are a lot of guys around here.’”
9. Through two weeks, the Ravens have committed the second-fewest penalties (six) and have the lowest penalty yardage (34) in the NFL.
“It’s a start, right, and we have a long way to go, but our guys are playing disciplined football,” Harbaugh said Friday. “They’re doing a good job with their feet and their hands, and playing fundamental football in those kinds of situations, and that’s what you do. We’re not grabby in the back end. Our offensive linemen aren’t holders; we don’t teach that. Knock on [wood], let’s keep it up. Let’s keep it rolling.”
10. Harbaugh has won a regular-season road game against all but five NFL franchises. He’s 0-1 against the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, 0-2 against the Minnesota Vikings and Giants and 0-4 against the Patriots. All four games against New England have been decided by seven points or fewer, with an average margin of victory of 5.5 points.
The Ravens do have two playoff wins in Gillette Stadium, beating New England in the wild-card round in the 2009 postseason and in the AFC championship game in the 2012 postseason.