-It's hard not to wonder what might've been had Dont'a Hightower finished off Lamar Jackson on the first third down of the game, or if Shilique Calhoun didn't jump into the neutral zone on the field goal attempt. Zero or three points on that first drive might've set a different tone, but instead it was a sloppy start that got the defense into an early hole. Big parts of the problem on the first drive were both Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy losing the edge as the Ravens speed and misdirection came into play. Collins also bit badly on the touchdown run by Jackson, losing contain, getting pushed onto his back by the running back and watching the quarterback skip into the end zone.
-Two off-target passes to start the game weren't great tone setters for the offense either. Then, on third down, the protection was incorrect resulting in an immediate free rusher that forced a third-straight incompletion by Brady. Sloppy start all around.
-Not sure I've ever seen a defense bite on a play-action like the Pats did on the second defensive drive read option by Jackson on a first down near midfield. Roberts practically tackled the running back while Guy was also just staring him down as the lead blocker ran untouched up the middle followed by Jackson for a gain of 18 yards. It was a good example of the Pats trying to do too much early on and getting burned. Simply put, the Ravens won the physical battle up front. The Pats came crashing down on the line of scrimmage hard, but the Ravens offensive line was equal to the task and stonewalling a linebacker like Dont'a Hightower deserves credit. They opened a lot of seams right up the gut.
-After their first positive offensive play of the game with a 10-yard Sony Michel run, things stalled out as Baltimore dominated the line of scrimmage with their defensive line pushing the offensive line, especially the interior linemen back into the backfield. It wasn't much better on third down as the Ravens sent six rushers, getting a free rusher through that eliminated Brady's ability to step into the pocket. Sanu was open if Brady could've found him quick.
-Mark Ingram's 53-yard scamper was a tough way to open the second quarter as Danny Shelton was double teamed well downfield and Ja'Whaun Bentley picked the wrong hole and was sealed off. Shelton has had a really good year but plays like this illustrate what happens in the 3-4 defense when your nose tackle can't hold his ground. The same thing happened on the next play, a 12-yard touchdown by Edwards who was barely touched. This one illustrated more how Adam Butler is a lighter defensive end as he and Shelton were both pushed back like they were a blocking sled.
-Justin Bethel's speed was on display on the game-changing punt muff by Cyrus Jones. Bethel had a clear path to the returner and broke down well to be in position to collect the fumble. Still a bad play by Jones, but Bethel had a bit to do with it as well. After three punts to start the game, it was just the spark the offense needed.
-A 16-yard screen pass to James White took the Pats inside the five-yard-line, but throwing a bubble screen to Phillip Dorsett on the next play was a head-scratcher. Dorsett is a useful downfield catcher but making guys miss in a tight space is not his thing even if Brady's throw was on target. N'Keal Harry could be helpful in the red zone in ways Dorsett is not.
-Nice design on third down to get Sanu open for the touchdown. It was a badly needed score and nice to see the newcomer earning some trust in a key spot by coming through. Sanu looked comfortable all night as one of the lone bright spots and reasons for optimism.
-The score awoke the Patriots defense who forced a three-and-out on the next possession. It was finally a good display of handling what Jackson can do, first keeping the edge on a designed quarterback run and then, on second down, keeping him contained in the pocket and forcing a weird off-balance throw that fell incomplete. On third down, they used Jonathan Jones as a spy lined up deep in the flat so he'd maintain leverage on any Jackson runs. Defensive possessions like this are why all is not even close to lost for The Boogeymen.
-The offense seemed to find their groove as well, working a screen pass to Michel and underneath crossers into Baltimore territory for their first semi-sustained drive of the game. But a weird intentional grounding penalty and then a holding call stopped them in their tracks. How can it be intentional grounding when the receiver gets stopped from his route? The holding call on Newhouse was an illustration of his lack of athleticism that is on display when Brady takes deep drops. But even if he hadn't gotten called I'm not sure Dorsett even picked up the first down after catching it within a yard of the line.
-The Pats would punt after that but the defense would get the ball back to them two plays later with a Kyle Van Noy forced fumble, recovered by Guy. It was an athletic play by Van Noy, who punched it out while falling through traffic. Despite their slow start the defense continues to make these kind of game-changing plays which are true x-factors.
-Another holding penalty, this one on Shaq Mason, set back the drive and forced the offense to settle for a field goal. Mason was overwhelmed on the play that was still stopped for a loss of three yards. The offensive line had some terrible plays in this game, but they held up fine at times too. It wasn't the total disaster some are making them out to be, especially Newhouse.
-The pass protection held up well enough for Brady on a final drive before the half after the defense forced another punt. Completions to Edelman (25 yards) and White (30 yards) were great plays by all involved.
-The Patriots came out firing in the third quarter from their no huddle, keyed by back-to-back catches by Sanu for 11 and 15 yards. Sanu's ability to play every snap of the game, including plenty of no huddle, shows how impressive his immersion in the system has been. But the drive came to a crashing end when Edelman fumbled and the ball was returned 70 yards for the touchdown that would swing the entire game back into Baltimore's favor.
-Undeterred, the Patriots offense would respond with an 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped off with a James White touchdown. White touched the ball on six of the 11 plays as the no huddle was once again surgical. If there was a takeaway from this game on offense it's that the no huddle from 11 personnel might be their strength. But can they exist with just one personnel package? You'd hope that Matt Lacosse could at least give them the option of more two tight end sets at some point. But what's clear is they cut out the tight-ends-as-fullbacks experiment and just went with what they had.
-Down just four points the defense needed to continue their streak of impressive play but instead they reverted to their early-game play, watching the Ravens reel off a crushing 14-play, 81-yard drive that took 8:09.
-The first key play of the drive was a third-and-5 conversion to Mark Andrews, the primary target on third down. It was one of the few critical third downs the Ravens faced and they executed despite good Patriots pressure and decent coverage by Terrence Brooks, who was simply over matched by a bigger player and lost the fight on a well-thrown ball that Jackson got off at the last possible moment.
-The second key play of the drive was on fourth down with four yards to go from the Patriots 38-yard-line. The Patriots went with their favorite play call, the Cover-0 blitz, sending seven defenders into the box. Jackson smartly adjusted his tight end, bringing him in for protection then it looked like a design roll out that gave the quarterback enough time. Once again Jackson made a difficult throw in a tight window, as the Patriots attempt at pressure was ineffective.
-The Ravens would score on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving them a 10-point lead, but the Patriots would respond once again, moving the ball just past midfield before Brady threw up an ill-advised bomb to center field that Earl Thomas had to wait on to drop into his arms. It was a curious decision for Brady, especially in a close game with plenty of time left. Sanu also failed to touch Thomas after the interception, so instead of pinning the Ravens at their eight-yard-line, Thomas brought it out to the 32. It was an unfortunate end for the offense, who showed a lot of spark and fight in the middle portion of the game, but this final mistake put a cap on the first loss.
-Baltimore would go their second epic drive of the second half, another 14-play, touchdown scoring drive that ate up most of the fourth quarter. By the time the Patriots got the ball back they were in a 17-point hole with just over three minutes left in the game. The drive summed up everything that the Ravens did right and the Patriots did wrong in this game, as the front defensive tackles were too easily moved and the linebackers too often picked the wrong holes or got caught up in their tackles being driven back. Credit to the Ravens for bringing the physicality as they finished the game off with a statement drive which Jackson capped off himself with a one-yard touchdown run.
-The final key mistake was a hands to the face penalty after getting a stop on third down from their 30. It might've been too little too late but it was yet another bad penalty at a critical moment of this game.
- 11 personnel - 67 snaps
- 3-3-5 light - 34 snaps (featuring Simon as defensive end)
- 3-4 - 14 snaps
- 1-3-7 - 8 snaps (third and long package)
- Goal line - 6 snaps
- Mohamed Sanu made remarkable strides after just over a week in the offense. His continued development will be a key in the second half. Regardless of the other weaponry, an offense with Edelman and Sanu is just what Brady loves. Add in James White and the Pats should have enough to take the offense to a new level.
- Don't expect too much out of N'Keal Harry or Matt LaCosse but the need for some big red zone targets is critical.
- The defense had a sloppy bad game, one in which they lost the physical battle and couldn't get off blocks to make tackles. Aside from making any kind of case for this defense's place in history, at the very least there much better than they showed here.
- The special teams had one of their best games of the season, with Nick Folk hitting all four of his kicks and the takeaway by the punt team leading the way. It was an underrated effort and a needed one. The special teams haven't been good enough this year.
- It seemed like a theme on both sides was simplicity. The offense ran one personnel group, the defense ran just three aside from some goal line. That's a departure on both sides of the ball but it didn't seem to make things easier for either.
- Stephon Gilmore recorded just one tackle for stats. Any team that can make the Patriots best player on defense has an innate advantage.
- The first place the defense needs to be better is up front with Guy, Shelton and Butler. They were players critical to this gameplan and none played up to the level we've come to expect this season.
- Collins, Van Noy and Hightower weren't far behind. Aside from Van Noy's forced fumble the splash plays for the defense were really limited.
- With just four carries a piece for Michel and Burkhead it's hard to tell where the team's head is at with their running game. The focus on no huddle was clear, but how far can the Pats go without any power running game? Did that question cause the coaches to settle for the field goal before the half instead of trying to get one yard for the touchdown?
- It's weird to feel like the offense made positive strides in a game that saw them produce only 10 points that weren't aided by takeaways, but they showed more consistency moving the ball than they had for most of the season. If they and the defense find a way to meet in the middle, they'll be poised to make some noise in the playoffs.