When the Patriots ran:
Sometimes it's not necessarily about winning the battle as much as it is showing up for the fight. The Patriots didn't exactly run all over the Baltimore Ravens stingy run defense but they kept Baltimore honest and made them work all night long. LeGarrette Blount was held largely in check and picked up only 72 yards on 18 carries, but when called upon to get the tough yards he mostly succeeded. First he found the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1 for his 14th TD of the season, then he ended the game by grinding out a pair of late first downs as the clock ticked toward zero. Neither Dion Lewis (three carries, 14 yards) nor James White (two carries, 3 yards) was a factor in the running game and New England wound up with only 95 yards on the ground for a 3.7-yard average, but the fact that the Patriots were able to run it 26 times helped keep the Ravens guessing and opened up at least one significant play-action opportunity.
When the Patriots passed:
Tom Brady actually got off to a shaky start, completing just 3 of his first 9 passes while the Patriots were forced to punt the first three times they had the ball. Things got significantly better from there, however. Ravens starting corner Jimmy Smith suffered an ankle injury and Brady took full advantage. He heated up and wound up completing 25 of 38 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw one terrible interception in the red zone that allowed Baltimore some life late in the first half, but otherwise he was solid. He opened the third quarter with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett, who made a terrific catch in traffic while falling in the end zone. Malcolm Mitchell (four catches, 41 yards, 1 TD) was once again steady while White was a huge factor in the passing game, grabbing three balls for 81 yards including a 61-yard slant to convert a key third down. But the Patriots threatened to make all of that irrelevant as miscues created a tight 23-20 game with less than seven minutes left, and that's when Brady's play action strike ended things. On first down from the 21, Brady faked a handoff to Blount and found an uncovered Chris Hogan streaking up the seam for a 79-yard touchdown. Safety Eric Weddle later said he blew the play by failing to get into position in time before the snap, but the dagger ultimately won the game for the Patriots.
When the Ravens ran:
The actual grade here should be an incomplete for the Ravens. Evidently Baltimore offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has decided against running the football at all as the Ravens attempted just 13 rushes all night. Rookie Kenneth Dixon got 11 of those carries and picked up 39 yards for a 3.5-yard average while Terrance West added just 2 yards on the other two attempts. The Patriots made a huge play on Baltimore's first rushing attempt as Malcom Brown shot through a gap on the goal line and caught West in the end zone for a safety to open the scoring. Other than that, there were no significant plays in the running game because Baltimore simply refused to keep it on the ground.
When the Ravens passed:
Joe Flacco came into the game completing a career-high 65 percent of his passes. On paper the number seemed impressive for a guy who has a reputation for pushing the ball downfield. Now we know why he's been so efficient. The Ravens constantly threw the ball underneath to the backs and tight ends and rarely picked up significant yardage doing so. So Flacco while Flacco hit on a career-high 37 passes on 52 attempts (71 percent) he managed just 324 yards in the process. Dixon (eight catches, 42 yards), West (four catches, 24 yards), Kyle Juszczyk (three catches, 46 yards), Dennis Pitta (four catches, 18 yards), Nick Boyle (three catches, 15 yards) and Darren Waller (one catch, 3 yards, 1 TD) were responsible for the vast majority of the completions but other than a 40-yarder to Juszczyk and Waller's touchdown the Ravens got very little out of it. Mike Wallace had some opportunities to make big plays but Flacco either underthrew him or the receiver failed to make the play. Breshad Perriman hauled in a 47-yarder after beating Cyrus Jones but that was a rare downfield throw. The Patriots back seven did a great job of tackling all night and refused to allow Flacco's dink-and-dunk approach to beat them.
It wasn't all bad for the Patriots in the kicking game but the bads were exceptionally so. We'll start off with the good. Ryan Allen once again did a nice job of pinning the Ravens, particularly taking advantage of a bad decision by Devin Hester to allow a punt to drop at the 15 and roll down to the 1 before Jonathan Jones and Matthew Slater teamed up to down it there. That led to the safety. Shea McClellin also executed the Jamie Collins play perfectly, leaping over long snapper Morgan Cox to block Justin Tucker's 34-yard field goal in the first quarter. Now for the bad. The rookie Jones continues to show poor judgment as a returner and he nearly cost his team a victory because of it. In the first half he nearly got too close to a punt but narrowly averted disaster when Sam Koch's kick didn't touch him as he scrambled away. He wasn't as lucky in the second half. With the Patriots in control at 23-3 in the third quarter, he appeared to go toward the ball and watched it deflect off his foot toward his goal line. Chris Moore recovered at the Patriots 3 and soon the Ravens had life. On the ensuing kick, Matthew Slater was buried by Juszczyk and Shareece Wright recovered at the 22, leading to another touchdown. The special teams blunders were the only thing that kept the Ravens in the game and it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick responds in the coming weeks.