FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Going back to last season, the Baltimore Ravens had won 10 consecutive road games entering this Sunday night meeting with New England at Gillette Stadium. No team since the 2016-17 Patriots had won 11 or more straight away games. Yet, even minus several important players on their defense and battling at-times carwash-like rainfall, the 6-2 Ravens seemed to have the wherewithal to accomplish the feat, especially with New England working on a short week having played last Monday night on the road themselves.
"They're a pretty unique offense. They've got a lot of wrinkles to them. It's important to stay disciplined," linebacker Chase Winovich observed afterward. "You could see some times when we weren't perfect, they were able to get some yards. But at the end of the day, it was enough."
"We know they're an offense that loves to run the ball and get to the edge of the defense," safety Adrian Phillips pointed out. "That was pretty much our game plan – don't let them get to the edge. We mainly kept those guys contained. We did it with a variety of different looks and it ended up working out well for us."
Mysteriously, though, the Ravens came out throwing, without much success on the game's opening drive. New England kept it mostly on the ground and decided to go for it on a 4th-and-1 from the Baltimore 40-yard line. QB Cam Newton picked it up with a sneak, but the Patriots punted shortly thereafter.
Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson started to find a rhythm on his team's second possession, both with his arm and his legs. He orchestrated a 13-play, 94-yard drive that chewed up most of the first quarter. The drive ended with WR Willie Snead taking a drop-pass from Jackson and outracing most of the Patriots defense to the pylon for the game's first score. Justin Tucker's extra point gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead at the start of the second quarter.
Newton and the Patriots responded immediately, however, with a scoring march of their own. New England needed just seven plays to drive 75 yards, finishing with a Newton TD toss to RB Rex Burkhead.
Despite a driving wind-and-rain storm that arrived around kickoff and lasted throughout the contest, both teams continued to try to throw the football, but it was on the ground where they'd be most productive. On the ensuing possession following New England's tying score, the Ravens got as far as the Patriots' 6 before Tucker was called on to make it 10-7 late in the second quarter.
"I can't speak for the entire defense," added Winovich, "but I know that we just tried to take it one drive at a time."
With a minute to go in the first half, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got creative, calling for a double-pass down in Ravens territory. Newton tossed a backward pass to WR Jakobi Meyers who then tossed a perfect 24-yard lob to Burkhead, who'd come racing out of the backfield and beat Ravens rookie linebacker Patrick Queen to the end zone. Just like that, New England had a 13-10 lead, which stayed that way after kicker Nick Folk pulled his PAT attempt wide left.
"It was a lot of fun, anytime you have a trick play like that – a receiver throwing a touchdown pass to a running back," Burkhead gushed later during his comments to reporters. "I was kind of shocked after the play, for whatever reason. I didn't know if he was going to throw it or not, but just a tremendous throw by him. He put it right there where he needed to for me to make the catch."
"It's something we've practiced over the past couple of weeks. Just never knew when it was going to come up," explained Meyers. "I'm surprised it came up during a rain game, but… I saw Rex out there. Rex is a playmaker… I just put it up there and he did the rest. When I saw the leverage he had on the defender, I knew I was giving him a chance. It was either Rex or nobody. If I couldn't get it to Rex or throw it out of bounds, I was going to try to get back to the line of scrimmage."
It appeared that Baltimore was setting itself up for a tying field goal with 14 seconds left, but Jackson tried to complete a deep pass to WR Marquise Brown. His throw was a bit short and to the inside, giving CB J.C. Jackson enough room to make the interception – his fifth in as many consecutive games, which established a new franchise record. New England went into the half with a narrow lead.
"I'm a playmaker, man. I know how to play the ball pretty well," Jackson asserted afterward. "I'm just proud of my team the way we came out and competed and won. We played good against a good offensive team."
The Patriots then got the ball back at the start of the third quarter and wasted little time. Two long runs by Damien Harris preceded a deep throw from Newton to Meyers inside the Ravens' 10-yard line. Newton took care of the rest on a designed QB-keeper to score the third Patriots touchdown of the night.
"We knew we were facing a tough, physical team that wanted to come in and kind of bully us and push us around, but we wanted to stand up for ourselves and show how tough and physical we are," Harris admitted. "That was the mentality of the whole team tonight. We competed hard for 60 minutes and came out with a great win against a great team. We knew if we played the way we're capable of playing, we'd have a chance. I wanted to be a part of it and do my part to help this team win."
Baltimore wouldn't make it easy, however. From their own 48-yard line, the Ravens elected to go for a 4th-and-1 with a direct snap to RB Mark Ingram. However, an errant snap resulted in an 11-yard loss and a turnover on downs to the Patriots. Up by 10 midway through the third, New England had prime field position.
More good running by Harris – who finished with a career-best 121 yards rushing on 22 carries – only resulted in three more points from Folk, but with six minutes to play in the third, the Patriots led 23-10.
In his brief NFL career, Baltimore's Jackson was 1-6 as a starter when his team trailed at the half, but the former Heisman Trophy winner hoped to mount his second such comeback. In 11 plays, he guided his tea 75 yards, finding Snead on the other end of an 18-yard touchdown strike just before the end of the third quarter. Tucker's PAT narrowed the gap to just six points, 23-17.
The Ravens' D then forced a quick three-and-out punt and got the ball back, albeit deep in their own end of the field. Baltimore wound up punting it right back, but a penalty pushed the Patriots inside their own 5-yard line with 11:25 left in the game.
Four minutes later, they punted and Baltimore was in business at their own 20. Whether it was a slippery football or just sloppy execution, Jackson and the Ravens were plagued throughout the night by off-target shotgun snaps by starting center Matt Skura. One of those came with six minutes to go and pushed the Ravens back to a 2nd-and-26 situation deep in their end of the field. It proved too much to overcome. Even though they got the ball back one more time, that particular play essentially sealed the outcome and seemed to encapsulate the kind of night the Ravens had here at Gillette.
"The ball is just wet… couldn't do [anything] about it," Baltimore's Jackson acknowledged. "You know, [Skura] was trying to the best of his ability and I was trying right there with him. But things happen, especially in conditions like this.
"The weather wasn't on our side. Every time we [had the ball], it was like the rain just started pouring down even harder. But you know, it's part of football. Things happen. The weather's not always going to be perfect, and we still have to find a way to pull out a victory. We just didn't tonight."
"This was a really fun game for a lot of reasons. It was a great team win," Winovich confessed. "It was a big day for the team in general. A few weeks ago, there was – I don't want to say a difference in morale – there were a lot of things outside our control and after last week, getting a win, there was a definite change in energy across the team.
"You could tell everyone was playing for each other, playing hard, playing through the whistle, and playing to the end of the game. We wanted that win. We're fortunate to have gotten it. It was a hard-fought win."
"It was huge. That's a great team that we played tonight," echoed Burkhead. "We were hoping to build off the win last week against the Jets. We really had a great week of preparation in practice. So, we had confidence going into the game, as long as we executed, controlled the line of scrimmage, and were physical throughout the game, we knew we could come out victorious. And that's what we did."