Baltimore returns to Foxboro for the first time since humiliating the Patriots 33-14 in the wild-card round last January. Sunday's rematch is one of the most compelling statistical matchups and storylines of Week 6.
Sure, they've suffered bigger defeats on the scoreboard. But none came in the playoffs and none felt so thorough or humiliating.
The highlights (or lowlights from New England's perspective):
On New England's next offensive play,
The tone had been set and the score was 24-0 by the end of the first quarter. Baltimore held on to win handily and did it the old-fashioned, 1970s way: by beating up New England in the trenches. The Ravens won on a day when Flacco completed just 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards. It was the lowest output by a quarterback in a victorious playoff effort since 1973, when Miami's
The game was a stunning psychological beating, too, for a franchise otherwise in the midst of a period of historic domination at home: the Patriots had not lost a playoff game in Foxboro since 1978; Brady, meanwhile, still has not lost a regular-season game at home since November 2006, a stretch of 22 consecutive wins in Foxboro.
Specifically, the high-risk, high-reward downfield pitch-and-catch between Brady and Moss yielded more risks and fewer rewards over time.
Brady's passer rating when targeting Moss
Additionally, Brady has thrown a meager 23 picks since 2007. But 14 of those INTs came when targeting Moss. In 2007, four of his eight picks (50 percent) came throwing to Moss; in 2009, 8 of 13 picks (61.5 percent) came throwing to Moss; in the first four games of 2010, both of his picks came when throwing to Moss.
Rumors continue to swirl that Moss was shipped out of New England for any of a variety of off-field incidents. Regardless, the on-field trends were troubling, too, and the stats support what the eyes were telling us: Brady and Moss just weren't connecting like they once did.
The New England offense will not be better, per se, with Moss gone. He's one of the great game-breakers the sport has produced and there's a reason he was the one constant on the two most prolific offenses in history: the 1998 Vikings (556 points in 16 games) and the 2007 Patriots (589 points).
But that doesn't mean New England can't be a better team. Remember, earlier in the 2000s, the Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years and set NFL records with 21 consecutive wins and 10 consecutive postseason wins. They did it all by controlling tempo as Brady spread the ball around to a collection of no-name receivers with his frustratingly effective "death by a 1,000 paper cuts" offense.
It was an offense that produced three Super Bowl MVPs: Brady (twice) and
Even with Moss gone, the New England receiving corps has more talent now than it did in the Super Bowl glory days.
You probably know that the 2000 Ravens fielded the stingiest defense of the Live Ball Era (1978-present), surrendering just 10.3 points per game. You might not know that those 2000 Ravens also fielded the best run defense of the Super Bowl Era,
But Lewis & Co. have been merely average against the run this year,
The lack of production along the defensive front creates an incredible opportunity for the Patriots. They rank No. 1 right now on our
Baltimore made a very public investment in offense since last season. Most notably, they acquired highly productive receivers
Baltimore walks into Foxboro ranked fourth in scoring defense (14.4 PPG), but No. 22 in scoring offense (18.4 PPG).
Quarterback Joe Flacco, meanwhile, appears to have taken a step back in 2010 after a much-improved sophomore campaign in 2009. He posted an 88.9 passer rating last year; he's posted a very poor 72.1 passer rating this year. Even if you give him a mulligan and remove his four picks against Cincinnati from the equation, Flacco has posted a humble 81.9 passer rating as he enters a game in which he needs 147 yards to become the franchise leader in career passing yards.
The Patriots, meanwhile, counter with the best passing attack in football: Brady enters the game with a league-best 109.0 passer rating and is on pace for a career high in accuracy (69.7 percent).
The X Factor on Sunday? New England receiver
Baltimore's struggling offense will find a cushy reception from New England's poor defense (24.0 PPG, 26th).
But otherwise, the Patriots appear to matchup well this time around against Baltimore: New England has the best
New England rarely makes mistakes in the passing game (five sacks, two INT) at a time when the Baltimore defense is having trouble forcing mistakes in the passing game (five sacks, one INT).
But most importantly, the Patriots have been making big plays on defense in special teams. It's helped make New England the highest-scoring team in football (32.8 PPG), as well as the most efficient scoring machine in football, too (
New England will ride one of those big plays to a narrow victory.