FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Ravens’ defense entered Monday night’s game against the Patriots ranked first in the NFL in just about every meaningful category. From total yards allowed (296.1), rushing yards (73.8) and first downs (16.6) to third-down percentage (33.3%), the Ravens were back to their old, formidable ways.
And with All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski lost for the season, tight end Martellus Bennett dealing with an ankle injury and veteran receiver Danny Amendola on the shelf for a few weeks, you figured the Patriots might have a tough time moving the ball in this showdown of AFC teams.
And then the game started. Tom Brady stated his case for NFL MVP, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels continued his campaign for a head coaching vacancy, starting with the Rams (he may or may not have been humming, “I love L.A.” on the sidelines), and the Pats notched their 11th win of the season, 30–23 over the Ravens.
After punting on their first three series, the Patriots, using a dizzying array of no-huddle spread formations that utilized multiple running backs, started marching up and down the field.
Ten plays, 74 yards, touchdown.
Eight plays, 89 yards, touchdown.
Eight plays, 75 yards, bone-headed Brady interception in the end zone.
Seven plays, 65 yards, touchdown.
And then, after the Ravens closed a 23–3 deficit to 23–20 with 6:35 remaining in the game (thanks to two Patriots special-teams fumbles in 25 seconds of game time that yielded 14 Ravens points with a total of 25 yards gained), Brady hit receiver Chris Hogan on a 79-yard touchdown that iced the game.
When it was all over, the Patriots had 496 yards of total offense—the most allowed by the Ravens in a non-overtime game since they gave up 525 to the Saints in a 34–27 win on Nov. 24, 2014 (and the third-highest total since 2001). Brady completed 25 of 38 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. It was the most passing yards allowed by the Ravens since the Broncos posted 445 yards on Sept. 5, 2013. And the Patriots converted 8 of 16 third downs.
New England basically broke the Ravens’ defense in a 30–23 victory.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who could be on his way to a third, first-team All-Pro season after nine seasons with the Chargers, admitted he was at fault on the Hogan touchdown. Weddle also had the end-zone interception and a sack. In his 10th season, there isn’t much Weddle hasn’t seen. Consider him impressed with the Patriots after his first meeting as a rival Raven, and he offered his insight exclusively to SI.com after the game.
Greg Bedard: If I told you before the game that the Patriots would have nearly 500 yards of total offense, and Brady would have over 400 yards passing, what would you have said?
Eric Weddle: I would have said…uh…that we didn’t play well at all and it would be a long day for us. And even though that happened for us, we still had a chance. It was a three-point game…We battled them.
They just do so much. They hurt you…There are times defensively when (Brady’s) going to know what you’re in and he kills you when he does. The times he didn’t know what we were doing, we played outstanding, we made him hold the ball, we got off on third downs at times and big plays.
GB: Do you think the no-huddle the Patriots used in the first half was designed to keep you from scheming things up?
EW: A lot of that and their motioning and empty (sets), it declares a lot (for the quarterback). We had a good empty plan, it’s just sometimes we’re in man and there’s matchups out there that aren’t as good as you want defensively. But, shoot, at the end of the day it’s a three-point game and we give up an 80-yard touchdown and it’s mainly because of me moving around so much and not getting where I needed to go.
GB: So that was Cover 3, where you have the deep middle of the field?
EW: It was 3. It was one mistake. You play great all game, making plays and he’s the type of quarterback…a lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t do that. They’d overthrow it or not even see it. You have to credit them. You just hope you get another chance at them and hopefully we will.
GB: Did you have an idea what they were going to look like without Gronkowski, or did they surprise you?
EW: They run what they run. They just put (Martellus Bennett) in the spots (Gronkowski) would be. They lose a little bit of the two-tight end sets they like do and I think running the ball out those sets hurts them a little bit but they just plug the next guy in. That’s the system.
GB: And they used both running backs a lot more together…
EW: They’re just like receivers out there.
GB: In a sense, are they tougher to defend without Gronkowski since Brady can’t rely on him?
EW: They spread you out a lot more. With those backs, they’re like receivers. You saw (James White). Put him out at No. 1 and he runs a slant for 60 (yards) when we’re playing man and we’re doubling (Edelman) and we’re playing 2-man away so it’s like, you can only take away so many (options) and they made a great play. That’s just the matchups that they present on a play-to-play basis. Very rarely do they give you a chance to take advantage. We got one in the end zone, we got a sack. When we got them in third-and-long situations, we got them. You just don’t get them in many situations like that.
GB: Are they the toughest offense you’ve faced?
EW: I mean schematically and how many different things they do, probably. Talent-wise, there are other teams with more talent like with the receivers. But across the board, they’re one of the best for a reason. They run what they run, (Brady) makes a lot of players great and you have to respect that.
GB: You like being in his sort of game against Brady?
EW: Oh yeah. It’s always fun, it’s always cat and mouse. I gamed him a few times where he’d check a play and we were ready for it. The out and up, I was all over, should have been thrown but he doesn’t and it’s a broken play. A couple runs where I make him do those things and we shut them down, but then he got me once in a big spot. That’s the price you pay for doing what you do.