Looking Playoff Ready
The New England Patriots were cruising to a far easier victory than might be expected against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
The Ravens, curiously, had chosen to give up the running game before ever trying it, relying mostly on short passes. This helped put them in a 23-3 hole in the middle of the third quarter. They ran the ball a mere four times in the first half, one early play resulting in safety.
The much-penalized Ravens were a bit better than usual in that category, if eight accepted calls can be considered better.
But the Patriots, who would hold on to win 30-23, committed the bigger mistakes and they committed them on special teams in rapid sequence. They mishandled a pair of punt returns that led to Ravens touchdowns and soon were nursing a 23-20 lead.
A 79-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chris Hogan 17 seconds after a Ravens field goal stretched the lead. A Ravens field goal with 2:03 left, however, signaled surrender.
On fourth down, and with a yard to go, the Ravens needed 10 points to tie. They took the three, which is OK, but then did not ask their vaunted defense to pin the Patriots deep. They tried an onside kick and did not recover it. They never saw the football again, as the Patriots ran off the final 2:03 on the clock.
This curious failure to include the running game in the game plan and the decision not to kick the ball deep at the end left this viewer perplexed. At 7-6, the Ravens are in a precarious playoff position if they do not run the table. The Patriots? Well, you know the Patriots. Brady continues to make a case for being MVP despite a four-game suspension to start the season and the teams’s 11-2 record is the best in the league.
If they don’t beat themselves physically and mentally, as they nearly did on those blown punt returns, they are then the team to beat.
Post By: Larry Weisman, a longtime sportswriter for USA TODAY, blogs for Twistity.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrLarryWeisman