BOSTON (CBS) — Before they even took the field on Sunday, the Patriots knew that they had clinched the AFC East. If that led to them letting off the gas pedal a bit for their game in Baltimore, it would have been somewhat understandable. Instead, the Patriots came out full throttle, opening up a 14-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 41-7 victory.
The Pats now know they can beat Buffalo next weekend and secure a first-round playoff bye. Here are the four ups and four downs from their win on Sunday.
Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount
For whatever reason, the Patriots got away from running the ball in the second half when they were playing with the lead. But when they got the ball with just under seven minutes left in the fourth, they placed the game in the hands of Ridley and Blount, and they iced the victory with a series of runs that chewed up yards and took time off the clock.
For Ridley, that’s a huge vote of confidence from the coaching staff, an indication that they believe he’s past his fumbling problems. For Blount, who looks like an unmovable battle tank at times, it was pretty much status quo. The drive ended, fittingly, with a Blount touchdown run.
Many of us wondered why Bill Belichick has gone a bit Rutgers-happy in recent drafts, but his selection of cornerback Logan Ryan sure does look good right now. Ryan picked off Joe Flacco twice on Sunday. The first led to the Patriots’ second touchdown drive, and the second led to a field-goal drive. There’s something to be said about being a magnet for the football, and with his fourth and fifth interceptions of his rookie season, Ryan appears to be just that.
Given the circumstances of the game, the Ravens were forced to go for it on fourth down on three separate occasions. They were stopped all three times.
On the opening drive of the second half, the Patriots stopped the Ravens on fourth-and-3 in New England territory. Later, on a fourth-and-1 at the New England 4-yard line, Ray Rice was stuffed at the line of scrimmage to force a turnover on downs. And Dont’a Hightower got into the backfield to bother Joe Flacco on a fourth-and-10 in the fourth quarter, forcing an incompletion.
If the Ravens convert any of those fourth-down attempts, the game could have changed. But stout defense at the right time made sure the Ravens never got into it.
The guy is just money. He drilled a 45-yarder to extend the lead to 17-0 in the second quarter, and his 42-yarder in the third quarter was picture-perfect.
We can’t mention one Logan without mentioning the other. Logan Mankins is one of the best guards in the league, but he willingly slid over to left tackle for this game and did a fine job. He noticeably got beaten just once, showing a rare versatility on the offensive line and helping to limit the Ravens’ pass rush.
The Officiating Crew
Ron Winter and his crew did not have a good afternoon in Baltimore. They made the game tough to watch and slaughtered the pace of the game. On the plus side, they met a few times to correct some calls, but on the opposite end of that … they made the wrong calls to begin with.
The running back figures to be a very important piece of the offense in the absence of Rob Gronkowski, but that’s going to be difficult if he’s hurt. Vereen left Sunday’s game in the first half with a groin injury and didn’t return. They didn’t need him in this one, but they will in the playoffs. The Patriots have to hope that injury isn’t major.
McCourty went helmet-first into the rear end of Ed Dickson, and he got up looking woozy. He seemed to be fine on the sideline, but with head injuries, it’s best to play it safe. So the Patriots sent him to the locker room and he didn’t return. With Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo long gone, the Patriots hardly would like to say adios to another key player from the middle of their defense. Perhaps the Patriots can give McCourty a break next weekend and then let him rest during the (potential) first-round bye, and he’ll be OK. But you never know with these things.
The Officiating Crew … Again
If you want to nit-pick the Patriots after a 41-7 win, be my guest. But I’ll chose to list the officials one more time. I hope we never see Ron Winter and Co. again.