FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Optimism abounds yet again in New England, as the Patriots are coming off of an impressive 26-10 victory against the Atlanta Falcons. The Pats have an even bigger challenge ahead of them, though, with the undefeated Baltimore Ravens traveling to Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
The Ravens are one of seven teams with a 3-0 record, and they’ve done it in surprising fashion. Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens have put up 103 points and a plus-50 point differential this season – both of which are ranked second in the NFL.
A Patriots victory would symbolize a complete resurrection to Super Bowl contenders after their Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands. A defeat might shed more light on the rust they’ve failed to shed while adjusting to Tom Brady’s return to the offense and overcoming the injuries to Jerod Mayo and Wes Welker.
Developing story line
The Patriots’ medical staff has been focusing its efforts on a number of the team’s superstars. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the latest high-profile casualty. Wilfork hit the deck Sunday in the second quarter, and he didn’t return to the game. Several reporters saw the trainers tending to Wilfork’s left calf, but the Patriots announced Sunday that Wilfork had an ankle injury. They have not issued an update since.
Without any inside information, a medical background or even any receipts from Holiday Inn Express, it might appear Wilfork has a high ankle injury, perhaps a sprain. Such injuries can be bothersome for months and heal with rest, but depending on the severity, professional athletes can play through high ankle sprains. Again, though, this is all just speculation.
Losing Wilfork for any extended amount of time would be a huge blow to the Patriots’ defensive line, which has already been coping with the trade of Richard Seymour. Wilfork and Seymour were the team’s most powerful interior forces when they lined up in the 4-3 formation, and the Patriots will need players like Mike Wright (Sunday’s right shoulder injury won’t be a concern), Myron Pryor and Ron Brace to step in.
Conspiracy theory of the week
After the Patriots acquired linebacker Prescott Burgess from Baltimore last week, multiple reports indicated the Ravens wanted to release Burgess but held off in fear of him being claimed or signed by the Cleveland Browns, who played Baltimore on Sunday. Therefore, Bill Belichick stepped in and sent a conditional seventh-round draft pick to Baltimore to add linebacker depth and stick it to Browns head coach Eric Mangini.
The Patriots released Burgess on Monday and signed former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Terdell Sands (6-foot-7, 335 pounds). This means one of two things: Either the conspiracy theory is true, or Wilfork’s injury will keep him out for an extended period of time, and the Patriots need a fresh body on the defensive line.
“Sometimes, you have great coverage, and these teams make great plays against you, but you’d rather force them to do that than have the guys running wide open and give up plays that I could throw. That’s not what you want.”
—Bill Belichick, at his Monday news conference, on Patriots cornerbacks making life difficult for opposing receivers
1. Fred Taylor had 21 carries for 105 yards and one touchdown against the Falcons, and his ability to run the ball helped the Patriots keep Atlanta’s offense on the sideline. Belichick showed some devotion to the running game for the first time this season, and Taylor rewarded him by eclipsing the century mark for the first time in a year.
2. Safeties Brandon McGowan and Brandon Meriweather each manned up on Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, who only caught one pass for 16 yards. The Brandon tandem had help from the linebackers in zone schemes, but their ability to stay with Gonzalez in man coverage played a major role in the Patriots’ overall defensive performance. McGowan also forced Michael Turner to fumble in the second quarter, and that proved to be the defense’s turning point.
3. Aside from opening some canyon-sized holes for Taylor, the Patriots’ offensive line has only allowed one sack all season.
4. Randy Moss caught 10 passes for 116 yards, and he torched Atlanta’s secondary, which, for some incomprehensible reason, left him in single coverage most of the day.
1. The Patriots’ offense struggled again in the red zone, settling for four field goals and one touchdown in five trips inside the Falcons’ 20-yard line. It didn’t hurt them like it did against the Jets, but the trend is unsettling. The Patriots have made 13 red-zone trips this season, and they’ve come away with four touchdowns and nine field goals.
2. Not trying to pile it on or anything, but wide receiver Joey Galloway had another bland performance with two receptions for 14 yards. He was targeted on five passes, and it was the third consecutive game in which Galloway has caught less than half of the passes thrown in his direction. For the season, Galloway has been targeted 19 times and has seven catches. Patriots fans are losing patience, too, as they gave Galloway a loud, sarcastic cheer when he caught a pass Sunday against the Falcons.