Gone was the floppy secondary that couldn't be trusted on deep throws. Suddenly arrived was a legitimate pass rush. Fully present was a complete unit that could shut down opponents on runs and passes while stopping key drives.
But the way the Patriots played defense in the last portion of Sunday's game — especially in the final minutes, as no-huddle aficionado Joe Flacco pushed his team down the field — looked far more similar to last year's defensive crew. That's a problem for a New England team whose weakness for several years has been its inability to stop its opponents' attacks.
While Tom Brady should be faulted for not finding ways to close out games when the Patriots have the ball, the defense can take some rightful criticism after Sunday's loss. One New England captain — and arguably the key to the Patriots' strength on defense — was ready to take the blame.
"The offense played their tails off, and we just left them out to dry," Vince Wilfork said Sunday, according to ESPN.com.
The Patriots carried a 13-0 lead into the second quarter and went ahead 20-14 at the half, but the defense flailed after the break. Stops were mixed with penalty calls, and the secondary looked just as atrocious as it had last season, with Devin McCourty and company giving up big plays or drawing well-deserved penalties as they were caught with their backs to the ball.
"We fell short, especially me," McCourty said Sunday. "You have to make plays, plain and simple. There were more plays, not just the last drive, that I can make and my team counts on me to make. It's simple. I have to make those plays."
The defense allowed 503 yards in the game after giving up just 21 yards (and no first downs) in the first quarter. The huge yards were actually a sign that another part of the Patriots' attack, the special teams play, was much better this week. The Ravens were pinned in their own territory several times, requiring them to piece together long sets to score. But they did, capitalizing on drives of 82, 92, 80, 92 and 70 yards.
"We had a pretty good idea how we wanted to play it," Wilfork said. "The first quarter showed, but it seems after that, we couldn't get off the field."
Flacco was 28-for-39 — a very good 71.8 percent — for 382 yards. The seemingly solid New England run defense also gave up 101 yards to Ray Rice, who averaged 5.1 yards a carry.
The Ravens may be one of the toughest tests the Patriots will face this season, and they've provided a definitive assessment that the poor New England defense may not be out of the woods yet.
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