With the Baltimore Ravens taking possession in the game’s final minutes, the Patriots defense huddled together, barked out their orders and backed it up on the field. Sure, the Ravens moved the ball into scoring range, but the Patriots made the last stand and hung on Sunday for a 27-21 victory at Gillette Stadium.
“This is the game,” said safety James Sanders, who was recalling what was said as the clock wound down. “Time is ticking away. If we get a stop, we get off the field and we win the game. We just went out there and by any means necessary [worked to] get a stop to get off the field and walk away with the ‘W.’”
Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense took over at their own 20-yard line with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. Flacco completed a pair of passes to wide receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason, respectively, to move the Ravens to their own 43-yard line. Two plays later, Flacco hit Clayton for nine yards and then ran a quarterback sneak to get a first down. Flacco hit Clayton for another nine-yard completion to get the Ravens to the Patriots’ 37-yard line before the two-minute warning.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was in a soft coverage during all three of Clayton’s receptions, so Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made a key substitution during the two-minute timeout, replacing Wilhite with rookie Darius Butler, who was a better fit with Clayton’s speed.
“Darius is a big-time player,” Sanders said. “He’s been making plays since he’s been here. He’s real talented, and he stepped up big for us [Sunday].”
With the Patriots in better coverage on the outside, Flacco’s next three passes went to running back Ray Rice, which resulted in a four-yard gain, an incompletion and a 13-yard gain to the Patriots’ 20-yard line for a first down.
The next play symbolized the turning point in the drive, as Flacco tried to fit a tight pass to the right corner of the end zone to Clayton, but Butler closed in at the last moment to knock the ball away.
“I didn’t turn around to look for the ball,” said Butler, one of the Patriots’ second-round draft picks in April. “I just waited for him to put his hands up, and I knocked it out on the sideline. It was a crucial situation. I was kind of amped up.”
While Flacco looked almost exclusively at Clayton before the two-minute warning, the second-year quarterback was forced to change it up with Butler suffocating the receiver on the right side of the field.
Flacco hit Kelley Washington for six yards over the middle on second down, and he missed Mason on the right side on the next play. On fourth-and-four from the 14-yard line, Flacco looked right again, but his pass bounced off of Clayton’s shoulder and fell to the turf. While Clayton probably should have made the catch, Butler and safety Brandon McGowan were closing in quickly and impaired the receiver’s view.
“Whenever you play a good team,” Sanders said, “and you go out there and make big stops, manage to get off the field on third down, make big plays defensively against a good offense, that gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
As a whole, the Patriots limited the Ravens to 14 offensive points, a lofty accomplishment against a team that had scored the second-most points in the NFL entering Sunday. And with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, the Patriots defense predicted victory, similar to the way Brady did against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.
“The guys believe that we’ll come out on top,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “Sometimes, I’ve been a part of teams that don’t have that confidence in themselves as a whole unit, and I think this team does.”
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