Throughout the first three weeks of the season, New England had opportunities — plenty of them — but they could never convert. Tom Brady missed his receivers, his receivers missed him, and whenever they happened to get into the red zone, it was almost a foregone conclusion that they would come away with three points, not seven.
All of that changed on Sunday.
The offense came out firing, it put up points with regularity, it got into the red zone and it didn't squander opportunities. And the New England defense passed its character test while holding on late in the fourth quarter for a thrilling 27-21 win over the previously undefeated Ravens.
Brady finished 21-of-32 for 258 yards and a touchdown, once again trumping a very promising second-year quarterback. Joe Flacco was held to 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Wes Welker was finally activated after missing the last two games, and he proved his worth, leading all receivers with six receptions for 48 yards.
Patriots 27, Ravens 21
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Oct. 4, 2009
Headliner: For perhaps the first time during this young season, Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady again. Maybe it was the fact that Wes Welker was back on the gridiron. Maybe it was the fact that Bill Belichick did everything in his power to keep Joey Galloway out of the picture by rendering him inactive.
Whatever the case, Brady started making the throws he used to make pre-Bernard Pollard but hasn't since, including perfect 26-yard and 20-yard strikes to Sam Aiken and Randy Moss as the Patriots put together a critical scoring drive in the third quarter.The drive culminated in a nice little 14-yard lob pass to Moss, which put the Patriots up by 10 promptly after a Brady fumble was recovered for a touchdown. It was a huge momentum swing in the Patriots' favor, and it was Brady's first touchdown pass to a receiver in 2009 — and Moss' first TD catch.
For once, Brady's offense started clicking before it was too late, putting up an effort that featured 85 yards on the ground, 234 yards in the air and three touchdowns. One of those TDs came courtesy of a 1-yard run by Brady himself, his first since October of 2007.
Game Ball: For the second straight week, New England's allegedly weak defense held strong against a very tough offense. In his first three games of the season, Flacco put up 103 points and twice threw for over 300 yards. No such luck on Sunday.
Not only did New England cornerback Leigh Bodden come up with a key interception with under two minutes left in the first half — the Ravens faced first-and-10 at the Patriots 17-yard line, and Bodden picked the ball on the 9 — but the defense put forth a huge defensive stand as time ran out in the fourth quarter. The Ravens faced first-and-10 at the New England 20 and needed a touchdown to take the lead with less than a minute left but couldn't make it happen, thanks to two Flacco incomplete passes to end the drive on downs.
Bodden's secondary mate Brandon Meriweather was especially spectacular, breaking up a sure-fire touchdown with a perfectly-timed deflection in the first half and then nearly picking off Flacco during a critical drive late in the third quarter.
Better Luck Next Week: Penalties killed Baltimore, plain and simple. The complexion of the game would have been completely different had it not been for two roughing-the-passer penalties in the first half, both of which led to touchdown drives. The first one came on the Patriots' second drive of the game. They were down 7-3 and were trying to respond to a clock-gobbling touchdown drive by Baltimore but were struggling to gain any momentum. Then, on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 27-yard line, Brady got roughed up by Haloti Ngata and the team was handed a first down at the 22. A few plays later, the Pats had a 10-7 lead.
Later in the second half, Brady faced second-and-11 at the Baltimore 43 when Terrell Suggs stumbled into the QB's legs, tripping him up. Flags were thrown, New England got a first down at the 27, and two plays later, it was 17-7.
Key Moment: The Patriots went up 27-21 on a field goal with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, and they needed a defensive stop to keep the game in their hands. Flacco handed off to Willis McGahee for a four-yard gain, and he got within one yard of a first down after another short pass. Facing third-and-1 on his own 45-yard line, Flacco handed off to Ray Rice for no gain. Baltimore decided to go for it, and McGahee was stopped just shy of the first down. The Ravens turned the ball over on downs with just over five minutes left in the contest.
The Ravens got another chance to make something happen in their final drive of the game, and they led things off with three straight first downs, eventually working their way to the Patriots 20-yard line. That's when Belichick's defense truly showed its character, forcing Flacco into two straight incompletions on third and fourth down and taking over with 28 ticks left on the clock.
Scouting Report: Next week will be full of excitement — and not just because the Patriots get another chance to try and knock off the upstart Broncos. This will mark the first meeting between Bill Belichick and former mentee Josh McDaniel.
Ever since a freak play in Week 1 — a tipped pass that Brandon Stokley ran 87 yards for a game-winning touchdown — nothing has gone wrong for the Broncos. They’re sitting atop the AFC West standings with a perfect 3-0 record thanks to wins over Cincinnati, Cleveland and Oakland. Admittedly, they haven’t exactly faced the cream of the crop in the NFL, but between all three games, they have let up a combined 16 points. Kyle Orton has been solid in the wake of Jay Cutler, throwing for 663 yards with a 55.7 completion percentage and a 91.2 quarterback rating.
Denver will get its first real test on Sunday against Dallas; if the defense can hold strong against the Cowboys and if Correll Buckhalter, Knowshon Moreno & Co. can sustain the running game, the Broncos could be the fifth straight undefeated team the Patriots face.
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