Heading into Sunday’s game in Foxboro, Stephen Gostkowski had never missed in the fourth quarter when the Patriots were either tied or behind. After the game ended, his streak remained intact. Gostkowski’s late game field goals capped a 10-point comeback by the New England Patriots, who beat the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in overtime. Gostkowski hit a 24-yard field goal with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter, then hit a 35-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime. He also split the uprights from 38 yards out in the third quarter and sent four kickoffs near or out the back of the end zone.
“As a field goal kicker, you can’t make your own opportunities,” Gostkowski said. “Any time you can help the team win as a special teams unit is very rewarding.”
Special Teams Heroics
Gostkowski was not the only Patriots special teams hero Sunday. Zoltan Mesko averaged 47 yards per punt. Punting in overtime from the Patriots 16-yard line, Mesko launched a punt that rolled all the way to the Baltimore 19-yard line, a whopping 68 yards from where Mesko punted. What might have been the best starting field position of the day for the Ravens was instead one of their worst. After two plays went for little gain, Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain was flagged for 10 yards on a personal foul. The Ravens could not overcome the resulting third-and-19 and punted, setting up the Patriots’ game winning overtime drive.
Tricks and Traps
The Patriots used end-around runs to help solve the problems posed by the Ravens’ strong defensive line. Late in the first quarter, Tom Brady handed the ball off to BenJarvus Green-Ellis near the Baltimore 25-yard line. Green-Ellis ran a few yards laterally to the right before flipping the ball to Brandon Tate, who went the other direction before turning up field.. He was finally brought down at the 2-yard line, good for a 22-yard gain. Green-Ellis then punched it in for the touchdown, putting the Patriots up 7-3.
Late in the third quarter, Brady began a drive by faking a hand-off, then instead gave it to Aaron Hernandez, who was coming off the left side. A good block by newly-made captain Alge Crumpler, and Hernandez easily picked up 18 yards. That drive ended in Gostkowski’s first field goal, cutting Baltimore’s lead to 17-10.
New England’s third-quarter drive also featured a play-action 21-yard pass to Wes Welker over the middle, a trick play that New England used sparingly but effectively. Brady hit Crumpler for a 4-yard gain on a play-action pass in their game-winning overtime drive, putting the Patriots within Gostkowski’s field-goal range.
Welcome Back, Deion
In his first game back, Deion Branch wasted no time in reclaiming his role as Brady’s favorite receiver. Branch caught nine passes for 98 yards Sunday to lead all receivers. He also caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter to cut the Ravens’ lead to just 20-17. “We put him over there to see if he could get open, and he doesn’t let us down,” Brady said.
Branch played methodically and consistently, executing his assignments as if he had never left New England. “I’m just gonna run the rout as if he’s [Brady’s] throwing me the ball, period, every time,” Branch said. The smiling wide receiver was quick to credit other members of the team for his success, especially Brady. “Tom makes everything so much easier,” Branch said. “I wish every receiver would get the opportunity to play with this guy, cause he’s amazing”
Brady, who went 27/44 for 292 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, was just as quick to credit to Branch for the skills he brings to New England. “I don’t think there’s a lot that he doesn’t do well,” Brady said. “There’s not many limitations that Deion has.”
Defense Continues to Improve
The defense saved it’s best for the end of the game, holding the Ravens scoreless on their five final drives, three of which occurred in overtime. The Ravens only converted three first downs in those final five drives, going three-and-out three times. Devin McCourty showed the most improvement across the game. Flagged for 18 yards on pass interference late in the first quarter when he never turned to face a pass thrown his way, McCourty turned and knocked down another pass thrown his direction in overtime. The defensed pass forced the Ravens to punt.
The defense also played well against the rush, holding explosive Ravens running back Ray Rice to just 88 yards. He never ran for more than 8 yards, averaging just 3.1 yards on 28 carries. The Patriots, meanwhile, combined for 127 yards on the ground, led by Danny Woodhead’s 5.7 yards-per-carry.
The Coach’s Reaction
Bill Belichick said he thought that “the one thing we did was we kept fighting, we kept playing hard.” Though critical of his team’s early-game defense, which allowed 17 points through three quarters, including an opening-drive field goal, he said that “team defense” was what helped the team come back and win the game. He said that many players contributed, and that he had confidence in every player on the team. “That’s why they’re on the team,” Belichick said.
Belichick said then switched his focus to the Patriots’ upcoming game against the San Diego Chargers. “We’re gonna enjoy this one for a little while, then get back to work,” he said.
(Yay! 200 Posts!)