The Ravens limped out of Foxborough, Mass., after a 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots Nov. 15 with major injury issues on both sides of the ball and major questions about this team’s prognosis during the final half of the season.
Led by a potent running attack and a trick play, the Patriots (4-5) scored on four straight possessions to build a 23-10 lead, and although Willie Snead’s second touchdown catch of the game cut the Patriots’ lead to 23-17 late in the third quarter, Lamar Jackson and the offense could not muster another scoring drive playing in an absolute downpour in the final period.
The Ravens (6-3) suffered several significant injuries in the game, including a knee injury to tight end Nick Boyle that head coach John Harbaugh said is season-ending. In addition, defensive tackle Brandon Williams (ankle) and cornerback Terrell Bonds (knee) both left and did not return, further thinning areas already hit hard by injuries.
The Ravens were already playing without defensive end Calais Campbell, and after Williams was lost early in the game, the Patriots’ ground game attacked relentlessly against a defense that had to rely heavily on backups Justin Ellis, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington.
The Patriots piled up 173 rushing yards, much of that amassed on three consecutive 75-yard scoring drives that straddled halftime.
“When we let up that many rushing yards … that’s unacceptable,” linebacker Matthew Judon said.
The Patriots also used a little trickery to strike as quarterback Cam Newton passed backward to receiver Jakobi Meyers, and he lofted a 24-yard touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead for a 13-10 lead.
The Ravens had mounted a 94-yard touchdown drive for the game’s first points, with Snead scoring on a 6-yard jet-sweep pass play, but the Ravens managed only one touchdown the rest of the way. And with that, an NFL record streak of 31 consecutive games with at least 20 points game to an end.
Here are five other quick observations about the loss, which also ends the Ravens streak of 10 consecutive road wins dating back more than a year:
1. The Ravens’ run defense is hurting, and Derrick Henry is coming to town.
The Ravens already were without Calais Campbell (calf), who missed his first game since 2014, and starting inside linebacker L.J. Fort (finger), who missed his second straight game. Then run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams left early with an ankle injury. The Patriots took notice and attacked this point of weakness, routinely and successfully running at backups Justin Ellis and rookie Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington.
Led by Damien Harris (22 carries, 121 yards), the Patriots finished with 173 rushing yards against a Ravens defense that had allowed just 101.8 per game coming in. To their credit, the Ravens tightened up in the second half, forcing three straight fourth-quarter punts, but the Patriots’ ability to run the ball set the tempo and forced the Ravens to play from behind, a tough proposition in horrendous conditions.
“The inside runs, those are just plays that we have to play better,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do a better job on the inside line. That’s not something that we’re OK with at all.”
The Ravens desperately need to fix this run game, and soon: The Tennessee Titans, featuring 2019 NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, visits M&T Bank Stadium this coming Sunday (Nov. 22).
2. Nick Boyle’s injury is a crippling blow to this offense.
The Ravens lost starting tight end Nick Boyle to a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter, and it’s hard to overestimate the impact his loss will have on the Ravens’ offense.
Boyle had just one catch for 4 yards — he suffered his injury on that play — and he hasn’t generated the headlines that Mark Andrews has, but make no mistake: Boyle is a huge part of what this team tries to do on offense.That’s one reason the Ravens shelled out $18 million to Boyle on a three-year contract extension before last season.
As the team’s top blocking tight end, Boyle routinely plays more snaps than Andrews and is an integral part of the Ravens’ running game. Andrews has evolved as a blocker, but Boyle is still much more the grunt-work bulldozer that helps the Ravens establish their run-first identity.
The Ravens will be hard-pressed to replicate what Boyle brings to this offense and how well he brings it. They are certain to add another tight end to the roster; Sean Culkin and Xavier Grimble are both on the practice squad, and they had former Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Wilson in for a workout last week.
But for an offense still searching for answers this year, Boyle’s absence is a major loss.
3. The offensive line remains a picture of instability.
One of the pivotal plays in this game came when the Ravens opted to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 at their own 48-yard line trailing 20-10. The decision should have come as no surprise to anyone who watches the Ravens, as Harbaugh routinely preaches how analytics support that decision.
The Ravens, though, opted to unveil a Wildcat look with a direct snap to Mark Ingram, and the play proved disastrous when center Matt Skura’s snap sailed wide of Ingram, who fell on it after an 11-yard loss.
Later in the game, Skura dribbled a snap back to Jackson that turned into a 16-yard loss and effectively scuttled a drive. Last week, Skura dealt with a cut on his hand that caused several poor snaps. In this game, Jackson attributed the bad snaps to the weather, but regardless, bad snaps from center to quarterback — especially when in the shotgun or pistol formation the Ravens like — can be disastrous.
But Skura wasn’t the only one struggling. Right tackle D.J. Fluker was beaten a few times early in the game, prompting the Ravens to move right guard Patrick Mekari to tackle and insert little-used Ben Powers at guard.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has already been lost for the season, and starting right guard Tyre Phillips is on injured reserve. The Ravens find themselves mixing and matching and trying to find the right combination — which is fine in August, not so fine in Week 10. And they have to get those center snaps cleaned up in a hurry.
4. The Ravens needed a takeaway but couldn’t get one.
The Ravens entered the game with a streak of 21 straight games with a takeaway, faced a quarterback in Cam Newton who has struggled with turnovers, and played in weather that seemed perfectly suited for sloppy ball security.
Despite all that, the Ravens’ takeaway streak came to an end as Newton (13-for-17, 118 yards) played error-free ball and New England’s running backs held on to the ball on every one of their 39 carries.
Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have been especially adept this year at creating turnovers for the Ravens, with three of them returned for touchdowns in games the Ravens won.
On a night when the Ravens’ offense struggled in the elements, the Ravens could have benefited greatly from a short field or an immediate score, but for the first time in a long while, the Ravens couldn’t produce such a game-changing play.
5. The AFC North title is slipping further from reach.
After the game, Ravens players talked about the need to forget about this loss and “keep stacking” wins. That’s true, and as wide receiver Willie Snead said, “We’re 6-3. We’re still in a good spot.”
But there’s no doubt it’s not nearly as good a spot as 24 hours ago.
The Ravens suddenly find themselves three games behind the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) with seven games to play. A division title at this point seems a huge stretch, especially given the lengthy list of injuries the Ravens are now dealing with.
To be sure, a November schedule that included two games with the Steelers, one with the Titans and road trips to Indianapolis and New England figured to be a crucible that would in large part define this season. The Ravens are 1-2 in that stretch now, and probably need to win both the next two if they want to be back in the discussion for a divisional title. If they lose both, they will find themselves squarely on the playoff bubble.
“A lot of guys have to step up,” Snead said, “and we’re going to find out about ourselves.”
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