NFL

NFL AM: Patriots Make Statement In Monday Night Win

on

Pats Put AFC On Notice

With tight end Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots were easily the favorites to represent the Super Bowl from the AFC.  Now that Gronk is out for the season, many wondered how much of a drop off the Pats offense would have and it was assumed that the gap between New England and the rest of the AFC was lessened considerably.

The Patriots put the rest of the AFC on notice Monday night as they beat the Baltimore Ravens, 30-23, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.

“Yeah, it was a big game for us,”Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “Playing at home in December on Monday night against a great defense, it was important for us to come out and play well.”

Baltimore entered the game with the league’s No. 1 ranked defense and Tom Brady and New England shredded it for 60 minutes, scoring 30 points despite turning the ball over twice on special teams.  The Patriots put up 496 yards of total offense and Brady had perhaps his best performance of the season, completing 25 of 38 throws, for 406 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

“I think you just chalk it up to Tom Brady does a great job and obviously had a great night throwing the ball,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said.

How good was the 39-year old Brady?  He made the league’s best defense look like one of the worst, despite being a victim of numerous dropped passes.

“You can’t make a mistake against this guy,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’ll make you pay for it, and he made us pay big.”

“Father time is undefeated.”

What Brady is doing at his age is truly defying any logic.  The upside of having experience in sports is that you’re smarter and know what to expect.  The downside is that your physical skills deteriorate.  Due to an unbelievable workout regimen, Brady hasn’t had any physical drop off and he’s also the smartest guy on the field.  As great as he was 10 years ago, he’s probably even better today.

“I still think it’s amazing to be on the same field as him,” said Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan, who caught the game-clinching 79-yard touchdown pass on another perfect throw from Brady.

New England doesn’t have an Odell Beckham or Antonio Brown type of receiver.  There’s no Ezekiel Elliot to hand the ball to.  Now that Gronk is gone, their tight end is Martellus Bennett, a guy who is on his fourth team. Brady’s complement of skill position players on Monday night included Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Bennett, Legarrette Blount, Malcolm Mitchell and James White.

That was the only group this season to score 30 points and nearly 500 yards against the Ravens defense.

Who Can Beat Them?

The NFL Playoffs are largely matchup driven and the Patriots will almost certainly be a tough matchup for anyone.  They currently sit with an 11-2 record, good for the top seed in the AFC.  With games remaining at Denver, then home against the New York Jets and then on the road at Miami, New England will be decided favorites in their final three games.

If the Patriots get home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, which team can realistically go up to Foxboro and leave with a victory?

The team with the best shot isn’t a lock to even make the playoffs.  The Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit with an 8-5 record and are one game ahead of the Ravens.  At full strength, Pittsburgh has the offense to score against anyone in any environment.  Their biggest question mark comes on defense where it’s unclear whether they can stop Brady’s bunch.  In an earlier meeting in October, New England won 27-16 as Pittsburgh played without Ben Roethlisberger.

The Kansas City Chiefs currently sit with the No. 2 seed in the AFC and they have a defense that can travel anywhere and play well.  We saw this matchup last year and the Patriots took down the Chiefs, 27-20.  Kansas City may be in a better position to compete this season as they have an explosive player in rookie receiver Tyreek Hill, along with Jeremy Maclin who will return from injury.  The Chiefs defense isn’t quite as good as last year, so it would be on quarterback Alex Smith to play his best football against a Bill Belichick coached team.

The Denver Broncos have beaten the Patriots before, but not much in New England…..and never with Trevor Siemian at quarterback.  Denver’s defense can be suffocating and they would need that same effort against the Pats.  It doesn’t seem like they would be able to score enough points to actually beat New England with their current offense.  We’ll get to see this preview next week.

The Oakland Raiders would be the team with that “puncher’s chance” to knock out New England.  Oakland has an explosive offense and they have one of the best pass rushers in football in Khalil Mack.  It would be a tall task for the Raiders to play well offensively in the cold of New England, as we saw a sneak preview of them struggling mightily last Thursday in the freezing temperatures of Kansas City.

It’s unlikely that whoever wins the AFC South would even survive long enough to have a scheduled game against the Patriots.  The same can be said for the Miami Dolphins, assuming they win the wildcard.

Can Baltimore Rebound?

After last year’s 5-11 campaign, the Baltimore Ravens have had a nice bounce back season.  They’ve been in first place in the AFC North ever since their 3-0 start, but now they are looking up at the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sure, the Baltimore defense has been very good this season, but their 7-6 record is mostly a product of beating the bad teams on their schedule. The Ravens best win was at home against Pittsburgh, in a game where Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was coming off an injury and clearly wasn’t ready to play.

The Ravens lack the weapons offensively to compete at the highest level, despite Joe Flacco playing better than his numbers show.

On Monday they played a game against a Patriots team that they didn’t fear, who had limited weapons and the only reason the game was close was thanks to two mental errors by the New England special teams.

“I don’t know what a shot in the mouth feels like, but I can almost guarantee you this can be kind of similar,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We didn’t come here for no moral victory.”

Baltimore’s final three games include a home date against Philadelphia, a first-place battle at Pittsburgh and a road trip to Cincinnati, who will be trying to be a spoiler.  Obviously, the game at Pittsburgh will be the Ravens last stand and a win there would give them the tiebreaker advantage.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.