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In arguably their biggest regular season win in a few years, the Patriots defied the odds on Sunday, beating a very good Baltimore Ravens team, 23-20, in an overtime thriller that we’ll be talking about for a while.
The Pats faced a ten-point deficit early in the fourth quarter, after a Billy Cundiff field goal extended the Ravens’ lead to 20-10 in the opening seconds of the final quarter. But the New England defense shut the door from there on out, forcing Baltimore to punt on their final five possessions, while the Pats’ offense seized their opportunities and watched kicker Stephen Gostkowski nail a 24-yarder to send the game to overtime, and a 35-yard boot to earn the victory.
It’s tough to pick just three Patriots to highlight in the weekly “PATS on the Back” column, and this week certainly is no exception. Honorable mentions across the board to the offense, defense, special teams, and coaching staff… with maybe a few exceptions (Aaron Hernandez for his two potentially costly drops in overtime, and Brandon Meriweather’s stupid helmet-to-helmet hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap). But this week, I’ve chosen three guys who rose to the top of the heap, to help deliver Tom Brady’s 23rd straight home victory and to keep the Patriots undefeated against the Ravens in the regular season, winning their sixth in a row.
Without further pomp and circumstance, it’s time for this week’s “PATS on the Back”…
After early season struggles, the Patriots decided to look for some insurance over their bye week break, bringing in kickers Shayne Graham and Shaun Suisham to test their legs and see if the Pats’ kicking game could get a boost. Gostkowski must have taken those tryouts as an indication that he needed to step up his game… and he certainly did that. Three field goals on the day, but it was the last two that made the headlines. Gostkowski was able to even the score at 20 just after the two-minute warning, chipping in a 24-yarder to send the game to overtime. Then, the Pats kicker got his first career shot at kicking an overtime game-winner, and he nailed it through the uprights from 35 yards out to give the Pats the huge victory. Shayne Graham and Shaun Suisham who?
Unless you were stuck in a Chilean mine over the last week (sorry, too soon?), you knew already that the spotlight was going to be shone on the Pats’ newly re-acquired receiver, Deion Branch. Could he fill the void left by the departure of Randy Moss? Could he get back that chemistry he had with Tom Brady? Does he have anything left in the tank? Yes, yes, and definitely yes. Branch led the team in targets (12), receptions (9), and receiving yards (98) on the afternoon, delivering a huge fourth quarter touchdown that helped bring the Pats within three points of the then-leading Ravens. It was no doubt, quite the debut for the team’s new offensive weapon. Randy Moss who?
You’re right, maybe I should have given the third “POTB” to Danny Woodhead, for his 63-rushing-yard, 52-receiving-yard performance, but I decided to shake it up a bit and give a nod to New England’s defensive captain, the big man in the middle, Vince Wilfork. Wilfork’s stat line wouldn’t wow anyone, but the fact that the Pats’ defense held Ray Rice and the Ravens to less than three yards per carry on the day, 2.9 to be exact… has everything to do with Wilfork and the play of the defensive front seven. Without success on the run, the Ravens’ offense struggled down the stretch, helping the Pats catch up to and eventually surpass Baltimore for the win. Wilfork did have six tackles, which was a season-high for the nose tackle, and two of those were for a loss. Surely, there are still lots of question marks on the defensive side of the ball for this team, but Vince Wilfork certainly isn’t one of them.