BALTIMORE — With a win over the Ravens, the Patriots could have put their feet up during the bye week and pretty much counted on having home field advantage throughout the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed.
The Ravens, however, crashed the party and put themselves and a few other teams back into play by handing the Patriots their first loss of the season.
So they’ve gone from having a walk in the park, to now possibly having to sweat. That’s what the 37-20 loss to the Ravens did.
The Pats still sit atop the AFC at 8-1, but John Harbaugh’s team, at 6-2, would own the tiebreaker if both teams finish with two losses. So the margin of error has diminished considerably with one loss to another challenger in the AFC.
After the bye, the Patriots also face two other top AFC contenders in Houston and Kansas City (both 6-3). The Patriots no longer can afford losses to those teams.
Buffalo, meanwhile, only has two losses behind the Patriots in the AFC East. So the game in Foxboro down the road also has more meaning thanks to the Pats uncharacteristic mistakes (seven penalties, fumble return for touchdown), and inability to contain quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens rushing attack.
Devin McCourty said the Ravens were “comfortable” all game on offense, and got to “play on their terms.” That’s certainly how it looked.
Beyond all of that, the loss took the shine and mystique away from Bill Belichick’s team. His defense looked invincible and on its way to making history. Jackson had other ideas.
While the Pats had some trouble stopping run games before seeing the Ravens, this was different. They were physically dominated at the line, and didn’t seem prepared for some of the schemes the Ravens ran. Mark Ingram (115 yards on 15 carries) and Jackson (61 yards on 16 carries) had 176 of the Ravens 210 rushing yards. Jackson is a special talent, and Sunday night Belichick couldn’t come up with an answer to stop him.
“It’s the NFL. Each week you get a challenge, whether we play a team that runs the ball well, or throws the ball averaging 400 yards a game. We have to understand what they do well and try to stop them,” said McCourty. “It’s a week-by-week thing. I say that every week . . . we’ll have a bye week then a week after that we’ll play the Eagles. We’ll have to figure out what they do well and stop them. If we don’t do those things, it’s going to be the same result.”
Make no mistake, the Ravens are a good football team, the best one the Patriots have faced thus far. There are more good teams ahead, as this was just the first of a five-game gauntlet with the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs still on deck.
No one is panicking over one loss. It’s also not time to overreact. The offense actually showed some positive signs. The team showed fight after getting down early, when it looked like it might be a runaway train. But it’s not going to get any easier, especially if teams attack them the same way the Ravens did.
“Losses always find a way to recalibrate how you see yourself,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who finished 30 for 46 for 285 yards with a touchdown and interception. “We obviously have a lot of work to do. Tonight, obviously, was not good enough. When you get beat by 17 points, that’s not what we’re all about. Give the Ravens credit, they played really well. They took advantage of their opportunities and that’s what it takes.”
Losses will also recalibrate how other teams view the Patriots. They aren’t unbeatable. The defense isn’t so tough. Maybe they are catchable in the AFC, especially now with the schedule getting tougher for them. That’s one of the biggest takeaways.
“Any time you lose it sucks. We’ll sit on this one an extra week, but I think sometimes that extra week will be good,” said McCourty. “We’ll get to watch the film. When a team has success on you, you’re going to see some of those plays again. Obviously, no one has Lamar Jackson, but it would be crazy to think some of the scheme things we saw tonight, we won’t see again. So it’ll be good as a defense and as a team to be able to get in-depth on some of the things that have hurt us throughout the season. We have to be mature enough to get better as a football team.”
The post Patriots no longer lock for AFC’s top spot with loss to Ravens appeared first on Boston Herald.