Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have found ways to win consecutive games for the first time in the 2020 season, escaping a poor weather matchup against the Baltimore Ravens with a 23-17 victory. It was a rain soaked Gillette Stadium, so much so that the Ravens even struggled with the center-quarterback exchange throughout the evening. Nonetheless, the Patriots improved their record to 4-5 and remain in the playoff race with a trip to Houston on deck for next week.
– Cam Newton played his third consecutive efficient game, this time going 13-17 for 118 yards and 1 touchdown. Newton never put the ball in harm’s way, and really his only blemish was missing an easy redzone toss to Jakobi Meyers as he faded from a mostly clean pocket. Over the past three games, Newton has completed over 70% of his passes and has 4 total touchdowns. His only turnover over that stretch was the fumble at the end of the game against Buffalo, otherwise we’d be talking about a quarterback who has led three straight wins with steady play on the ground and through the air.
– New England’s offensive line had their best collective performance of the season as they’ve settled into their top unit of Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Michael Onwenu. They road graded like the 2014 Dallas Cowboys, consistently opening rushing lanes throughout the first half and early third quarter. Other than a short second-half stretch where Baltimore was selling out to stop the run, the rushing offense was firing on all cylinders. Onwenu allowed his first sack of the season against the impressive Matthew Judon, and his best future position may in fact be at offensive guard. That could force some interesting future decisions for the coaching staff and front office, but for now we should enjoy the rookie’s play at multiple offensive line positions.
– Damien Harris (22 carries for 121 yards) brings a better level of physicality than typical starter Sony Michel, and seems to have locked up the #1 role moving forward. Harris, a 2019 third-round draft pick, has yet to contribute as a receiver as those plays have involved backs such as James White and Rex Burkhead. Harris proved to be strong in that area during his time at Alabama, and it should only be a matter of time before we see that come to fruition in the NFL. If Harris gets more involved in the passing game, he could be the first long-term, true feature running back that New England has had in recent memory.
– Jakobi Meyers continued his hot streak, and now has at least 4 receptions and 58 receiving yards in four consecutive games. Meyers, who played quarterback in high school and briefly in college at NC State, had a beautiful touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead to take the lead late in the first half. Beyond that, Meyers twice had short third down conversions that flashed his quarterback background, including one to keep the final offensive possession alive and further bleed the clock. Meyers is a reliable chain mover who keeps the offense on the field, and that’s a role that fits into any offense.
– New England has always done a good job of mixing their defensive personnel, and that continued on Sunday night. Rookie safety Kyle Dugger had one of his best games as a pro (7 solo tackles), as his athleticism came in handy against the shifty Lamar Jackson. The same can be said for rookie linebacker Josh Uche, who flashed with a sack to start a defensive possession. Getting better play from the rookie class will be paramount for the defensive moving forward, as they offer versatility to slow down the more explosive quarterbacks that the conference has to offer.
– Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, operating at the top of the depth chart in the absence of Stephon Gilmore, had a late first-half interception. Jackson now leads the NFL in that category, and has exactly 1 interception in each of the past 5 games. The play was a beautiful one, as he didn’t bite on the stutter from Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown. Jackson remained in phase and located the ball, hauling it in despite a contest from Brown. With Baltimore in field goal range and the first half clock dwindling, the play very well could have saved points from being scored. That would prove to be monumental late in the game as the Ravens faced a touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter.
This victory was the biggest so far for the 2020 New England Patriots, as it was against a quality opponent and kept them within striking distance of a wild card spot. They played a complimentary offensive and defensive game, and didn’t turn the ball over despite tough weather conditions. Their execution was far better than Baltimore’s, as the Ravens had three errants snaps and some drops in the passing game. The weather clearly affected the Ravens, but it was the Patriots ground game that allowed them to grind out the win.
New England has a blueprint for victory, which includes shortening the game by effectively running the ball, limiting mistakes, playing strong defense in the redzone and winning the field position battle through special teams. While this style creates a lot of tight matchups down the stretch of games, it’s a style that fits the team’s personnel and one that makes them a dangerous out for the elite teams in the AFC. The deeper into the schedule that the team gets, the less the opposition will want to see Belichick and the Patriots on the schedule.