Am I surprised a media member (probably affiliated with New York, although not confirmed) asked coach Bill Belichick what he thought of a supposed New York Times tabloid story about star tight end Rob Gronkowski’s believed, continued relationship with adult-film star Bibi Jones? Or that Belichick shrugged the member off?
Am I surprised a possibly jealous Boston media, likely feeling left out of the Tim Tebow summer sweepstakes, ripped everyone on the Patriot's roster about an offense that has supposedly underutilized $9.5 million dollar receiver Wes Welker? (By the way, Brady targeted Welker 11 times with 5 catches for 95 yards last week. In five games last year, Welker either had fewer than 4 catches or under 50 yards receiving and still had over 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards for the year.)
Am I surprised media members have casually discussed Tom Brady’s age as factoring into the Patriot's loss last week?
Or am I surprised how, days after last week's loss, some media personnel questioned offensive lineman Brian Water’s integrity after he didn't report to training camp, only to discover the Patriots offered him $4 million dollars during camp to return, a significant raise from his $1.4 million dollar base salary?
No. *sigh*. I am not surprised.
Moreover, if you had just returned from a month hiatus in (name your place of absolute isolation) with no access to NFL news and heard first the nonsense above, you might think the following:
- The Patriots were 0-2 and were outscored 60-3 in both games (Gostkowski has a good leg)
- Welker had been released and, upon exit, was degraded by mud-slinging citizens of Boston, in typical Bostonian fashion, while subsequently being picked up by the Jets all in the same week
- Belichick finally revealed plans to keep Gronkowski out of this weekend’s opening offensive drive
- Tom Brady had a QB rating of 40% through 2 games and had thrown 1 touchdown to 3 picks (reverse that for current statistics)
- and Brian Waters had sued the Patriots organization for not releasing him, as desired, so he could play for the Houston Texans and be closer to his family
*Sigh*. All untrue of course, so let us leave Hollywood and finally move onto this week's football game.
Unlike last Sunday's upset against the Arizona Cardinals, the game this Sunday night has more playoff-standing implications for New England. Baltimore is a formidable AFC rival and could be vying for a 1st or 2nd round seed with New England at the end of the regular season.
The Ravens after a loss
They have not dropped back-to-back games since a three game skid in 2009. If I were the Patriots, I would not need to watch the new program A Football Life: Ray Lewis on the NFL Network to know that Lewis is rejuvenated and so is his Raven’s team after their recent 24-23 stunning loss to Philadelphia and their meltdown in last year’s Patriots-Raven’s AFC Championship.
The Patriots after a loss
See Ravens statement above. The Patriots simply do not lose after a loss and tend to play up for this kind of high competition. The fact they had a bad week of practice, Aaron Hernandez went down for 4-6 weeks and the Cardinals are not the Ravens certainly contributed to New England's diminished play last Sunday. The Patriots will play more focused this week.
Patriots on offense
The Ravens are one of Brady’s few kryptonites. In six regular season games, including the post-season, Brady has an abysmal passer rating of 69.1. In the past four meetings between the two teams, including playoffs, the Patriots have scored an average of only 21 points and have not scored above the 27-point mark in the team's past six meetings. However, the Patriots are still 5-1, playing behind a stingy defense that allowed the Ravens to score above the 24-point mark in only one meeting—the 2010 playoff game when they scored 33 points to the Patriots 14.
Beside the usual star players like linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, other players to watch include young pass rushers, Albert McClellan and Courtney Upshaw, as well as usual defensive lineman Halotai Nagata (2 sacks) and corner back Lardarius Webb (13 solo tackles).
Oh, yes! Safety Bernard Pollard (8 solo tackles, 1 sack) is still with the Ravens, though listed as questionable with a rib injury. The proclaimed and self-recognized “Patriot killer” who had 12 tackles and injured tight end Rob Gronkowski in last year’s playoff game would love to have another shot (pun intended) on New England.
Patriots on defense
The Patriots love shutting down their opposition’s best weapon(s). And they usually do.
Watch Ray Rice. He is averaging 6.4 yards per carry in 2012, but has only 26 total carries in those two games (10 attempts in week 1 and 16 last week). This time last year, Rice had 62 attempts through two games including an explosive 44-carry 295-yard performance in week 2. The Raven's offense is evolving.
The Ravens want to use their new no-huddle attack, but probably not at the expense of one of their best weapons. The Patriots need to continue to play sound defense against the run and make Flacco beat them with his arm in the Raven’s newly forming, unproven system.
The Patriots might also pay attention to Tight End Dennis Pitta who has totaled 13 catches for 138 yards and 1 touchdown in 2 games, including an 8-catch 65-yard performance against the Eagles.
This game will come down to the wire and will be another classic. Let us leave the tabloids behind and let the drama play itself out on the field. After all, there will be enough of it to keep us reading, or in this case watching, from beginning to end.