Needing a last-minute touchdown to win a game is so weeks ago. Needing and actually scoring a last-minute touchdown to garner another victory is so two weeks ago. No, the New England Patriots are done with that trend of waiting until the latter stages of their contests to wake up and start playing with a sense of urgency. Instead, they are forging a new trend, or rather going retro, since the winning formula they used on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens was a callback to previous iterations of the Patriots. The 41-7 blowout they laid upon the Ravens, which solidified the Patriots' hold on the second seed in the AFC playoff scenarios, also showed that the Patriots did not need the Miami Dolphins to lose earlier in the day and gift them the AFC East division title; rather, the Patriots would have earned it anyway.
On Sunday, the Patriots put together a contest that would have made the 2003 or 2004 Patriots proud as they went out and won the contest mostly on the backs of the defensive unit. Even the points that the Patriots offense did score in the contest were, in part, the result of favorable field position provided them by the defense. For the game, the average starting field position for the Patriots was their own 32-yard line, and on their five scoring drives, the Patriots averaged taking the ball over on their own 46-yard line, leaving them with a far shorter field to work with in order to score points.
It is a good thing the Patriots offense had to work so little for the points they managed on Sunday because if they had not, it is hard to imagine the offense having been able to score points through their own efficiency. Overall, even though the offense did score 27 points, they still finished the game having gained an average of just 4.8 yards per play and managed to convert just four of their 13 third-down opportunities into first downs so it is no surprise that four of their 12 offensive possessions ended in three-and-outs.
However, the Patriots did showcase a level of efficiency when they did get to the red zone, even if they did not move the ball down the field in the most consistent manner in the game, and scored touchdowns on all three of their red zone possessions.
Despite the way in which the Patriots performed when they did find themselves in the red zone, it was the defense that was the more consistent unit as they continually turned back the Ravens, befuddling, frustrating, and perplexing what was already a befuddled, frustrated, and perplexed offense. Yet, the Patriots made the Ravens look even more anemic on offense, holding them to 4.8 yards per play and a third-down conversion rate of 36 percent (5 of 14); only five of the Ravens' 15 offensive possessions even crossed midfield.
And when the Ravens did break out and get a big play or two, the Patriots defense was right there to step up and stop the Ravens offensive train from getting too far out of the station. Only one of the Ravens' three red zone possessions ended with them getting a touchdown, and four possessions came to an abrupt end after the Patriots forced a turnover; not satisfied with just getting the turnovers and trusting their offensive teammates, the Patriots defense scored two touchdowns of their own, a Chandler Jones fumble recovery and a Tavon Wilson interception return to put the final stamp on the defensive rout.
Blowouts of this nature have been all too rare for the Patriots and as they are getting ready for the postseason and a first-round bye, a performance like the one on Sunday in which they did to an inferior opponent what an superior team should do, show that the Patriots do know how to win going away and not just coming from behind. With the postseason guaranteeing stiffer competition, the more the Patriots figure out to get ahead and stay ahead of their opponent, the longer their postseason journey should be.