Commentary

Ravens cook Pats with instant Rice

Baltimore RB's first-play score sets the tone, propels team to Indy

Originally Published: January 10, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For most of his long coaching career, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has called the same running play with which he opened his team's AFC wild-card game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

But never before had the basic play over the right side -- "Slow-2, Fast Through" -- been executed to such stunning effect.

Tailback Ray Rice turned that aptly named call on the first play from scrimmage into an 83-yard scoring sprint. His score just 17 seconds into the game set the tone for the Ravens' stunning 33-14 manhandling of the Patriots.

The victory propelled AFC North wild card Baltimore into the divisional round Saturday at the Indianapolis Colts, and ended the campaign of the AFC East champion Patriots.

"Staple plays, when they're run exactly the way they're meant to be, are supposed to do that," said Cameron afterward, in a surprisingly subdued Baltimore locker room.

"There are games, like last year against Cincinnati, where I got too clever with my play calling. Clever just gets it handed to you in this league. Sometimes simpler is the better way to go. There are times when uncluttered is the best way."

The Ravens' relatively uncluttered approach to this game -- on both sides of the ball, where they dominated the outclassed New England front lines -- definitely left the Pats undone.

The loss was the first for New England at Gillette Stadium this year, and its first home playoff loss since 1978. The defeat left some Pats players wondering if this was the end of an era of excellence.

The Ravens' triumph had their head coach, John Harbaugh, running a victory lap to slap hands with an unusually large contingent of Baltimore fans.

Harbaugh can hope for such support in Indianapolis on Saturday. Baltimore hopes to avenge a 17-15 loss to the Colts on Nov. 22. But this Ravens team is now playing with great confidence that was evident from the first snap of the game.

"It gives you a boost," offensive tackle Jared Gaither said of the early score by Rice. "And it's got to be demoralizing to the other [team]."

Indeed, the lightning-quick score was one from which the Patriots could not recover.

After the opening score, the Ravens tallied 17 straight points after takeaways -- a fumble by Tom Brady as he was stripped by Terrell Suggs, and then interceptions by cornerback Chris Carr and free safety Ed Reed -- and had a staggering 24-0 lead after one quarter.

Harbaugh called the defensive game plan -- aimed at pressuring Brady in the pocket and covering wide receiver Randy Moss one-on-one, primarily with cornerback Domonique Foxworth -- "very precise."

Brady struggled without the safety net of injured slot receiver Wes Welker. But that should not take away from the performance of the Baltimore front seven and secondary.

The restless crowd, accustomed to witnessing home-field dominance by the Pats, began jeering halfway through the first quarter.

"And deservedly so, the way we played," acknowledged tailback Kevin Faulk, who led the Pats in rushing (only 52 yards) and tied for the team lead in catches (six), as Brady was forced to throw mostly checkdown passes.

"You can't win a game like that," Brady said. "I mean, we put ourselves behind the eight ball right off the bat."

The aggressive Ravens kept their feet on the throats of the struggling Pats. The ground game hammered out 234 yards and an average of 4.5 yards per rush behind Rice (22 carries, 159 yards, two touchdowns) and backup Willis McGahee (20 rushes, 62 yards, one score). Quarterback Joe Flacco threw only 10 passes, completing four for 34 yards.

The result can be attributed to the Ravens' excellence in all facets of the game as much as it can to the Pats' rare ineptitude on both sides of the ball.

Said New England coach Bill Belichick: "We just didn't do very well as a team in any area of the game."

New England totaled only 196 yards. Granted, it surrendered just 268 yards and 16 first downs. Still, the Ravens' quick start, grinding running game and persistent harassment of Brady were too much for the Pats to overcome. Even when they had chances to scratch their way back into the game, they came up lacking.

"We wanted to start fast," Rice said. "To set the tempo and keep playing at a fast pace. We did that, and they couldn't keep up."

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.