The New England Patriots offense faced a true test in its first game without Randy Moss, having to take on the Baltimore Ravens‘ swarming defense. There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about it, but the Patriots passed the exam with a 23-20 overtime victory.
The biggest question heading into Sunday’s game was how the Patriots’ offense would look without the deep-threat presence of Moss. After reacquiring Deion Branch in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, fans and analysts wondered how much Branch had left in the tank and whether or not he could pick up where he left off in New England four years ago. I think it’s safe to say that’s a possibility.
Branch led Patriots receivers with 9 receptions for 98 yards and a score. More importantly, he caught passes of 23 yards and 10 yards during New England’s game winning drive in overtime. Not only did Branch come in and help the Patriots right away, he was clearly Tom Brady’s favorite target all afternoon — especially in clutch situations.
Bill Belichick will, of course, be thrilled that his team picked up its biggest win of the season. However, he may also be relieved that a puzzling coaching decision didn’t come back to bite him in overtime. As the clock ticked away in regulation, the Patriots found themselves in a situation where they had the ball at the Baltimore 45-yard line with only 0:04 remaining. Rather than let Stephen Gostkowski attempt a 61-yard field goal with the wind at his back, Belichick opted to let Brady throw a Hail Mary pass and let the game go to overtime.
I still have no idea why Belichick didn’t let Gostkowski try the kick. Could he have been that worried about a blocked kick? Was he positive Gostkowski couldn’t bang it through from that distance? Did he actually trust his defense enough to believe the overtime period wouldn’t come down to a coin toss? Whatever the reason, the decision paid off. Gostkowski got his chance in overtime and cashed in on it, nailing a 35-yarder to seal the win.
Aside from Branch, the surprise of the day may have been New England’s defense. They’ve let offenses march down the field at will against them more often than not this season, but the Pats’ D was able to come up with three huge stops in overtime to give their offense a chance to win the game. Overall, the Patriots have got to feel good about themselves and their Moss-less offense after beating one of the top teams in the AFC.Google+