Patriots can quiet remaining critics against Ravens

Andy Hart
October 30, 2019 - 7:55 am
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Even with a perfect 8-0 start to the season built upon a dominant defensive unit that’s putting up some historic numbers midway through the year, the Patriots still have their share of vocal critics.

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Those haters have one simple, repetitive critique of Bill Belichick’s defending Super Bowl champions, a New England team that appears poised to make another Lombardi run – Who have they played?

Make no mistake, even the “ignore the noise” Patriots players have heard it.

“There’s opinions and there’s truth. And the truth is, however we play, the stats and all of that, that’s what it is. Opinion is we’re probably not as good as people think and all of that, but I think for us as a defense, that hasn’t changed,” Devin McCourty said after last Sunday night’s win over the Browns. “We’ve never been as good as people think. We’ll try to continue to win games, and people will continue to say we’re not as good, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is each time you step on the field is you can get a win. I think for us, that’s going to stay our focus. As a guy that’s been here for 10 years now and as a captain, that’s what I want to keep guys locked in on, not reading good news clippings or bad news clippings, but just staying focused on the truth of what we need to do each day to get better.”

While there is some validity to questioning the competition that New England has dispatched to date, it’s an argument that’s about lose its credibility.

This coming Sunday night in Baltimore the Patriots kick off a far more difficult second half of the season schedule with a primetime battle against budding star quarterback Lamar Jackson and the upstart Ravens (5-2). It begins a stretch of contests against legitimate playoff contenders in six of the next seven games, highlighted by the Dec. 8 AFC title game rematch with the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.

But for now, it’s Baltimore that represents the first real and most legitimate test of the season for Tom Brady, Stephon Gilmore and the unbeaten Patriots.

There will be no journeyman quarterback or ill-prepared backup on the other side of the M&T Bank Stadium turf. No first-year or overmatched head coach for Belichick and his staff to bat around like a Halloween party piñata.

Rather the Ravens are a first-place team that has the NFL’s No. 2 offense thanks to the No. 1 overall rushing attack. If there is one area of the New England defense that’s shown slight signs of weakness, it’s a rush defense that’s allowed Frank Gore, Le’Veon Bell and Nick Chubb to find room to run to various degrees at various points.

Baltimore is a retooled playoff team from a year ago that’s positioning itself for another January appearance this season, one whose resume includes an impressive 30-16 win in Seattle the last time it took the field.

Jackson is no Luke Falk. John Harbaugh is no Adam Gase. The Ravens are no pushovers.

“Well-balanced, very good in the kicking game, physical on defense, physical running the ball, stopping the run, covering kicks, very good specialists. It's a tough, hard-nosed football team,” Belichick said of the characteristics of yet another quality Harbaugh-led Ravens team.

For all those reasons and more, Baltimore offers the Patriots an opportunity. It’s a chance to prove the critics wrong, a chance to prove their mettle. It’s a chance to hit their own bye week with nothing but positive momentum and fewer and fewer questions left to answer.

The Patriots are a really good football team right now. Few would argue that point. They are No. 1 in virtually every NFL power ranking across the internet.

But New England also has its haters. It’s a small vocal group that could very well run out of its favorite party drink – Hatorade – come Sunday night.

Because if the Patriots take care of business against Harbaugh, Jackson and the Ravens the way they have against every other lesser foe this fall, arguments against New England’s dominance will pretty much dry up.

Right now the Who have they played? critique holds water.

Beat Baltimore to jumpstart the second half of the season, though, and that argument shall be spoken, to quoth the Raven, nevermore.

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