Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Patriots 30

BALTIMORE -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 31-30 loss to the Ravens:

RavensPatriotsWhat it means. The Patriots had their chance to close out the Ravens in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t run out the clock. That gave the Ravens a final chance -- getting the ball at their 21-yard line with 1:55 remaining. The Ravens advanced the ball to the 9-yard line -- aided by a pass interference penalty on Devin McCourty -- to set up a game-winning 27-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker. It was hard to tell if the kick, which pushed right, was good. The Patriots will view this as a game that slipped away from them, as they were in prime position to record a tough win on the road. This result could have implications in the playoff race down the line.

Referees part of the story. A lot of flags in this game, which disrupted the flow of the action, and some were certainly questionable (for both teams). On a night when the focus should have been squarely on two of the AFC’s best teams, the third “team” on the field was a big part of the story. Hard to imagine the NFL was pleased. Bill Belichick was furious on the sideline at various points and grabbed at an official who was running off the field at game's end. That final field goal was very close.

Defense takes a step back. The Patriots’ defense, which looked strong in the first two weeks of the season, took a step back. Joe Flacco had too much time and the run defense struggled.

Offense takes on different shape without Hernandez. Playing without injured tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), the Patriots changed the look of their offense, going away from multiple tight end groupings and playing more three-receiver packages. This was a return to the way the team played offense under coordinator Josh McDaniels in the 2007 season and quarterback Tom Brady responded with a strong effort. The offense, after struggling against the Cardinals last week, was more efficient in this game and helped bail out a defense that sprang some leaks.

Welker’s breakthrough night. If there was any doubt that Wes Welker remains a big part of the Patriots’ attack, it was erased after his eight-catch, 142-yard effort. Welker had a long catch of 59 yards. He mostly lined up in the slot in the team’s three-receiver package.

Edelman’s hand injury stops his momentum. Julian Edelman, who is becoming a bigger part of the team’s offense, played a receiver-high 38 snaps in the first half. He had a 7-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter, but a hand injury knocked him out for the entire second half. Members of the medical staff were looking at his left hand on the sideline. Meanwhile, fellow receiver Brandon Lloyd walked off slowly midway through the fourth quarter and required medical attention, but he later returned.

Winslow’s debut. Tight end Kellen Winslow made his Patriots debut and was used sparingly, playing just four snaps. He had one catch for 12 yards.

Grieving Smith stars for Ravens. Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, whose 19-year-old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident late Saturday night, turned in a remarkable performance (6 catches, 127 yards, 2 TDs). Regardless of the outcome, or one’s rooting interest, that is the type of effort that warrants great respect.

What’s next. The Patriots travel to Buffalo to face the Bills (2-1).