FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Before we officially close the book on the Patriots' 35-31 win over the Ravens and fully turn attention to the AFC Championship Game, here are some picked-up pieces from a review of the game (first half):
1. One reminder that it's the playoffs and there's no sense holding anything back: Linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive end Chandler Jones -- top players on defense who seldom play on special teams coverage or return units -- were both part of the punt return unit. That was the first we've seen it in some time, and Collins almost had a block with a strong interior rush (14:12, second quarter). It looked like Collins and Jones took the spots of linebacker Chris White and tight end Tim Wright.
2. A nice little under-the-radar story is how safety Tavon Wilson continues to carve out a niche for himself on defense. The much-maligned 2012 second-round pick was tapped as the fifth defensive back as part of a big nickel package against the 3-WR/1-FB/1-RB grouping and is moving around the field with confidence, with the coaches also entrusting him with back-end responsibilities at times. In addition to the nickel, Wilson also came on in dime and seven-defensive back groupings. It's well within bounds to say he looked better than Ravens 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam, a safety who is developing a reputation as a missed tackle waiting to happen. Bottom line: Don't write off Wilson just yet, especially given some of the struggles other young safeties have had around the NFL.
3. The Patriots matched two-TE and most two-back groupings with their 5-2 big package and this wasn't a very good game for the heavyweights up front. The Ravens got them moving laterally with their zone blocking scheme, and the powerful press technique that often makes Patriots defensive linemen effective was effectively negated as defensive linemen also had to contend with cut blocks. The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage, but I don't see another team still alive, outside of Seattle, that might be able to produce similar results (albeit with a different style of play).
4. The Patriots usually leave their defensive ends on a specific side, but they flipped Chandler Jones (usually on the defensive right) and Rob Ninkovich at times. The first time we saw this was on Torrey Smith's 22-yard catch in the first quarter (13:11). Ravens offensive tackles James Hurst (left) and Marshal Yanda (right) got the better of the action. Jones had two offsides penalties in the game, which wasn't his best.
5. Huge plays in the game that are easy to overlook -- defensive tackle Chris Jones recovering Danny Amendola's fumble on a first-quarter kickoff return following the Ravens' first touchdown and receiver Julian Edelman recovering his own fumble in the second quarter on the touchdown drive to tie at 14. How did Edelman come up with that ball with so many white Ravens jerseys in that pile?
8. When a defense sees a three-tight end package, it usually signals run, but the Patriots used it twice and produced pass plays of 46 yards (to Rob Gronkowski) and 11 yards (to Edelman).
9. Had left guard Dan Connolly with a key block/takedown on Tom Brady's touchdown run, on Timmy Jernigan. As an aside, watching Jernigan's interior pass rush (sack with a strong move on right guard Ryan Wendell, 11:31 second quarter) had me thinking that's what the Patriots are hoping for from Dominique Easley. Both Easley and Jernigan had similar profiles coming out of the draft -- undersized penetrating tackles. The Ravens got more out of Jernigan (second round, 48th overall) than the Patriots did Easley (first round, 29th) this year.
10. Understand why the Patriots didn't try to run the ball in the second half, their only attempt a Tom Brady quarterback sneak. They were getting beaten pretty good up front, particularly on the interior.
11. The four-wide receiver, one-tight end package on the final drive of the second quarter marked the first time we remember seeing that this year. The Patriots are always trying new things, or perhaps better stated, dusting off old things to see it provides a spark and/or provides the desired matchup. In that case, they seemed to want to test the depth of the Ravens' secondary, who matched in nickel.