BALTIMORE -- The final numbers yesterday suggested Jack Kemp firing against Babe Parilli in the long-ago, wide-open American Football League days, but this 1996 shootout -- despite the 46-38 total -- was more one-sided, most of all a New England shootout.
``We knew [the Ravens] were going to score some points, but not that many though,’’ said defensive end Willie McGinest. ``It was a shootout, but we had the bigger guns.’’
Analysis is now adjusted. The Patriots defeated Baltimore by that 46-38 score, and the critique for the second straight game is that New England didn’t win the way it should. For coach Bill Parcells, though, ``it was a big win because we won on the road.’’
The game officially ended when Baltimore’s Vinny Testaverde stepped back from center with 3 seconds left, faced with a fourth-and-82; the Ravens had to score from their 18 and didn’t. In effect, the game ended 1:55 earlier when New England’s Corwin Brown recovered a Matt Stover onside kick at the Baltimore 36.
``I can’t say we were really anxious about that one,’’ said Brown, despite a successful onside kick only 1:53 earlier. ``But I was very relieved when I got that ball; I was holding it like a newborn baby.’’
New England (3-2) led, 38-14, early in the fourth quarter and those numbers -- and not the final scary 46-38 -- were more indicative of this game. Parcells said the Patriots wanted to be ``more aggressive’’ on offense, and that they were, as Drew Bledsoe passed on first down on 14 of his first 18 chances.
Even more, the Patriots went flamboyant with their Red Zone offense, passing 12 of 17 times when they had the ball inside Baltimore’s 20 (counting passes, runs, field goal attempts and 2-point conversions). Bledsoe even passed from the 1-yard line, twice throwing 1-yard TD passes where previously a run was not only expected, but demanded.
``That one felt pretty good,’’ said a most-pleased Bledsoe [25 for 39, 310 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs] of the game.
Bledsoe was just as pleased with New England’s play-calling in what long has been the Dread Zone for the team until recent weeks. Instead of the usual tight formations deep in the opponent’s territory, the Patriots often spread out and tried some new tricks, even a tight end screen pass to Ben Coates, a play seen as often in New England as the Super Bowl.
``With our bye week, we worked on some Red Zone passes,’’ said Bledsoe, ``and we were kind of excited about getting them in the game and seeing if our new toy worked.’’
Not on the first series, as the Patriots moved 58 yards on four straight passes to the Ravens’ 6. But the drive stalled and Adam Vinatieri was called in to boot a 22-yard field goal. Believe it or not, in light of the final score, that 3-0 lead held up for an entire quarter.
Baltimore then moved ahead of New England, 7-3, early in the second quarter as Earnest Byner capped off a 34-yard drive with a 4-yard dash up the middle. Then came perhaps the turning point, once again difficult to believe with 84 points eventually put up on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.
A short runback of Stover’s ensuing kickoff, coupled with a holding penalty on the Patriots, moved the ball back to the Patriots’ 9. Even worse, the Patriots had the ball in the closed end of Memorial Stadium and the 63,569 fans were roaring and rocking, sensing a defensive turnover that would set the Ravens in flight for the rest of the afternoon.
``It was just a run play to the left,’’ said Patriot running back Curtis Martin, ``and the last time we had run that play, it had got stuffed. So when I ran over there this time, all I saw was a big pile over there, so I was making sure I was keeping my eyes open and I looked over to the back side . . . and it was wide open.’’
Martin, stuffed on the left, suddenly reversed direction, spotted the ``wide open’’ spaces to the right ``and all I saw was I had only one man to beat.’’ Martin scooted free and gained 18 yards.
Given the freedom of having the ball on his 32, Bledsoe promptly hit Coates (seven catches, 83 yards, 1 TD) for 16 yards, and then fired deep downfield to Shawn Jefferson (four catches, 88 yards, 2 TDs), who did everything well this day, including acting. Jefferson’s impersonation of a victimized receiver convinced officials, who penalized Baltimore’s rookie cornerback Donny Brady 31 yards for pass interference.
Soon enough, the Patriots were on Baltimore’s 7 and Bledsoe stepped back to pass (!!!), on first down no less (!!!), ``and I was looking for Troy Brown,’’ said Bledsoe. ``But they covered up Troy pretty good and Shawn came in along the back line of the end zone and I kind of let it fly . . . and hoped that Shawn’d come and get it.’’
Jefferson caught the Bledsoe floater and New England’s offense was off, as in off and passing. A 5-yard pass from Testaverde to Michael Jackson did give the Ravens their final lead, 14-10, but Bledsoe came right back and found Coates at the goal line, zipping the ball between two Ravens, with the tight end making an outstanding catch for a 1-yard TD.
Vinatieri then booted a 35-yard field as time expired in the half, giving the Patriots a 20-14 lead. The Patriots then took the second-half kickoff and their offense again performed as many thought it could and should -- effortlessly. Again reaching the Ravens’ 1, Bledsoe again dipped into his newly found bag of Red Zone tricks.
This time seldom-used tight end -- and the team’s long snapper -- Mike Bartrum sneaked onto the field and lined up on the left. Bledsoe (``Mike wasn’t the first receiver; he was the second or third’’) then spotted Bartrum doing a reverse Jefferson -- sneaking along the back line from left to right this time -- and hit him for the TD.
A 35-yard pass from Bledsoe to a wide-open Jefferson increased the lead to 35-14. And when Vinatieri kicked a 50-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, increasing the score to 38-14, garbage time officially had begun.
Unfortunately, it was the Patriot defense trudging in the muck. Even after the Patriots’ Larry Whigham blocked a Greg Montgomery punt midway through the fourth quarter, a block that was recovered by New England’s Tedy Bruschi and hauled in 4 yards for a TD, the Patriots would not let well enough alone. They let Testaverde pass downfield at will for two more scores.
``The fans got their money’s worth,’’ said Parcells. ``We were lucky to get out of here.’’
Not really. New England is now winning, its offense is now unleashed . . . it’s just a matter of making the final scores as realistic as the games are played.