BALTIMORE – The last time the Patriots were in Baltimore for a prime-time regular season game, it had a memorable ending.
Sunday night was no different.
Undrafted rookie kicker Justin Tucker did what Billy Cundiff could not eight months earlier, booting a 27-yard field goal with two seconds left to beat the Patriots, 31-30.
Cundiff missed a slightly longer field goal that would have forced overtime in the AFC Championship game in New England last season, and was released by the Ravens in camp this year.
After Tucker’s kick went through the uprights – barely – Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, celebrating his 50th birthday, stood facing the crowd and jumping up and down in celebration.
New England is 1-2 for the first time since 2001.
In 2007, with the Ravens having a rare down year and New England on its way to an undefeated regular season, the closing moments featured a Rex Ryan (then the Baltimore defensive coordinator) timeout that negated a key stop, a Tom Brady-to-Jabar Gaffney game-winning score, and Ravens players throwing penalty flags back at the game officials in protest.
With an entire stadium – and really, the entire city behind him, as Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweete her support – receiver Torrey Smith caught the second of two touchdown passes with 4:01 to play, a 5-yard reception.
Smith received news early Sunday morning that his younger brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, and left the team briefly to be with his family. Harbaugh left it up to Smith to play.
After each of his touchdowns, the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium chanted “Tor-rey! Tor-rey!,” doing what it could to uplift the second-year speedster.
Brady led the Patriots to their second touchdown drive of the night over the final 1:45 of the first half, with the precision fans long have been accustomed to, giving New England a 20-14 lead over the Ravens midway through their highly-anticipated showdown.
Julian Edelman, who had a team-high four catches in the first half, got the touchdown, a 7-yard reception on second down for the second offensive touchdown of his career.
It was clear this would be an emotional game for both sides. Though they are not in the same division, the Patriots and Ravens have met at least once in each of the previous three seasons, with two postseason meetings, and a rivalry has been born, marked by bruising, physical games.
Early on, the combination of chippiness and replacement referees was not a good one, and there were a couple of times where it seemed as if the game was one cheap shot away from becoming a full-on brawl.
Things got off to a less-than-smooth start for the Patriots, who received the opening kickoff when the Ravens won the toss and deferred — generally a Patriots tactic. After a first down on the first play of the game, a 12-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd, who played despite being limited in practice last week with a thigh injury, New England nearly lost the ball when center Ryan Wendell snapped it before Brady was ready.
Wes Welker fell on it, but on third and long linebacker Danell Ellerbe came through the line on a delayed rush and dropped Brady for an 8-yard loss.
The Patriots defense forced a three-and-out on Baltimore’s first possession.
New England got on the board on its next possession, a 37-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski. The kick came after the drive stalled after a 59-yard catch-and-run by Welker, who was more involved this week with Aaron Hernandez out.
The offense didn’t have to wait long for its next shot on the field — on first down Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked for tight end Dennis Pitta across the middle and instead found Patriots safety Steve Gregory.
Gregory’s 36-yard return gave New England first and goal from the 6. Rookie running back Brandon Bolden got his first NFL touchdown from the 2 to put the Patriots ahead, 10-0.
New England would go up, 13-0, before the end of the first quarter, on a 49-yard field goal by Gostkowski. The kicker appeared to have bounced back after his end-of-game miss against Arizona a week earlier.
Baltimore got two interesting calls during its first touchdown drive. The first was a pass-interference call on Jerod Mayo that only moved the Ravens forward 2 yards, but gave them a fresh set of downs after a broken third-down play.
Then on third and 13, Flacco found Anquan Boldin on the right sideline. Boldin stretched for the first-down marker and initially the ball was marked about a yard shy of the first down. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh challenged the spot and won the challenge and the Ravens got the first down at midfield.
Three plays later, Flacco hit Smith with a pretty ball in the end zone. Kyle Arrington misjudged the pass, and Smith hauled it in for the touchdown.
Baltimore took the lead with a 10-play, 92-yard drive capped by a 20-yard pass to Pitta.
Danny Woodhead, who got a lot of snaps when the Patriots were in a three-receiver look, got the handoff for a 3-yard touchdown.