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Monday, October 18, 2010

Patriots beat Ravens in OT after dream return by Deion Branch

From what I remember (glug, glug), 2002-2005 was a special time for me since I was in college and coincidentally, Deion Branch helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls during that special time in both of our lives.

I'll never go back to college (which is good news for my liver) but Branch's return to New England yesterday proved that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he famously remarked "there are no second acts in life."

Well if the unwashed masses had any doubt that Branch had anything left in the tank, they're currently digging out old Branch jerseys and trading in their Randy Moss jerseys.

The Pats (4-1) were down 20-10 in the fourth quarter but stormed back to win 23-20 to beat the Ravens (4-2) yesterday afternoon in overtime at Gillette Stadium.

It was just like old times as Branch (9 catches, 98 yards, 1 touchdown) and Brady (292 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) looked like the dynamic duo they used to be in those halcyon days.

More than anything, this signature win validated that New England is back. I'm not saying they're going to the Super Bowl, it's such a crap shoot to make it that far, but this was one of the biggest and most important victories they've picked up in years.

Joe Flacco (27 for 35, 285 yards, 2 touchdowns) and the Ravens offense was moving up and down the field on the Pats defense until the fourth quarter and Overtime (ie. when it mattered most). Somehow, the Patriots stopped the Ravens three times in OT before they finally moved the ball and won it with a 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

It was a vintage game since the Pats got contributions from bigger names, role players and emerging talents. Danny Woodhead had 115 total yards (63 yards rushing, 52 yards receiving), Aaron Hernandez caught four passes for 61 yards and had a reverse for 18 yards while Wes Welker moved the chains as usual (7 catches, 53 yards).

For one game at least, against one of the NFL's best defense, it was tangible proof that you don't need the deep ball threat. Without Randy Moss, the Patriots already seem better suited to long drives and spreading it around. This offense will struggle at times but it was shocking how well Branch played in his first game back in over four seasons wasting away in Seattle.

Ray Rice rushed 28 times for 88 yards and Derrick Mason had eight catches for 100 yards.

Baltimore received the opening kick and had a long drive but were limited to a 26-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis and New England responded with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.

Todd Heap had the only score of the second quarter, a 16-yard touchdown catch from Flacco early in the second quarter.

When the Ravens' Anquan Boldin was left wide open and hauled in a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco, things did not look good with a 17-7 Balitmore lead early in the third quarter.

On the next drive, Gostkowski hit his first field goal of the day (38 yards) as the Pats started to chip away.

Cundiff gave the Ravens a 10-point lead once again with a 25-yard kick at the beginning of the fourth quarter but Branch caught a clutch 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady (heard that one before?) and Gostkowski tied it with a 24-yard kick with 1:51 remaining in the game.

This one had it all, including some great defensive work from Jerod Mayo (18 total tackles, 11 solo), Brandon Spikes (16 total tackles, 10 solo) and Patrick Chung (13 total, 5 solo).

A schedule that looked so daunting when the season started, gets some breaks in the next few weeks since the Chargers (2-4) are a complete mess with Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd possibly out for Sunday's game in San Diego. Plus, the sideshow that is the Minnesota Vikings (2-3) with Brett Favre and Moss come to Gillette on Halloween.

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