It was an improbable 23-20 victory for the Patriots last Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The defense of the home team was supposed to be inferior to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens big defense. After all, this was the same Baltimore team that convincingly eliminated them from last year's playoffs in a blowout in this very stadium, which had previously never happened in the Tom Brady era.
Yet, coming into the game, the Patriots were 5-0 against the Ravens in the regular season. So how did the Patriots eek this one out? Big time defensive play, led by Jerod Mayo's astonishing and team-leading 18 tackles, and clutch catches by a new but familiar face, wide receiver Deion Branch. He caught a 5-yard Brady pass early in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to get the Pats within three points at 20-17, followed by about six more key receptions near the end of regulation and overtime combined to set up kicker Stephen Gostkowski's game-tying late fourth quarter field goal and game-winning one with 1:51 left in OT.
But nearly halfway through the second quarter came the only inexcusable negative play in the game. Ravens veteran tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from young Pats safety Brandon Meriweather, and consequently took a while to get up from it. He would leave the game.
Even Pats fans like me said, "That's a no-no" after watching the replay. NFL players aren't supposed to leave their feet or "launch" into opposing players, especially with helmets. It was labeled helmet-to-helmet contact by the referee, and I wouldn't have been shocked if he was kicked out of the game in addition to being penalized for it.
Starting this weekend, NFL players will definitely be suspended for clearly flagrant hits to the head, instead of (or in addition to) the usual light fine. Meriweather will indeed get a fine or be suspended for New England's next game against San Diego, even though the new policy wasn't in effect when the hit to Heap happened and that the Pats player has no prior history of such flagrant hits. And though a suspension would be detrimental to the team, I would have no problem with it.