FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots are taking on a familiar look on defense, a look they hoped they wouldn’t see again.
In their third game this season, the team that allowed the second most yards in the NFL last year gave up 503 in a 31-30 loss at the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday night. The Patriots lost on a last-play field goal after blowing a 13-0 lead.
In the third game last season, they led 21-0 but lost 34-31 on another field goal, also on the last play.
The opponent then was the Bills in Buffalo. On Sunday, the Patriots will play the Bills again in front of Buffalo’s fans.
There’s one big difference. Then the Patriots went into the game at 2-0. Now they’re trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak in 10 years.
“I hate to lose,” defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday. “Anybody hates to lose. I don’t care if it’s one in a row or two in a row or 10 in a row. You don’t want to lose.”
The Patriots were impressive in the season opener and had shown signs that the defense, fortified by three high draft picks, had improved over the one that gave up 411.1 yards per game last season. It allowed only 284 in a 34-13 win at the Tennessee Titans and 245 in a home-opening 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
So what happened?
First, Baltimore has a superior offense to Tennessee and Arizona with one of the NFL’s best runners, Ray Rice, and a dangerous passing attack led by Joe Flacco.
And the Patriots couldn’t get to Flacco. He was rarely hurried and the only sack against him was nullified by a defensive holding penalty on Baltimore’s next to last drive that ended with a touchdown and a 30-28 Patriots lead.
“We didn’t want them to run the ball as much as they did so you get in a run-pass conflict and the good teams know what to do,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. “So they run, then they play action, then you’re not on top of your best pass rush moves when you’re thinking it’s a run and it turns into a pass.
“So I think the best thing that we can do is just go out there and start fast like we did last week, get them into a one-dimensional-type style of game,” he said. “In the fourth quarter we were rushing a lot different than we were in the second and third quarter. Once you get them into the passing situations, you’ll be able to pin your ears back and just go.”
The Ravens established the run after falling behind 13-0 after one quarter and led 21-20 four minutes into the third. But they were fighting the clock when they got the ball with 7:29 left in the game with a 30-21 deficit.
They threw 11 passes and ran just three times the rest of the way, but the Patriots still couldn’t get to Flacco. Not even Chandler Jones, their top draft pick this season whose strip sack of Jake Locker was recovered by fellow first-round choice Dont’a Hightower for a touchdown against Tennessee, could break through.
But Wilfork said the newcomers are meshing well with the veterans.
“I think we’ve done a great job each week, getting better, starting to jell a little bit more, but I saw that right away from us,” he said. “It didn’t take us a long time to get acquainted and start jelling as a defense.”
The Patriots would like to take the Bills’ raucous fans out of the game early.
“It gets rowdy out there so getting off to a huge start is going to be huge for us,” said middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, the Patriots leading tackler in all three games.
New England may not win, but the on-field scene after the game should be different than it was in Baltimore where coach Bill Belichick grabbed an official while trying to get an explanation of whether Justin Tucker’s winning 27-yard field goal could be reviewed.
The NFL has settled its labor dispute with its officials, who will work Sunday.
“I can’t really say how it’s going to be different because somebody’s always complaining about a call,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “We’ll find out when we get up there, but I think this is a huge step as far us taking care of player safety.
“So, hopefully, the game’s called cleanly and we keep guys safe and healthy and we go out and have an even playing field for both teams.”
NOTEBOOK: The have released tight end Kellen Winslow after just one game.
The veteran of eight full seasons was cut on Thursday after catching one pass for 12 yards in last Sunday night’s 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots signed him after tight end Aaron Hernandez suffered a right ankle injury the previous week. Hernandez missed that game and did not practice Wednesday and Thursday. New England still has three tight ends — Rob Gronkowski, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui. Winslow had been cut in training camp by the Seattle Seahawks after spending five seasons with the Cleveland Browns and three with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has 438 receptions for 4,848 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career.