By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 22, 2012

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Scott Norwood invented Wide Right. Billy Cundiff invented Wide Left.

Part of you the Patriot fan may have felt slightly sorry for the Baltimore Ravens, who fought the Patriots tooth and nail in the 2011 AFC Championship Game on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, in that they lost the game in this manner. Cundiff yanked a chip-shot 32-yard field goal attempt wide left with 11 seconds left in regulation, and instead of a certain overtime, the Patriots were able to punch their tickets to Indianapolis. The Patriots prevailed, 23-20 over the Ravens, and will head to Super Bowl XLVI to face the New York Giants in two weeks.

But after the numbing shock of the end of the game wears off, you will feel sorry for no one. The Patriots were minus-2 in turnovers, Joe Flacco was allowed to get into a comfort zone and looked like the quarterback Ed Reed wanted him to look like, and the Ravens came excruciatingly close to taking the lead at the end instead of lining up for a game-tying field goal. For the Ravens to lose the game the way they did, they have to be sick to their stomachs. The Patriots get to move on to Indianapolis, but there will be some concerns that need to be addressed if they are to win their fourth Vince in team history.

Many facets of this game went against what most of the prognosticators said would happen. Guys like Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were not big factors in the game. Flacco had a much better game than many people in these parts thought he would have. And someone named Sterling Moore turned out to be the man with the clutch plays in the end for the Patriots after he was torched for a Baltimore touchdown earlier in the game.

Simply stated, both offenses were able to operate pretty well. Both the Patriot touchdowns were on runs, as Brady was unable to complete a touchdown pass in the game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 68 yards and a 4.5 yard per carry average, which did neutralize the Ravens pass rush somewhat in that Brady was sacked only once for a five-yard loss.

Brady, by his own admission, "sucked". Actually, he wasn't too terribly bad, as he was able to complete a lot of typical passes to the top receivers like he usually does. But Flacco killed Brady in the passer rating battle, as Flacco's rating was 95.4 while Brady was a measly 57.5. Brady had another substandard game against the Ravens, but played just well enough to win.

Brady credited the defense with the win. Actually, the defense also played just well enough to win. Despite holding Rice to only 3.2 yards per carry, this game almost turned out to be a "tip your hat to Flacco" game, in that the Patriots dared him to beat them through the air and he darned near did. Flacco threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns, but the Patriot defense was expected to make Flacco look like Tim Tebow did last Saturday night.

Brady continued a slightly disturbing trend of one or two really terrible throws per game. He threw two interceptions in this game, both of them on ill-advised passes. In the first quarter, Lardarius Webb made a nice leaping grab in the right flat to snatch one away from Julian Edelman, but Webb had great coverage on Edelman and Brady should never have thrown it that way. Then in the fourth quarter, on the next play after Brandon Spikes picked Flacco, Brady lobbed a deep pass over the middle into the end zone, but Matthew Slater was double-covered and Bernard Pollard tipped the ball to Jimmy Smith, who made the pick in the end zone and returned it to the Baltimore 38. The play call was worse than the execution, as the situation screamed for short passes and runs, ball control and eating clock rather than going for the instant kill.

If the Patriots can take any positives from this, it is that they won their second straight postseason game with a turnover deficit, and that many of the Ravens that were supposed to wreak havoc on the Patriots were dealt with pretty well. The only sack of Brady was by Paul Krueger, none by Terrell Suggs. Suggs was invisible for the second game in a row. Lewis made some good plays, but never took over the game like he used to. Reed, like Lewis, made some good plays, but never dominated the secondary like he used to.

To have the game come down to a 32-yard field goal attempt was more or less poetic justice for these two teams. An overtime game would have been murder on the blood pressures of fans in Maryland and New England but wonderful for all other football fans. These two teams, the best two in the AFC for sure, slugged it out like two champions should, and overtime would have been high drama for one and all.

But Cundiff simply pulled his kick wide left. Most any fan in the stands could kick a 32-yard field goal. It is a very short distance if you walk out on a football field and see for yourself. Part of kicking is having ice water in your veins when you need it. Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski (three for three on the afternoon in field goals) have plenty of ice water. Perhaps Cundiff did not. Whatever the case, the missed kick cost the Ravens their season and a possible trip to the Super Bowl, and it was the worst possible time to miss an easy kick.

The miss allowed Gillette Stadium to explode in celebration. Drew Bledsoe handed the Lamar Hunt Trophy to his former owner and twice kissed him on the cheek. Bill Belichick smiled as never before. Brady denigrated his performance and extolled the efforts of his team's defense. Just like old times at Gillette.

Now the Patriots get the mother of all rematches, the mother of all revenge opportunities. They get another shot at the Giants, who ruined their perfect season four years ago in Arizona. It will be a rare chance for the Patriots to assuage one of the most galling and regrettable games in team history.

How strange. The Patriots go to Indianapolis, and still have to deal with someone named Manning.


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