For the second time in four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens went into Gillette Stadium and knocked the New England Patriots out of the playoffs, this year by a 28-13 score. The Patriots were outscored 21-0 in the second half, in a game where the Patriots failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities. Injuries were an issue as the Patriots lost Kyle Love and Aqib Talib early on in the game after entering the game without Rob Gronkowski.
Here are five observations from the loss:
Tom Brady certainly didn’t have his best game in Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Ravens. (FILE:USPresswire)
A team which prided itself on being clutch back in the Super Bowl runs in the 2000′s, the Patriots were anything but clutch in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Baltimore outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half and ran away with a 15-point win. Tom Brady was a perfect 67-0 at home in his career when leading at the half, but that stat went out the window when the Patriots picked the worst time to have arguably their worst half of the season. The Patriots are usually the team forcing their opponents into making mistakes, but in this game it was them turning the ball over. It all started with Stevan Ridley’s fumble early on the fourth quarter, when the Patriots were trailing by just eight and moving the ball. Brady threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter thus making the Patriots lose the turnover battle 3-0. No team is going to win a playoff game when they lose the turnover battle 3-0. In the past it’s been the Patriots being clutch and making the plays when it matters, but they were anything but clutch and that is the reason why they will be watching the Super Bowl from their couches.
It was a game of missed opportunities especially on offense, and some uncharacteristic mistakes which ultimately led to the Patriots loss. The Patriots dominated the game early on, they held a over a six-minute time of possession advantage after the first quarter, but yet could only come away with a 3-0 lead. The Patriots, who usually are as good as any team in the red zone, did not get it done on Sunday. They finished the game 1-4, settling for field goals three times. On the flip side, the Ravens were a perfect 4-4.
A big turning point in the game came nearing the end of the first half, with the Patriots in the red zone. Brady scrambled for a three-yard gain before sliding with just over twenty seconds remaining at the Baltimore seven-yard line with the Patriots having one time out in their pocket. Instead of taking their final time out with around 20 seconds left and it being second and goal, Brady and Bill Belichick did not call their time out until four seconds remained and Stephen Gostkowski booted a field goal giving the Patriots a 13-7 lead at the half. What the Patriots should have done was immediately called a time out after Brady slid, thus leaving the Patriots about 20 seconds to take two shots in the end zone and then if they didn’t convert, kick the field goal on fourth down. It was very poor clock management, something you hardly every see from the Patriots.
Wes Welker was once again the victim of another game-changing dropped pass. With the Patriots leading 13-7 and a 3rd and 8 from the Baltimore 34-yard line, Welker dropped a pass which was a sure first down. If Welker makes the catch, there’s no question the Patriots would have at least ended up with a field goal. It was a missed opportunity, which drastically changed the flow of the game. It is worth mentioning two plays before, Welker took a vicious hit from Bernard Pollard, resulting in a penalty. Welker was shown in the huddle, clearly dazed, trying to compose himself. Not to make an excuse, but the hit two plays prior could have had an impact on the drop. Regardless, the Patriots not getting any points on that possession dramatically changed how the second half went.
Although the offense only scored 13 points, the defense didn’t do their job either as they allowed 28 points, including 21 in the second half. Although they sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco twice, they didn’t do a good job of getting consistent pressure on him forcing him into poor decisions. Flacco was able to tear into the Patriots secondary, particularly in the second half as the Ravens scored on three of their first four possessions of the second half, building a two-score lead. Flacco finished the game 21-36 for 240 yards and three touchdowns for a quarterback rating for 106.2. A much improved defense from earlier in the season should not have allowed Flacco to put up numbers like he did. The Patriots did a good job of keeping running back Ray Rice in check as he only rushed for 48 yards on 18 carries.
Offense doesn’t get it done
The NFL’s best offense picked the worst time to score the fewest points in a game all season as the 13 points were a season-low. It was only the second time all season the team didn’t score more than 20 points — the other came in their Week 2 loss to the Cardinals. Brady wasn’t his clutch, Super Bowl era self, as he finished the game 29-54 for 320 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 62.3. There were drops at critical times, and a game of missed opportunities as a whole. Although the Patriots rushed for 108 yards, only 33 came in the second half. The team seemed to abandon the running game, something which has been the key to their success all season long. Sunday was the only game all year in which the team lost when rushing for 100 + yards. Prior to the game, the Patriots were 13-0 when rushing for more than 100 yards as a team and 0-4 when they didn’t. For the NFL’s best offense to only come away with 13 points in the AFC Championship game is a major disappointment to say the least.
Injuries played role
There is no denying injuries played a role in the game for the Patriots. Aside from entering the game without tight end Rob Gronkowski, the team lost Kyle Love and Aqib Talib early on, forcing them to regroup on defense, but the trickle down had an effect on the overall unit. It forced Kyle Arrington and Marquise Cole into more playing time than usual, and although they played better than they have most of the year, it still wasn’t good enough to get it done. It also could have had something to do with the Patriots’ approach on defense as they did not blitz as much as they had in the second half of the season, possibly because they didn’t feel comfortable with what they had in the secondary in one-on-one coverage. The loss of Love, forced more playing time on to the other defensive linemen, something that showed in the second half as the group was clearly gassed.
Gronkowski missing the game was not taken as seriously as it should have. He was Brady’s biggest target in the red zone all season long, and only one touchdown in four trips Sunday showed the value of Gronkowski. He also is a very underrated run blocker, and demands the defenses attention every play. It would have been a different game with the Patriots 100 percent health wise, but the Ravens were definitely the better team on Sunday and deserve to move on to the Super Bowl.
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