This one is going to sting for a while.

The Patriots found themselves set up in great position for a potential rematch against the San Francisco 49ers down in New Orleans, but instead it was the Baltimore Ravens who came into Gillette Stadium and managed to avenge their untimely AFC Championship loss from last year with a 28-13 win.

They completely shut down the Patriots offense in the second half and put the game out of reach, squandering yet another year of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s tenure together here in New England.

Now that the whining is out of the way, here are five thoughts on a very tough loss:

1) This team is still in need of more talent offensively: They may have two all pro tight ends, but it’s clear this offense still needs some additional help.  The addition of Brandon Lloyd certainly helped them this season, but it’s time to send Deion Branch off to retirement and start exploring better options to help them on the perimeter.  Obviously Julian Edelman’s loss hurt them at the receiver spot as did the loss of Rob Gronkowski, but either way they need more help outside and hopefully we’ll see them avoid bringing in an old tired veteran and focus on bringing in someone else that can help them.  They only had 3 receivers who registered catches through the first half of the game, which once again saw them severely undermanned against an incredibly tough Ravens defense.  Having Gronkowski would have helped, but they still need to address this position.

One has to wonder why Patriots running back Shane Vereen wasn’t used more Sunday night. (FILE:USPresswire)

2) Ridley’s fumble wasn’t his fault: The second year running back has taken some heat this season, but it’s hard to lay the blame on him for the turnover.  Patriot-killer Bernard Pollard delivered a vicious helmet-to-helmet shot on the Patriots running back, knocking him unconscious and forcing the fumble.  Ridley left the game after that play, and this wasn’t an instance of Ridley being careless with the ball.  This was a case of being out cold thanks to another dirty hit by a player who has given us yet another reason to despise him even more than we already do.

3) Aqib Talib’s loss was tough to overcome: Once the Ravens finally figured out how to take advantage of Talib’s absence after the veteran suffered a hamstring injury in the first half of the game, they started attacking New England’s secondary and moving the ball.  Unfortunately Kyle Arrington suffered the brunt of many of the plays and it left a glaring reminder of the fact they either need to sign Talib or at least bring in additional talent that can match his efforts.  The former Buccaneer recently said that playing in New England is like playing in “football heaven”.  Hopefully the two sides can reach a deal while also bringing in some additional help at that position.

4) Brady was about as good as could be expected: The Ravens did a good job defensively taking a lot of the underneath routes away and making Brady work for each of his throws.  For the most part, especially in the first half, Brady did a good job of reading what the defense gave him and changing the play into match-ups they could exploit.  As the game went on, and especially after Ridley got hurt, they became one-dimensional and it’s obvious they went into panic mode.  It’s tough not to put some of the blame on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at that point.  Taking a step back they lost this game by only two touchdowns and were still very much in the game had they remained patient and potentially used Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen to run the ball and at least keep Baltimore’s defense honest.

5) After seeing what they did last week, one has to wonder why Vereen wasn’t used more:  One of the things I really expected to see a lot of this week was the Patriots trying to get Vereen more involved in the game and work on moving him around to get him matched up on linebackers and try and exploit what had thought to be an old and tired Ravens defense.  Instead, that didn’t happen and when they look back at this game it’s going to be tough for Bill Belichick and McDaniels to not think they missed out on some big opportunities to take advantage of those match-ups.

It’s going to be a long offseason and it’s also going to be difficult to watch this year’s championship game and wonder what could have been.  But either way the months ahead should be an interesting look into what direction this team is heading in as they prepare to do it all again next season.  Hopefully some of these holes are addressed and we see some additional talent added to the roster.  Clearly what’s happened these last two seasons isn’t working, so if all goes well they’ll learn from their mistakes and make sure they’re in better shape when they take the field in 2013.

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