January 10, 2010
Ravens Bring Patriot Season To Brutal Finish
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- After a Week 2 road loss to the Jets, this column called the Patriots "ordinary", and that's pretty much how the season ended.
The record will show that the 2009 New England Patriots won the AFC East. But the 33-14 dismantling of the Patriots by the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Gillette Stadium made you wonder not who was the better team, but if the Patriots truly deserved to be in this game. The New York Jets, 24-14 winners on Saturday at Cincinnati and punching their tickets for an AFC Divisional Playoff date at San Diego, are a far better team than the Patriots. Just ask Rex Ryan, he'll tell you.
Better yet, go back and watch this bludgeoning the Ravens laid on the Patriots. This was a team which lost all but one road game played in this country. This was a team with an inconsistent defense all season long. This was a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback who spent all season getting over his horrific knee injury last year. It took this long, but the Ravens finally put the stamp on what the 2009 Patriots were.
Let's begin with the secondary. They do real well against teams that can't or don't throw the ball well. Okay, so Joe Flacco completes only four of ten passes for 34 yards and finishes with a passer rating of 10.0. Oops, the defense gives up an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game, and Baltimore rushes for 234 yards for the game as a team. And this was with Ty Warren and Vince Wilfork back in the starting lineup.
Tom Brady is still Tom Brady. Trouble is, that might have been some other guy wearing number 12 who fired two interceptions and was strip-sacked on the third offensive play of the game. Actually, Brady finished with 23 of 42 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and a passer rating of 40.1. But he was under siege all game long, running away from Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and a whole bunch of other guys in white shirts you never heard of.
You can say that things would have been different had Wes Welker been in there. Welker wouldn't have worked well in run defense. Welker can't get the ball if Brady is running for his life. In short, Welker's absence maybe cost the Patriots a touchdown, and that's pushing it.
The bottom line is that the Ravens played with a ton more fury and intensity than the overmatched Patriots were able to handle, and that the Patriots did not have the material to deal with what they had to deal with. Lewis may have been whining after the October loss regarding Brady's cushy treatment from the officials, but on Sunday Lewis led by example and looked like the Ray Lewis 10 years ago who led his team to a win in Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis' intensity filtered throughout the entire Raven team, and they, not the Patriots, deserved to move on in the 2009 playoffs.
It is tough to say that the game was over after the first play from scrimmage; most will say that it was over after the first quarter. After receiving the opening kickoff at their own 17, Flacco handed off to Ray Rice for a simple run up the middle. Wilfork got shoved to his left on a double team, and Rice had a hole up the middle. Rice then cut left, and there was zero second level coverage anywhere nearby. Rice was off to the races, and 17 seconds into the game, the Ravens led, 7-0 and all of Gillette Stadium was shellshocked.
If it wasn't over at this time, it certainly was three plays later. On third and eleven at their own 26, Suggs blew by Matt Light and blindsided Brady with a strip sack as the quarterback was about to throw. Suggs fell on the loose ball at the 17, and five plays later LaRon McClain ran it in from the one to make it 14-0 Ravens only 4:31 into the game.
After an exchange of punts, Brady was picked off by Chris Carr at the 25, and six plays later Rice ran it in from one and it was 21-0 Ravens, still in the first quarter. Two plays later, Brady was picked off by Ed Reed and Billy Cundiff kicked a 27-yard field goal. It was 24-0 Ravens after the first quarter, and the rest of the game was pretty much academic.
There were two moments which truly defined this game, more than the 24 points in the first quarter. The Patriots' first touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Brady to Julian Edelman, came on a freak fumble recovery by Kyle Arrington after a muffed punt by Tom Zbikowski. Replays clearly showed that Arrington never had possession of the ball before tumbling out of bounds, but the officials gave the ball to the Patriots at the Baltimore 16. Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not challenge the call. Harbaugh may have been wanting to save the challenges up 24-0, and didn't consider the play important at the time. Harbaugh turned out to be a prophet, and what some looked at as a shift in momentum turned out to be anything but.
As the first half wound down, the Patriots were looking at fourth down and 12 at the Baltimore 36. Bill Belichick opted to punt the ball in hopes of getting the ball back with 2:07 left in the half and all three timeouts. Chris Hanson did his part and pinned the Ravens back at their four-yard line. So what happens? Six straight runs, five of them from Willis McGahee, two first downs, Patriots empty their timeouts, then Flacco takes a knee. The runs were for 3, 5, 4, 1, 6 and 3. The Ravens at that point were going Roberta Flack on the Patriots by killing them softly with their song.
The second half was a near stalemate, but the first quarter dictated the rest of the game as well as set the tone. Rice finished with 159 yards rushing on 22 carries, McClain had 20 rushes for 62 yards. With this kind of rushing attack, Flacco didn't need to be good. Baltimore won their only Super Bowl with perhaps the worst winning quarterback in history (Trent Dilfer); this win was sort of "back to the good ol' days" for the Ravens. They won it with great defense and tremendous physical play on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, the Patriots went back to the "bad ol' days". The Patriots suffered only the second home playoff loss in franchise history, their first coming on New Year's Eve in 1978 when the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) trounced the Patriots 31-14. At the time, the Patriots were smarting over the impending departure of head coach Chuck Fairbanks to the University of Colorado. In an eerie similarity to this year, the Oilers went up early, scoring three second quarter touchdowns to lead at the half, 21-0. At one point in that game the Oilers led 24-0, just like the Ravens did. If nothing else, teams now know how to win a playoff game in Foxborough: run up a 24-0 lead and sit back.
The Patriots can now focus on gunning up for 2010, which hopefully will include more secondary help and how to properly handle Wilfork. And that's just for starters.
Meanwhile, the Ravens now get to deal with Peyton Manning, and the Jets head to San Diego. If Baltimore can bring it to Indianapolis like they did to Foxborough, the Ravens will play more football in January, and maybe into February.
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