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September 24, 2012
Not Enough Defense At Finish Dooms Patriots
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore fans very eloquently described the officiating late in the game, but it's the Patriots that still get the "L" hung on them.

This was a game where the Patriots played well enough to win for most of the contest, but in the end was once again betrayed by its defense. Bad officiating, the hallmark of the 2012 season league-wide, sort of cancelled out in the end, and with two seconds left, Justin Tucker barely made a 27-yard field goal to give the Baltimore Ravens a 31-30 walkoff win at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night.

Tucker, who replaced Billy "Wide Left" Cundiff, came tantalizingly close to becoming "Wide Right as his kick sailed over the right upright as time expired. But the field goal counted, and the Ravens had a crazy win over the team that beat them in January in the AFC Championship Game. The game was rife with questionable officials calls, which went against both teams at critical times, but when all is said and done with dissecting this game, the sad fact is that the Patriots still do not have a lockdown defense and the Ravens, like the Giants in February, exploited it to the fullest extent and eventually used it to walk off with a win.

The Patriots squandered leads of 13-0 and 30-21. What was a dominating beginning for the Patriots begat three straight touchdown drives by Baltimore in the second and third quarters. The Ravens finished with 503 total yards, with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith having standout evenings. Flacco will shake off his adverse reputation sooner or later, made plays when he had to, and finished with better numbers than his more heralded counterpart.

Smith played the game with a heavy heart, having learned during the wee hours of the morning of the death of his brother Tevin in a motorcycle accident. Reminding everyone of when Brett Favre's father passed away, Smith led the Ravens with 127 yards on six catches and two touchdowns. It was a brave evening for Smith, who looked visibly shaken during pregame when a moment of silence was held in his brother's honor.

Stopping Ray Rice is always a priority of the Patriot defense, but Sunday night they failed to do so. Rice rumbled for 101 yards on 20 carries and a 5.1 yard average. Rice also caught five passes for 49 yards. It wasn't as brutal as the 2009 playoff game, but it was enough to keep the Patriot defense on its heels and to prevent the defense from dialing completely in on Flacco. Stop Rice and you stop the Ravens is the usual dogma, but Sunday night the Patriots didn't really stop anybody once Flacco got the offense untracked after falling into an early 13-0 hole.

Flacco finished with 28 of 39 passing for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and a 117.7 passer rating. Dennis Pitta chipped in with five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Jacoby Jones, the goat for Houston against Baltimore in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Baltimore, had 86 yards receiving on three catches.

Maybe a lesser obvious key to the Baltimore win was the battle between left tackle Michael Oher and Chandler Jones. Jones may never have a movie made based on his life like Oher did, but Oher completely stifled the standout Patriot rookie and helped to give Flacco a comfort level. The only time Jones did manage to sack Flacco, it was wiped out on a holding call on Brandon Spikes late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, "Big Mike" was taught to protect the blind side, and protect it he did.

The Patriot secondary was rife with long gains given up, several key penalties, and at times some bad tackling. On the Pitta touchdown, Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory both missed tackles badly down near the goal line. McCourty dropped an interception, and late in the game, Kyle Arrington slipped and fell in the left flat and thus missed an easy pick on a floating pass from Flacco.

Tom Brady played well enough to win, until the final offensive possession when a sack by Dannell Ellerbe killed the drive and set Baltimore up for the inevitable game-winning field goal. Brady had 28 of 41 passing for 335 yards, one touchdown, and a 101.2 passer rating. He seemed in control and looked like his Hall of Fame self, but had to sit on the sidelines and watch helplessly in the end as the game was decided.

There was a very telling offensive moment which took place during halftime. The Patriots continued to use Julian Edelman in the first half and did make four catches for 28 yards. But he injured his hand just prior to halftime, and Wes Welker had to revert to his old self in the second half. Result: Eight catches, 142 yards, including a 59-yard beauty. Brandon Lloyd had one more catch than Welker, but the old man from Texas Tech showed everyone that he should play like has always has, and that holding him out in favor of Edelman is simply foolhardy.

The officials once again showed that the game is too big for them. Skirmishes were rampant all game long, and lots of holding and illegal contact was going on all game long. That which did get called was not always correct and at times was damaging to both teams. But an interesting exchange happened late in the game which really proved that the faulty officiating benefitted neither team in general.

On their final drive, facing third and eight at their own 33, Lardarius Webb was called for illegal contact on Welker while making a pick. Replay showed that it was actually interference and not illegal contact, which is a spot foul and not five yards. On the next play, John Harbaugh tried to call a timeout, didn't get it, complained, and was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As the crowd began a cheer depicting something related to cow excrement, the Patriots had the ball at the Ravens 45. But the Ellerbe sack made those calls moot, and the Patriots punted just prior to the two-minute warning.

So the Ravens now begin their final drive. The critical play of the game featured Jones running a deep go route on the right side, with McCourty covering him. Flacco floated the ball out there, and McCourty was called for pass interference. It could very easily have been called holding, which is a five-yard penalty instead of a spot foul. The Ravens thus had the ball at the Patriot 9, and two plays later Tucker won the game with a field goal.

In the end, the Patriots simply did not come up with the stop it needed. The Ravens scored ten points on their final two drives and deserved to win. They continue to do well at home, and the Patriots suffered their first loss ever at M&T Bank Stadium (in only their second visit ever). Don't be surprised if the AFC Championship Game is here thanks to tonight's game.

Meanwhile, the Patriots still need answers in the secondary. The front seven is looking better. The back four still won't stop good or elite quarterbacks.


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