Five thoughts on the Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Good Idea To Burn Tape
Asked what went wrong, the Ravens' Terrell Suggs initially resorted to a cliché. "I don't know, we'll have to look at the tape," he said. But then he reconsidered that idea. "Actually, let's just burn the tape," he said. It's a great idea. The Ravens bore little resemblance to the team that had won its previous four games. That was a playoff-caliber team. This was not. The Ravens littered the field with mistakes, penalties, missed tackles and turnovers. Their offense failed to sustain drives. Their defense consistently yielded and forced no turnovers. Even Justin Tucker bombed, snapping his streak of 33 straight field-goal conversions. It's hard to remember a game at M&T Bank Stadium when the home fans had less to cheer about. Where did this come from? Who knows? Several players said Head Coach John Harbaugh told them just to "forget about this game" and focus on next week's season finale in Cincinnati. I endorse the idea. Some losses can be educational, but this was just a classic clunker, a lump of coal under the tree. Go ahead, burn the tape.
Ravens Imploded At Worst TimeWhen the Ravens worked themselves back into the playoff picture with four straight wins going into Sunday, it was said they now "control their own destiny." That meant they didn't need help, that they would earn a playoff spot as long as they won their remaining games. It's the situation every team wants and it spiked a round of playoff fever in Ravenstown last week, but there's one thing about it that gets overlooked: You only have that control if you win every game you play, and that's not easy to do in a league as balanced and unpredictable as the NFL. You face tough opponents, experience days when your "A" game doesn't materialize, or when the breaks don't go your way. The Ravens ran headlong into all of those obstacles Sunday. It happens. Life isn't perfect. They came in hot but came out flat and dug a deep hole – too deep against a team like the Patriots. As I see it, there's no Great Thought that explains it all. They imploded at the worst possible time. Some breaks may have gone against them, but they deserved their fate. Now they're paying the price for losing so many games earlier in the season. When they were 4-6, they were left with little margin for error, and, well, they erred in a big way Sunday. It's pretty hard to be perfect.
Brady Had It Easy
The Ravens have been tough on New England quarterback Tom Brady in several of their recent matchups, but Brady had it easy this time. The Ravens' defensive front didn't harass him much. He had plenty of time to throw, was hit just four times and sacked just twice, once because he tripped. His running backs consistently churned out gains, putting him in appealing down-and-distance situations. His mighty-mite receivers got open and, no surprise, he threw strikes to them. No picks, no fumbles, no memorable hits. The Ravens defense did clamp down on him after he put up two quick touchdowns, but the damage was done and he easily protected the big lead. For a Baltimore defense ranked in the top 10 in the league in many statistical categories, it was a disappointing showing. Coming off a great performance in Detroit, the secondary gave up a lot of big plays. And the run defense allowed 142 yards, setting the tone. You just can't have that happen.
Seemed To Me Flacco's Knee Had An Effect
Although Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco took the high road and said his sprained left knee "felt great" and the brace on it "didn't affect anything," it seemed to me there were times when he wasn't operating at full blast. He certainly didn't seem as anxious to tuck the ball under and scramble for gains, an aspect of his game that has really blossomed in 2013. He wasn't quite as elusive within the pocket, either. As for his throwing mechanics with a brace on his plant knee, they seemed somewhat off early in the game, resulting in a handful of incompletions. But he did get better as the game progressed and wound up throwing for 260 yards, his highest total in more than a month. So while the narrative is convenient, it's really not fair to say the offense stumbled just because Flacco might be compromised. There's a lot more to what happened – familiar issues with the running game, pass protection and short-yardage situations, for starters. "We can't score," receiver Torrey Smith said. Yeah, there's that, too.
Not Fun To Need Help
It's hard to remember the Ravens experiencing a more disappointing day in recent years. When the day began, they entertained dreams of going into Cincinnati next week with a chance to win their third straight AFC North title, quite a turnaround for a team that was two games under .500 not long ago. But when the day ended, the Bengals were celebrating the division title and the Ravens were down to calculating various scenarios for how they can still slip into the playoff field next week, depending on whether they get the right kind of help. It's far from impossible, but as Flacco admitted, the Ravens have never been in this position before – needing not only to win their finale but also to get help if they want to make the playoffs. It's neither a fun place to be nor where the Ravens expected to find themselves, but, well, here they are. After a 41-7 loss, you can't ponder the "might have beens."