Five thoughts on the Ravens' 35-31 loss to the New England Patriots Saturday in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium:Ravens Didn't Lose. Patriots Won.
This one will hurt. The Ravens have scored some memorable wins in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs – in Tennessee in 2000 and 2008, in Denver in 2012 – and they were oh-so close to adding another classic to their pantheon of great moments. They came into Gillette Stadium and threw their best shot at the AFC's No. 1 seed. It was a haymaker of a shot. They played a brilliant game in many respects. Joe Flacco threw four touchdown passes. Their defense stopped New England on the ground and pretty much forced Tom Brady to do it alone. On two different occasions, the Ravens led by two touchdowns. But Brady was up to the challenge, leading his offense down the field again and again. In the end, the game was a jump ball, decided by who made plays in the biggest situations. With the score tied late, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal on a long drive. Brady responded with a touchdown drive. The Ravens had a last shot, but Flacco tried a long pass and was intercepted. There's your ballgame. Sorry, it's that simple. The Ravens didn't lose it. The Patriots won it.
Not Going To Second-Guess Flacco's Decision
Flacco's final decision probably wasn't his best, and certainly wasn't his safest. With under two minutes to go, the Ravens were driving toward what could have been a winning touchdown. But instead of trying to move the chains on a second down in New England territory, Flacco went for broke and threw deep down the sideline for Torrey Smith. The ball was intercepted and that was the game. But it's too easy to second-guess Flacco. He carried the Ravens throughout the game by being aggressive and making plays, both with his calls and throws. It was the same all-out approach the Ravens used to whip Pittsburgh a week earlier, and it worked again in this game, just not on that play. Flacco calmly explained his thinking afterward, saying he saw Smith in a favorable matchup against a relatively untested cornerback and went for it. Sorry, I'm not going to quibble. He played a spectacular game. Yes, perhaps he could have thrown short on the play and moved the Ravens closer to the goal line, but he saw a shot he wanted to take, and considering how often that's worked out, both he and his teammates can live with what happened.
Secondary Couldn't Get Handle On Brady
It obviously wasn't the defense's finest hour. The front seven stopped the Patriots' running game cold, but it didn't matter. Brady still picked the unit apart with his passing, setting a slew of records in the process. "He's one of the best ever and you saw why," Ravens defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan said. It was crucial that the Ravens put some pressure on him, and it didn't happen often enough, mostly because Brady is so adept at getting rid of the ball quickly. He seldom threw deep, just moved the chains again and again with possession routes. The Ravens secondary battled, but had more and more trouble as the game went on. There were intermittent problems with coverages, and big problems with tackling on a handful of key plays. Basically, Brady wore out the back end of the Ravens defense. It was a trouble spot for most of the season, and in the end, it simply couldn't get a handle on Brady as the game slowly slipped away.
Flacco-Daniels Unforgettable Plays
If the Ravens had found a way to win, a handful of passes from Flacco to tight end Owen Daniels would have gained indelible status in Baltimore's sports memory. The Ravens took the lead just before halftime when Daniels grabbed a pass in the back of the end zone with three defenders around him – an in-traffic catch reminiscent of Anquan Boldin's clutch grabs in the 2012 Super Bowl run. Later, with the score tied and the Ravens in the red zone in the fourth quarter, Flacco threw for Daniels on the same play, but the ball grazed off his fingertips, a huge just-miss, because the Ravens had to settle for a field goal, opening the door for the Patriots to take the lead with a subsequent touchdown. Then, with the Ravens down to a fourth-and-6 play on their final drive, Flacco hit Daniels for a 17-yard gain, moving the ball into New England territory and seemingly setting up a classic finish. Flacco threw his final interception shortly thereafter.
Huge kudos go to the Ravens offensive line, which established physical superiority to New England's defense. Baltimore rushed for 136 yards and Flacco was never sacked. Rookie James Hurst played left tackle instead of Eugene Monroe and more than held his own. Great stuff ... After all the talk about the Patriots' shutdown corners, the Ravens threw at them a handful of times and lived to tell about it. Steve Smith Sr. caught three passes against Darrelle Revis and also drew a major pass interference call that set up a touchdown. Torrey Smith beat Brandon Browner several times before Browner left the game with an injury. Revis did do a good job of keeping Steve Smith from making plays in the second half … The Patriots were fortunate with fumbles, holding onto two that could have cost them dearly in the first half. The Ravens were equally fortunate when Flacco fumbled deep in his own territory late in the third quarter and the Patriots' recovery was nullified by a defensive holding call …* *As the Patriots drove in the fourth quarter toward what turned out to be the winning touchdown, running back Shane Vereen lost a fumble that the Ravens' Daryl Smith recovered, but the turnover was correctly reversed on replay. Vereen was down before he lost control … The Patriots emptied their bag of tricks, scoring on a pass from one receiver to another - a brilliant call, perfectly executed – and then running several bizarre plays in which an ineligible receiver replaced a lineman and it wasn't clear who was eligible when the ball was snapped. The Ravens were irked big-time that the refs didn't give them time to adjust.