By: Steve Balestrieri
The Baltimore Ravens dominated the second half of the AFC Championship game and won easily 28-13, shutting out the Patriots in the second half and scoring 21 unanswered points. This one will leave a sour taste in the mouths of the Patriots’ coaches and players all summer.
Bad clock management, and fantastic defensive play by the Ravens cut into Tom Brady’s accuracy. The Ravens had no fear of the deep pass and sat on the short routes and limited the Yards After Catch and laid some tremendous hits on the receivers.
With a home game for the conference championship and having the top scoring offense in the NFL and scoring only 13 points is and will be unacceptable in Foxboro and should be. Here are some quick observations on the game:
Offense Stalls again: Give the Ravens defense all the credit, it wasn’t smoke and mirrors that stopped the Patriots offense, it was a great defensive game plan and execution. Speaking of execution, at the worst possible time and in the biggest game of the year the offense didn’t execute at all.
Six trips inside the Baltimore 25 yard line and getting one touchdown won’t win many games and a common theme in the two most recent Super Bowl losses as well as playoff losses to the Jets and Ravens this season has been an offense that woefully performs at crunch time.
The team has no big wide receiver on the outside that can stretch the field. Brandon Lloyd did a good job this season but he’s not the big, physical guy that can go up in the end zone and get it done. The loss of Rob Gronkowski, which I thought they could work through, at least in the conference championship was felt much more. This lack will have to be addressed in free agency or the draft.
Welker playing his last game in NE?: Wes Welker put up more amazing numbers this season catching 118 passes, playing under his $9 million dollar franchise tag. But for the second year in a row, with the game in the balance, he dropped a pass that could have made a huge difference. Fair or not…there it is.
With the Patriots clinging to a 13-7 lead in the third quarter, and facing a third and seven inside Ravens territory, Welker was wide open for a first down that would have put the Patriots in scoring territory, the pass from Tom Brady hit him square in the numbers and he dropped it. Momentum shifted right then and there and the Ravens quickly took control of the game.
Welker is hardly the only player to blame for the loss but the questions that will be asked this off-season and the decision that must be made concerning his place on the team won’t be an easy one. Don’t be shocked if the Patriots walk away and go into a different direction next season.
Injury To Talib Hurt: Perhaps it is overstating the value of having Aqib Talib on the field but the Patriots defense was not the same unit in the second half without him in there. In the first half, the Patriots were an attacking unit and were doing a good job of limiting the Ravens passing offense.
The second half was a different story, while Alfonzo Dennard acquitted himself quite well overall, the defense seemed to sitting back and Joe Flacco started to quickly pick them apart. There was very little of the plays that fooled the defense, but they seemed incapable of stopping the passing attack. Chandler Jones only played on goal line situations and Kyle Love left after being injured as well. A lot of the passive play can be attributed to Talib being out.
Coaching takes a hit: Another curiously bad sequence at the end of a half on Sunday that belies the fact that the Patriots always, always practice situational football. The team wasted an opportunity to put seven points on the scoreboard at the end of the first half by making more than one bad decision that left them with no choice but to attempt a field goal when some better choices could have gotten them 10 points ahead.
Aaron Hernandez, rather than run out of bounds, cut inside and forced them to burn one timeout and then Brady inexplicably blew his cool and burned up the rest of the time. That ultimately falls on the coaches.
Why Josh McDaniels abandoned the run after the Ravens took the lead was a head scratcher. The Patriots held a 7 minute time of advantage after the first half and were moving the ball. That wasn’t the time to do that and it resulted in a holding penalty and a three and out.
Baltimore had a great plan: As loathe as Patriots fans are when it comes to the Ravens, they were the far better team on Sunday, especially in the second half at crunch time. Their game plan on both sides of the ball was fantastic and they executed it to perfection. The deserved to win and did, and they will be a tough opponent in the Super Bowl with an extra week to rest and prepare.
For the Patriots, the off-season begins tomorrow and some difficult questions will have to be asked. Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead are up for new contracts as well as Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and others. Deion Branch is done, and he won’t be back. It’s possible, none could return next season.