BOSTON (CBS) — Well, that was disappointing.
By now, of course, you know what happened — the Patriots laid an egg in the second half against the Ravens, coming up small in the biggest moment of the season. Plenty of people thought Baltimore could win the game, but very few folks expected to see a game that wasn’t even competitive in the fourth quarter. Yet, that’s exactly what we saw, and it’s officially summertime for the Patriots.
The reasons are plenty, and it’s not entirely necessary to hash through every single one of them. Still, the season can’t officially end without one more run through the leftover thoughts.
–There’s always a tendency for one play or one mistake to be highlighted as the reason a team lost. In this one, Wes Welker’s third down drop or Tom Brady’s clock mismanagement at the end of the first half that are getting the most attention. Those plays hurt, but they didn’t turn a win into a loss.
If you really want to blame one area, look at how the Patriots fared on third-and-short. Opening drive near midfield: third-and-2, incomplete, punt. Second possession: third-and-2 on the Baltimore 12, Stevan Ridley up the middle for no gain, Patriots settle for a field goal. Late first quarter near midfield: third-and-2, incomplete, punt. Fourth quarter: back-to-back incompletions on third and fourth down, when the offense needed four yards.
The Patriots had no problem running the ball all game, until it came down to third-and-short, when it really mattered. Getting stuffed at the line on those plays is a matter of desire and effort. Baltimore’s was simply much better.
–The other area where the Patriots looked absolutely terrible was the simplest of all: tackling. You cannot win football games if you do not tackle the man with the football, and it was a struggle all night long. We know that Ray Rice is elusive, but too many drives were kept alive due to Patriots players lacking the fundamental skill of tackling.
–You also wind up in a lot of third-and-short situations when your running back opts to run right into the chest of 330-pound men named Haloti rather than cutting right through a sizable hole up the middle:
–Make no mistake, though. Welker’s drop was bad. There aren’t many players in the sport who can finish the game with eight receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown and still leave people talking about one bad play, but when the microscope from dropping the potential Super Bowl-winning never fully goes away, people aren’t going to forget when you let a should-be first down catch bounce off your hands when you’re wide open:
–Even LaDainian Tomlinson had to have seen Aqib Talib standing on the sidelines in his big jacket without even trying to give it a go and thought, “Oh, that’s not a good look.” I don’t know how badly that hamstring was feeling, but if Talib was healthy enough to jump around and celebrate on the sidelines, why couldn’t he at least try to get back in the game? He and the training staff did know that it could be his last game for seven months, right?
The good news is that hey, at least Talib will be healthy for the Super Bowl.
–Rob Gronkowski signed a $53 million contract in the offseason, and he was a guest in owner Robert Kraft’s luxury box on Sunday night, yet he was keeping it real with what looked to be a $15 zip-up sweatshirt from Target. I appreciate that.
–Does it have to become a story every time Bill Belichick does or does not talk to the media? What enlightening information was he going to hit us with in a postgame interview on CBS? I watched his press conference, and it wasn’t exactly a captivating information session. He actually told us all that “the officials call the game,” which is something I had never really considered until the words left Belichick’s mouth.
So let’s just calm down a bit, Shannon Sharpe.
–Sometimes, you need a bounce. The Patriots didn’t get that bounce on the first play of the second quarter, when Jerod Mayo ripped the ball loose from Vonta Leach’s arms near the sideline. Alfonzo Dennard was sprinting toward the play, and had the ball kicked one way, he could have scooped it for an easy score to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead. Instead, it bounced off Mayo’s hip and then out of bounds, and the Ravens would drive 87 yards to take a 7-3 lead.
–There was a positive to that drive, which ended with a Ray Rice touchdown run when he made Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower look like high schoolers trying to take down an NFL running back, and it was this exchange between Rice and a guy I’ve chosen to name Bobby O’Donnell from Melrose:
–A lot was made of Tom Brady’s takeout slide of Ed Reed late in the second quarter, and I even saw that Bernard Pollard called it “bull crap.” That’s a comical assessment, given the source, but also because if you think Brady did that intentionally then you’re nuts. For one, that’s an outstanding way for a star quarterback to break his ankle, but more accurately, Brady’s too awkward a runner to do anything intentionally while running at “full speed.” If you think the same guy who couldn’t avoid running into a stationary official and then bounced off that stationary official and onto the turf was somehow able to pull off a perfect ninja kick on an opponent running at full speed, then I could probably convince you that I could beat Usain Bolt in a footrace.
–Speaking of that stationary official, umpire Chad Brown, I thought it was really rude of Southwest Airlines to hijack an AFC Championship Game in order to film one of those “Wanna get away?” commercials:
–Even worse than running into a zebra was being unwilling to try to outrun Haloti Ngata on fourth down when he needed four yards.
Instead of trying to beat the 330-pound Ngata in a footrace, Brady threw a wobbly duck toward Deion Branch in the end zone. Shocker of all shockers, it hit the turf, and the game was all but over with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter.
–After a great non-call on Torrey Smith, when his and Kyle Arrington’s feet got tangled, I realized the next revolution in defensive coaching will be teaching defensive backs to step on receivers’ ankles to force “incidental” contact. If Bernard Pollard’s hit on Wes Welker is the type of hit that draws 15-yard penalties these days, then ankle-stomping is the only way to break up passes. You can send me checks or money orders, defensive back coaches.
–Regarding Pollard The Patriot Killer, I don’t think he did anything wrong on the actual hit, per se. Ridley lowed his head and initiated contact with his own helmet. However, the madman celebration from Pollard while Ridley lay unconscious on the turf showed incredibly poor character from Pollard:
–It’d be easy to villainize Pollard for that, but you know that most of our first reactions to seeing the hit was, “Wait, so was Ridley down before he fumbled?” Football makes us lack human decency sometimes. It is what it is.
–If there’s one thing that’s entertaining on Twitter during games, it’s watching people try to figure out what constitutes a 15-yard penalty and what isn’t. The NFL Network’s Rich Eisen was downright apoplectic that Ray Lewis was called for a penalty, even though Lewis very clearly went helmet-to-helmet on a defenseless receiver:
Then, Twitterers passively accepted the 15-yard penalty on Pollard for hitting Welker, even though that was a reputation call more than anything (he technically did hit Welker’s head but it was as the two were falling to the ground).
Later, nobody really complained that Jerod Mayo deserved a flag for uncorking on Dennis Pitta over the middle. If that wasn’t launching at a defenseless receiver, I don’t know what would be. And that’s the point: None of us really know the rules. I’m all for player safety, I just hope the NFL spends the offseason clarifying to players, fans and most importantly officials so that we all know what to expect when watch a game.
—Rich Shertenlieb from 98.5 The Sports Hub perfectly summed up the type of Super Bowl coverage we can expect to be bombarded with over the next two weeks: “They literally just showed Ray Lewis’s [butt] on TV for 30 seconds. Get ready for 2 weeks of that.”
–Terrell Suggs had a lot to say about the Patriots after the game, including calling them “arrogant [curse words that begin with ‘F’]” and throwing out a Spygate insult in a way that a Jets fan on a fan message board would truly appreciate it. Hey, when you win, you can say whatever you want. You just might make yourself look like a bum while doing it.
Plus, Suggs probably just wanted to make sure he got his name in some newspapers on Monday. If he hadn’t popped off in the locker room, you probably wouldn’t have even known he was at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
–Things that should be euthanized this summer: Gillette Stadium’s fog horn.
–I’ve heard people say Brady’s clock mismanagement at the end of the half cost the Patriots four points. It’s important to not go quite that far. The brain fart only cost the Patriots one, maybe two chances at getting those four points. Given the issues they had moving the ball all day, I don’t think those four points were anything close to a guarantee. So it was costly in the sense that it took away a shot or two at the end zone, but honestly, they were probably going to get stuck kicking the field goal anyway.
–One of the few highlights I won’t forget from this game was the shot of Brady barking fake signals at nobody while Danny Woodhead was doing his best Kevin Faulk impression on the direct snap on fourth-and-1.
–The Patriots need to sign Danny Woodhead. There are certain players who are just incredibly value within the Patriots’ offensive system, guys who just get it and always manage to be in the right place at the right time, but are not useful players elsewhere (see Branch, Deion). Woodhead and the Patriots are too perfect a marriage to let a million bucks come between them. Don’t let one great afternoon against the Texans by Shane Vereen erase three years of evidence that Woodhead is a valuable contributor.
–I had a dream after the game that the game was happening again, except Brady got hurt early on and Byron Leftwich came on as the backup quarterback. I didn’t know what was going on, but at the same time, I didn’t question it and just rolled with it. However, because Byron Leftwich was Byron Leftwich, nobody cared about the game and nobody noticed that he led the Patriots all the way back. He got New England to the 30-yard line with 5 seconds left and called a timeout to bring on Stephen Gostkowski for the game-tying field goal, but then the game went to commercial break for so long that nobody cared anymore about the outcome and we all just went about our lives, not knowing or caring about how the game ended.
You might be wondering why I just shared that story, but don’t lie. That was a much more exciting tale than talking about the actual game that took place.
–Tom Brady’s postseason stats vs. the Ravens: 3 TDs, 7 INTs.
Tom Brady’s postseason stats vs. everyone else: 39 TDs, 15 INTs.
–Prepare yourself for months and months of talk about how “Brady’s window is closing,” taking breaks solely for people to compare his legacy to Joe Montana’s. Sadly, this is apparently the best we can all do.
–If you’re a regular reader of this leftover thoughts column, thanks a bunch for checking it out. I have a lot of fun writing it, but it wouldn’t mean much if nobody ever read it, so thank you. Please come back in August when we can all overreact to the preseason performances of the Patriots’ rookies. I, for one, can’t wait, and I’m not even joking a little bit.
Screen shots courtesy of NFL.com/GameRewind.