On Sunday morning I approached the Ravens matchup against the Patriots like a passenger in a car that was about to be struck head on by a bus. I saw it coming, I tensed up, put my feet on the dashboard and braced myself for the disappointment. But, as three o’clock loomed closer and I had shared my doubts with fellow football fans, I began to grow confident.
For some reason I thought that Joe Flacco could turn the page and go from mediocre game manager to AFC champion. I thought that John Harbaugh could out think Bill Belichick and that the Ravens secondary could contain the Pats tight ends.
In the end, Ravens fans had their hearts ripped out after Lee Evans dropped a game winning touchdown and Billy Cundiff missed a game tying touchdown. It was right there. They were so close. The Super Bowl was in Evan’s hands, on Cundiff’s toe. But instead the Ravens flew home empty handed.
Here are my thoughts on the Patriots 23-20 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship:
- Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady – I didn’t agree with the shootout game plan by Cam Cameron and the Ravens, but it probably could have worked. Just look at the numbers. Joe Flacco: 22-36, 306 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Tom Brady: 22-36, 239 yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 2 interceptions. Flacco’s QB rating was nearly 40 points higher than Brady’s and he marched the Ravens down the field from their own 21 yard line for what should have been the game winning — or at least game tying — play. Joe Flacco proved he can be a big game quarterback after his play in this game. I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with his play especially after Ed Reed’s comments last week. Flacco deserved to win this game more than anyone on that field.
- Ed Reed gives it all he’s got – Ed Reed seems to have spent the latter part of his career playing with an injury. Every big hit or bad landing has me worried that his career could be over. After the Ravens stupidly decided to go for it on 4th and 6 at the New England 33, it was Reed that saved the day and gave the Ravens a chance to tie or win in their final drive. With 2:46 remaining, the Ravens held the Pats to a three-and-out as Reed deflected a short pass intended for Aaron Hernandez on third down. Reed only registered three tackles, but that play could have ended the Ravens chances even earlier had he misjudged the pass by a fraction of a second.
- Terrell Suggs disappears again – I’ve been a fan of Terrell Suggs this season, but his playoff performance this year was incredibly disappointing. The Ravens knew that they would feel pressure from Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the only way to make up for that would be to pressure Tom Brady. Suggs struggled to do that all game. He finished the post season with zero sacks and had just two tackles in New England.
- Great acquisitions – Adding Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach this offseason proved to be a huge part of the Ravens success this year. Pollard led the Ravens in tackles in this game with seven and even knocked Rob Gronkowski out of the game for a few plays. Leach continued to steam roll defenders and create gaps for Ray Rice and Ricky Williams. Late in the game I felt that Leach was wearing on the weak Patriots defense and wished that the Ravens could afford to stick with the running game more.
- Coaching blunders – It’s hard to argue now, but at the time I wouldn’t have elected to go for it on 4th and 6 at the 33. I know it’s a 50+ yard field goal, but had Cundiff put the ball through the uprights this game would have been completely different. Speaking of which, the Ravens had one remaining timeout that they should have used before Billy Cundiff’s 32 yard potential game tying field goal. Who knows what the extra sixty seconds would have done for the former Pro Bowl kicker, but I know that not calling timeout didn’t work.
Was this the worst Ravens loss in history? I’m too depressed to look back in the archive of disappointing postseason losses. What I do know is that the Orioles style of losing is a lot easier to deal with than this.