First-and-10 at midfield. Your team is up 23-20. Your defense just turned the momentum with a huge interception. Your best offense all day has been on the ground or through short-to-intermediate passes. This is the scenario … and you try a long bomb? To Matthew Slater?! With two guys deep in coverage?! Is Plax playing defense?!
Somehow, this decision and the resulting interception didn’t prove catastrophic for the Patriots, but it should have. Considering that a couple of first downs at the very least would have drained the clock (there was 7:22 on the clock when Tom Brady took that snap) and set up at the very worst a field goal that would have required the Ravens to score a touchdown, a 50-yard bomb to Slater (one catch this season … one catch ever in his four NFL seasons) was the dumbest possible decision the Patriots could have made. It would have been better to let Brady sneak in a punt again.
Maybe Bill O’Brien was eager to get a jump on his Penn State game-planning. Maybe Bill Belichick suffered from temporary dyslexia and memory loss and thought Slater’s No. 18 jersey belonged to a certain man named Randy. I don’t know exactly, but if the Patriots had lost this game, a failed 50-yard bomb to Matthew Slater would have been to blame.
However it didn’t end up being costly, because the defense bailed out Brady’s offense. And there’s a sentence none of us expected to see on Monday morning.
Alas, that was the story after the game. The offense didn’t pull its weight, and the bend-and-break-but-somehow-come-up-with-timely-stops defense did just enough to help the Patriots eke out the 23-20 victory.
Let’s get into more on that, and all the other leftover thoughts.
–Tom Brady’s done a lot of great things in his career, but he may have topped them all by getting on live TV after the game and saying, “Well, I sucked pretty bad today.”
–Out of respect for the Cundiff family, I’ll take it easy on Billy Cundiff. However, reaching out and putting your hand over the camera lens like you’re a bald Britney Spears lashing out at the paparazzi is weak. If you’d gladly accept the cameras in your face as you celebrate, you have to let them zoom in after you fail. That’s how these things work, Billy.
–While Cundiff missed the gimme, it was Lee Evans who lost the game for the Ravens. It’s not surprising, either. He had four catches and no touchdowns all year … and he’s a former Bill. Do you really want a once-great Buffalo Bill deciding the fate of your season? It’s not an organization known for coming through in the clutch.
–The other late-game name was Sterling Moore, and all credit in the world goes to him for knocking the ball out of Evans’ hands and
holding the crap out of covering Dennis Pitta on the ensuing third down. Still, if he doesn’t let Torrey Smith run right through his arm tackle for that third-quarter touchdown, then the Patriots would have never been in that mess.
–It caused at least a minor stir when Bernard Polllard told reporters that Joe Flacco was the best quarterback on the field on Sunday, but it shouldn’t have. Flacco was better just about any way you cut it. Brady was skittish for much of the afternoon, and at times you had to wonder if the Ravens were in his head.
–Then again, there were times when Brady stood tall in the pocket and delivered a Brady-esque pass, so it’s not as if he was terrible. He just, you know, has set some high standards over the years. And in a way, that’s good news, because I’d put the odds of Brady having two consecutive bad games around 90-to-1.
–Oh, and he also did this, getting torpedoed by Ray Lewis in the process, which is kind of a boss thing to do.
–The defense gets dogged for being awful, but Vince Wilfork disagrees. He played like a man hell-bent on winning a Super Bowl, doing every single thing a defensive lineman can do, and he embarrassed poor Ben Grubbs to the point where I expected to see Sandra Bullock walk onto the field and let Wilfork know that nobody messes with her movie son’s teammate. No, Wilfork didn’t have any interceptions, but he was an absolute monster. Worth every penny. Time for some hugs.
–I use this space often to make jokes at the expense of the broadcast crew, but I’ll tell you, after Pollard (who in the past has single-handedly murdered Brady’s and Wes Welker‘s knees, obviously) landed directly on Rob Gronkowski‘s ankle, I thought Jim Nantz absolutely nailed the call.
“My gosh,” Nantz said in a hushed tone. “It’s Pollard again.”
–At that point, when it looked like Gronkowski’s ankle was broken, my first thought was, “Well, they might win this game, but they’re not winning the Super Bowl.” Then he returned to the game for Brady’s epic touchdown front flip, proving once again that he’s not a human being, so those fears can be extinguished.
–Before we advance any further in this column, let’s stop to get some lessons on football and life from Mr. Gronkowski.
“It’s a team game every single game. … It takes everyone to play good.”
“You don’t beat the Baltimore Ravens with just no one playing good.”
–I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again because it’s so vital: Wes Welker knows where the fake yellow line is on the field at all times. On third-and-8 in the second quarter, Brady hit Welker for 9. On third-and-7 early in the fourth, Brady hit Welker for 8. The first conversion led to BenJarvus Green-Ellis‘ touchdown, while the second led to Brady’s rushing touchdown.
Welker’s final line of six catches for 53 yards isn’t eye-popping, but it’s crucial plays like that which allow teams to win championship games.
–Twitter crashed (for me, at least) for the entire second half and beyond. I handled this news better than I would have expected. It all feeds into my thought that Twitter, despite immensely adding to live sports experiences with live news and commentary, might be taking away from that experience just as much. I think back to some of the great sports memories I have, or anyone has, and there was no Twitter. And yet, they’re still great memories.
I don’t know what I’m getting at. This is what happens when Twitter goes down during the AFC Championship Game. You get idiots trying to make sense of the world.
–Would someone get Steven Tyler off the damn stage during the trophy presentation? Why are musical guests treated like kings when they visit Foxboro? And how confused does Brady look to be talking with him? Brady’s smile says “I’m happy to be talking with you,” but his body position and eyes say, “Who the hell is this lady?”
–I absolutely loved John Harbaugh‘s response when asked if he felt the game was taken away from the Ravens. Harbaugh was obviously crushed and angry and disappointed, and like any coach, he probably would have liked a replay review after Evans’ drop. But he wasn’t making any excuses.
“No, no, you know, I think that’s the way football goes,” Harbaugh said. “I am not saying anything. If we had played a little bit better, made another play or two, we would have won the football game.”
That is the blueprint for how every player, coach and executive should act. Thank you, John.
–I like Julian Edelman as a player. I appreciate his scrappiness as a defender, and all of that, but there was way too much Julian Edelman on defense in this game. Way too much. If the Ravens had an offensive coordinator who wasn’t named Cam Cameron, they’d have won by two touchdowns.
–I don’t understand why the Patriots didn’t challenge the Gronkowski catch along the sideline. In live speed, it seemed like a catch, and replay confirmed it rather convincingly. It might have been a four-point decision, as it would have set up a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
–And for the life of me, I don’t know how Brady missed a wide-open Gronkowski on third-and-10 from the 17, after Ed Reed guessed wrong and left the 6-foot-6 behemoth all alone for an easy score.
–I’m having even more trouble figuring out why Brady tried forcing a pass to Edelman that resulted in a Lardarius Webb interception. I think Brady needs to start playing playoff games on the road. He hasn’t looked right in a lot of these playoff games (Denver thrashing excluded).
–On the positive end of things, isn’t it nice when the two tight ends, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, combine for 12 catches and 153 yards and it’s considered a quiet day?
–I write a picks column every week, and I had my worst season this year. I picked the Patriots as 7.5-point favorites in this one, but about 20 minutes after I published that pick I knew I’d lose. That was the moment I saw the Ravens only allowed 11 passing touchdowns all year long.
–I also found that the Jets only allowed 15 passing touchdowns this year, with Brady throwing four of them. That’s 27 percent in just 12.5 percent of the games. That has nothing to do with anything, but it’s always fun to point out dominance of the Jets.
–Remember when Torrey Smith did this to Devin McCourty?
–Overall, it was an outstanding job by the officials, who let the teams play. Though why Al Riveron went to great lengths to explain that Dannell Ellerbe pulled at the back of Green-Ellis’ face mask when replay showed he ripped, you know, the guy’s face mask, I’ll never know.
–In the end, though, Green-Ellis wins, because he gets to hang this picture in his home office.
—Drew Bledsoe handing off the trophy was stupendous, but not nearly as amazing as the awkward kiss he shared with Robert Kraft. That’s what live television is all about — a former franchise quarterback unsure whether he’s doing a one-cheek kiss or a double-cheek kiss and getting rejected right in front of our faces.
–OK, here’s something for the Spygate people. Now, I wasn’t at this game, so I don’t know if it’s done this way on every field goal or not, but I noticed that the video board behind the end zone remained on with a live feed of the kick when the Ravens were kicking. During one of Stephen Gostkowski‘s attempts, the video board showed a generic dark screen with a Patriots logo, not live video.
It’s more distracting if you look up to visualize your kick and you see live video, right? Cue The Twilight Zone theme!
–Do the close-up shots of stunned and saddened Ravens count as excessive celebration? What if you go back and watch Terrell Suggs say “Ohhhhhhhhhh myyyyyyyyyy Goooodddddddd” in slow motion?
–Some stats on Brady: It was the first playoff game in which he didn’t throw a touchdown since the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh in the 2001 season, a game that he left early due to injury. The only other playoff game in which Brady did not throw a touchdown was the Snow Bowl against Oakland that same year. That was a stretch that lasted 18 playoff games, ending two shy of the immortal gunslinger, Brett Favre.
The rushing touchdown was also just the third postseason rushing touchdown of Brady’s career, and his first since the ’04 playoffs. Impossibly, those three rushing touchdowns rank third in Patriots history, behind only Curtis Martin (5) and Corey Dillon (4).
Brady also tied Joe Montana (the real one) with 16 playoff wins, most all time.
–Something tells me Joe Montana Flacco did not appreciate this love tap from Skinny Vinny.
–There were a lot of plays in this game, obviously, but the one that stood out to me was the key fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter. Jerod Mayo lined up on the right end, as Ray Rice ran an out route to the opposite side of the field. Mayo had a ton of ground to make up and he’s obviously not as fast as Rice and gets called out for his pass coverage, but his effort on this play was just phenomenal. He got close enough to Rice to take away the option for Joe Montana Flacco, who ended up just heaving the ball out of bounds and turning the ball over on downs.
It set up the Patriots to just need one or two first downs to clinch the victory, but the offense went three-and-out. Still, if the Patriots had indeed lost this game, I’d have pointed to this play as evidence that you wouldn’t have been able to blame the defense.
–One thing that was reinforced on Sunday: The idea that Patriots-Ravens was all about white vs. black was an even dumber storyline than I had originally anticipated.
–Raise your hand if you knew that Brandon Spikes was capable of doing this (sorry for the poor quality, but that is Brandon Spikes just catching a pass with one hand):
–I was watching Belichick’s postgame news conference, and I swear, I thought the man was going to break down and cry. He definitely seemed more emotional than ever before, particularly after a game that wasn’t the Super Bowl. I think he’s getting a little more reflective in his old age (he turns 60 in a few months), and I think he’s genuinely moved by the way the players are rallying around the memory and spirit of Myra Kraft.
Fortunately, though, a reporter asked a question he didn’t really like, so he snapped right back into BB/Darth Vader mode.
–But seriously, have you ever seen a man looked so pensive as he stares through a whirlwind of confetti?
–My brother has dubbed this postseason the Tom Brady Revenge Tour™. He knocked off the Broncos, the team that handed him his first ever playoff loss. Then he knocked out the Ravens, who handed him his worst postseason loss (19 points) and first home playoff loss. Now, there’s one more stop, and that’s knocking off the Giants, who allegedly beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl in February 2008. I don’t remember that one, I must have been doing something else. Regardless, I hear there may be a revenge factor at play in two weeks.
–Kraft seemingly did a one-on-one interview with just about every reporter who wanted one, and every single time, he was asked about his late wife. He answered all of those questions so effortlessly and graciously. He’s a fairly amazing person, and if the Patriots do go on to win this whole thing, there are going to be some tears shed from coast to coast.
–I also think the players are fully committed to the Krafts, and Green-Ellis’ pointing to the “MHK” patch after scoring a touchdown was just one indication of that.
“It’s all about Mr. Kraft,” Mayo said after the win. “You know who we’re doing it for. One more. Sixty more minutes.”
–In the immediate aftermath of the game, I somehow missed the meeting of Brady and Belichick on the field after the game, but thankfully, football insomnia led me to watch the late local news.
Brady, who’s harder on himself than any other athlete I’ve ever seen, looked almost ashamed to meet his coach.
“I’m gonna redeem myself,” Brady promised, “in two weeks.”