About eight months to the day from the Patriots' miracle
23-20 win over the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, this time Baltimore's kicker was actually able to
split the uprights — well, at least officially.
One point ended up being the difference between a win and
loss for the Patriots on Sunday. Football fans everywhere will scream
bloody murder at the officiating — if you wish to call it that — but this loss
falls squarely on the shoulders of the 46 guys who took the field for New
Sure, there were some phantom pass-interference calls,
questionable holding penalties and, of course, the ever-controversial
last-second kick that went over the goal post. But no amount of poor officiating could steal the
responsibility of Sunday's loss away from the Patriots' players.
Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense had plenty of
opportunities to close out a well-deserved win, but a lack of
efficiency on the Patriots' final two drives resulted in handing the
ball back to the Ravens.
A couple of short passes and a monster sack by a pair of
Ravens linemen were the difference between solidifying the W and putting the fate of the game
in Joe Flacco's hands — an opportunity he both reveled and thrived in.
The New England defense couldn't do anything to stop the onslaught,
Devin McCourty, who seemed to have rediscovered his coverage
skills this season, was exposed time and again as he squared off against the speed and strength of Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and even Jacoby Jones. The Patriots' secondary allowed Flacco to chew up 118 of his absurd 382 passing yards during the Ravens' final two possessions — a shameful amount.
The defensive backs didn't help their case any by dropping sure interceptions at different times throughout the game, including two from McCourty and one fourth-quarter miscue by a stumbling Kyle Arrington. Those were prime opportunities squandered in big moments. And then, of course, McCourty's pass interference penalty, which set up the game-winning kick, capped off a night of errors and missed opportunities.
At least the players held themselves accountable in the end, though, knowing this loss was on them.
"It's the National Football League," McCourty said of his less-than-desirable performance. "If you go out there with no
confidence, you'll see a worse display than what I played out there."
Ouch. Self-criticizing can be tough. But sometimes it's just necessary.
Brady wasn't shying away from the blame after the loss,
either, putting the emphasis for the defeat on a lack of conversions in key moments by both himself and his teammates.
"We just don't play well when we need to," a
visibly frustrated Brady said after the game.
That seems to be the trend that these Patriots have suffered from for a few years now. Last year's AFC Championship victory was as much a win by the Patriots as it was a loss by the Ravens. Unlike New England's first four Super Bowl appearances, last year's felt somewhat illegitimate.
Something just feels off in New England.
The Patriots haven't possessed a true killer instinct in quite some time, maybe dating all the way back to that nearly magical 2007 season. Brady still shows the fiery desire to win, but it doesn't appear to be that same "whatever it takes" mentality. Bill Belichick continues to be as prepared and steady as any coach in the NFL, and he definitely doesn't like losing (that was made quite apparent by his demeanor during Sunday's postgame press conference). But maybe there's a stubbornness that's keeping the ultimate goal beyond arm's reach.
The reality in New England isn't that Belichick, Brady and company have lost their fastball — to use some baseball lingo — or that the passion isn't burning as hot as it once did. Rather, it's just to note that the big moments that the Patriots used to live for and excel in now appear to be their Achilles' heel.
The Patriots still have plenty of desirable assets, especially when talking about the characteristics of a Super Bowl contender. But for some reason, this team leaves a feeling that plenty is left to be desired.