For New England fans, it will be interesting to see which play leaps above them all and gets blamed for the loss suffered to the Ravens. There were drops by Wes Welker and Shane Vereen. There were important seconds wasted after Tom Brady ran the ball, slid, and tried to get the team back together to spike the ball. There were two punts inside Baltimore territory, one within 52 yards of the uprights — the same distance Stephen Gostkowski was hitting from during pregame — and one on 4th-and-2. There was the vicious hit from Bernard Pollard straight to Stevan Ridley‘s head that knocked the second-year back unconscious and the ball loose. And of course, there were injuries to Aqib Talib, Chandler Jones, Kyle Love and Rob Gronkowski that kept the team from being at 100 percent.
Like all big losses — and yes, an AFC Championship Game against one of the team’s biggest rivals certainly counts as a big loss — you can’t blame the entire game on on play. Losses come down to a combination of plays that coaches and players would certainly like to have back. But fans generally do break it down to one moment. The one that could rise above them all was the Patriots’ decision nearing the end of the first half to not spend a timeout after Brady slid, and instead have the clock waste down to four seconds, enough time to kick a field goal, but not take a shot at the end zone.
Belichick discussed that play and said he thought the team had enough time to clock the ball, run a play, and still have time for the field goal. That, of course, was not the case.
“I thought we could get up there, or we wanted to try to get up there and clock it and have time to run a play and have the timeout to kick the field goal,” Belichick said after the 28-13 loss to Baltimore. “I guess if we had known that it would take as long as it did to get the ball finally clocked, but then we didn’t get a great look on the play. Tom actually called time out at the same time I did so we just didn’t have it.”
The decision to try to clock the ball, take the timeout instead, and then kick the field goal possibly cost the team four points. The Patriots went up 13-7 at the time, but it was a frustrating end to the half, and since the Ravens deferred, the Patriots weren’t getting the ball back immediately after halftime.
Brady had the same explanation for the bizarre play, where the Patriots’ quarterback seemed to stall for a second before rushing the rest of the team up to the line of scrimmage.
“Well, we had one timeout left so we were trying to save that for the field goal. I would have loved to get the touchdown there, but we settled for the field goal to go up, whatever it was, 13-7 at the half,” said Brady. “We felt pretty good about where we were at halftime, but we just didn’t come out in the second half and execute very well.”
Earlier in the first half, the Patriots drove from their 33-yard line to the Ravens 35, chiefly because of a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty called on Ray Lewis. The Patriots were facing 4th-and-9 and decided to punt, rather than risk the field goal.
Belichick did not think twice about that decision.
“There was no thought of kicking a field goal,” Belichick said.
Obviously the four extra points the Patriots could have had at the end of the half and the three points the team didn’t try for in the first quarter would not have made up the 15-point difference New England lost by. But it’s likely one of those plays that Patriots fans will remember for years to come in hundreds of “what if” scenarios.