Well...I picked both games right...as both the Ravens and 49ers covered the spreads in their games. But, that's very small consolation. This was indeed a tough loss to take, especially since it came at the hands of the hated Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore embarrassed the Pats by outscoring them, 21-0, in the second half, en route to a 28-13 win. Congratulations to them. I offer no excuses. The Patriots were out-hit, out-played, and out-coached. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: This unit did a fabulous job of moving the football...between the 25 yard lines. But, once in the vicinity of pay dirt, the wheels came off.
1.) QB: Tom Brady has had better games. But, he wasn't as bad as many here appear to be claiming. As stated above, he moved his team well inside the 25 yard lines. But, some costly drops, poor execution in the redzone, and some poor play calling did him in. Perhaps the turning point in the game came on the Pats initial drive in the second half. Facing a 3rd and 8 at the Baltimore 34, Wes Welker dropped a perfectly thrown Brady ball, that would have continued the drive, giving the Pats a first and 10 at the Baltimore 22. THOUGH Brady will never be confused with Colin Kaepernick, his inability to run proved costly, when those opportunities presented themselves. In the 3rd quarter, a pressured Brady also failed to get the ball to a wide open Wes Welker on the right, on a very well set up flanker screen...that could have produced some big yardage. THEN came the 3rd and 2 blues, as the Pats failed to convert on that down and distance on four occasions...three of them coming in the first quarter. The three first quarter failures prevented the Pats from seizing the momentum, and jumping off to a wide early lead. The third quarter 3rd and two failure killed a badly needed scoring drive, as the Pats trailed at the time, 14-13. Here's a listing of the Pats' terrible third and twos: (1) On a 3rd and two from the NE 42 on the Pats' initial drive of the game, Welker failed to haul in a difficult but catchable ball at the Baltimore 20. It was a play eerily similar to the catch he failed to make in SB 46. (2) There was a failure to convert on a 3rd and two from the Baltimore 12 when, for some reason, the Pats called a dive play up the middle to Ridley. Ravens' CB Corey Graham came off the edge on a run blitz, and stopped the play for no gain...ending the drive, and forcing a FG attempt. (3) Another failure to convert on a 3rd and 2 occurred at the Ravens' 45 when Brady threw an low, short, incomplete pass, to Brandon Lloyd. (4) Finally, midway in the 3rd quarter, the Pats were faced with yet another 3rd and 2 from their own 33. Though they seemingly had converted on a 4 yard completion to Danny Woodhead, the play was nullified due to a Nate Solder holding penalty on the hated Terrell Suggs...leading to a punt. FOR the game, Tom completed just 29 of 54 passes for 320 yards, one TD, and two interceptions. Both of those picks came with the Pats trailing, 28-13, in the 4th quarter. The first came on a tipped pass with about 7 minutes remaining in the game, and the last came in the Baltimore redzone, late. GRADE: C-;
2.) RBs: The RBs ran hard and well, on the rare occasion when they had some daylight. Stevan Ridley finished with 18 carries for 70 yards, and a key fumble in the third quarter. But, in fairness to Ridley, that fumble came about on perhaps the hardest, most vicious hit of the season, by that villain of all villains, Bernard Pollard. Ridley was knocked out on the play, as if he had been hit kicked in the head by a mule. Very disappointed that Shane Vereen didn't get more touches, particularly as a receiver. He finished with just 4 carries for 16 yards, and 2 pass receptions for 22 yards. He also suffered a drop in the left flat, in the second half. Danny Woodhead contributed 3 rushes for 11 yards, including a big conversion on a direct snap, on a 4th and one play. He also had one catch for 12 yards...and another, as discussed above, for four yards, that would have picked up a first down on one of the Pats' terrible third and twos...which was nullified due to a Solder holding penalty. GRADE: C;
3.) OL: The Big Uglies had their moments...but not nearly enough of them. They failed to consistently open holes for their RBs...though, for the most part, they afforded their QB adequate protection. As mentioned twice above, a costly holding penalty by Nate Solder killed a 3rd quarter drive. This group also allowed Raven lineman the space to get their hands up and jump on passing plays. This served to block Tom Brady's vision, and clogged his passing lanes with hands and arms. This in turn resulted in two tipped balls, one of which was intercepted. GRADE: C-;
4.) TEs and WRs: Aaron Hernandez played fairly well overall, finishing with 9 catches for 83 yards. But, he wasn't a factor in the redzone, and, for some reason, failed to run out of bounds in the dying seconds of the second quarter, after making a catch to give the Pats a first and 10, at around the Baltimore 15 yard line. This cost the Pats a shot at a TD, which would have put them up at the half, 17-7. Instead, they ran out of time, and had to settle for a FG. No doubt, in this game, Gronk was sorely missed...particularly when the Pats were in the redzone. IT was an up and down day for Wes Welker. Though Wes finished with 8 catches for 117 yards, including a couple of big plays of over 20 yards, he had three costly drops. The aforementioned one in the 3rd quarter really hurt the cause. Brandon Lloyd played well in a supporting role, finishing with 7 catches for 70 yards. GRADE: C;
II. DEFENSE: For the most part, the "D" could not generate any pressure on Ravens' QB, Joe Flacco. The hamstring injury suffered by Aqib Talib at around the 5 minute mark of the first quarter seemed to cripple the Pats' secondary...as physical Ravens' WR Anquan Boldin had a field day in the second half.
1.) DL: When playing against a good QB, especially one blessed with quality receiving options, it's imperative that the DL mount some sort of pressure against that QB. Unfortunately, save for two Rob Ninkovich sacks, the Pats' front line didn't get a whiff of Joe Flacco...and Flacco made the Patriots pay. This group did a decent job of containing Ray Rice and the Ravens' running game, til later in the game. Credit the Ravens' OL for neutralizing Vince Wilfolk...who destroyed them last year. GRADE: C;
2.) LBs: Had their share of trouble with TE Dennis Pitta, and with Ray Rice, on screen passes. Both Jarod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower missed tackles on Rice on his second quarter, two yard TD run. Pretty good job by Brandon Spikes against the run, as he led the team with 11 tackles (6 solos). Mayo had 8 tackles (5 solos), including a beheading of TE Dennis Pitta, in the 3rd quarter. But, Pitta had the last laugh, with 5 chain moving catches for 55 yards, and a TD. GRADE: C;
3.) SECONDARY: Once Aqib Talib went out, this group seemed at the mercy of Flacco, and his receivers. Anquan Boldin, who had been shut out in the first half, was a terror in the second...finishing with 5 catches for 60 yards, two redzone completion TDs, and a 26 yard pass play. Torrey Smith added 4 catches for 69 yards, including a 25 yard play. It was a tale of two halves...as the great majority of the Flacco damage was done post Talib. A questionable PI call on Alfonzo Dennard didn't help the cause, as it got the Ravens out of poor field position, and kick-started a 3rd quarter TD drive. GRADE: D+;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Did a much, much better job of covering kicks...as pro bowl return specialist, Jacoby Jones, was a non-factor. Good job of punt returning by Wes Welker, aided in field position. One costly penalty nullified a decent return, and set the Pats back in poor field position. Good job by "The Ghost", who was 2/2 in FGs. But, frankly, I would have rather seen him disappear today...in a game where TDs, not FGs, are needed. Though Zoltan Mesko's punting average wasn't impressive, he pouch punted several punts, which penned the Buzzards inside their own 15 yard line. GRADE: B+;
IV. COACHING: Not one of BB's finest hours, in more ways than one. Though the offense moved the ball well within the 25 yard lines, they had no answers when they entered the redzone. Too many failures on third and short. A horrible call to run Ridley on a dive play, on a 3rd and two, at the Ravens' 12 yard line, in the first quarter. Where was Shane Vereen? After his great performance last week, I was surprised not to see him lined up more on the outside, as a WR. On defense, the Pats had to revert to that old "bend but don't break" defensive style of play, when they lost Talib. Though the Pats' did succeed in holding down the number of big plays, they weren't able to get any pressure on Joe Flacco...who slowly, methodically, picked their "D" apart. The Talib-less Pats had no answers for Anquan Boldin, in the second half. Disappointing that a team like the Patriots, who pride themselves on practicing "situational football" botched that closing drive in the first half, and had to settle for a FG. It was also disappointing to see so many third and 2 failures. FINALLY, there was boorish Bill's behavior after the game, in failing to appear for the postgame obitiary, always given by the losing coach. No one is, or has been a bigger BB backer than I , over the years. But...really. Childish behavior such as this makes the whole organization look bad: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/bill-belichick-stiffs-cbs-game-shannon-sharpe-rips-034609666--nfl.html. GRADE: C-;
V. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Joe Flacco, for a flawless performance, in which he completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards, and three (3) second half TDs.
VI. PLAY OF THE GAME: The Bernard Pollard hit on RB Stevan Ridley, knocking Ridley out, and causing a fumble. Like you, I can't stand Pollard. But, I must give credit where credit is due.
VII. FINAL COMMENTS: I'm a bit surprised and disappointed by many of the very negative comments I'm reading today...specifically about Tom Brady and Wes Welker. Folks, despite the loss today, Brady is still a great QB. But, at age 35, he needs more help, than perhaps he's needed in the past. He can't run...never really could. But, let's face it, Joe Flacco had better weapons to work with, and a better OL in front of him. He also had a better, more physical, and more experienced "D" backing him up. While I make no excuses, TE Rob Gronkowski is, second to Tom, the most important player on offense. He's a force as a run blocker, a deep threat down the middle, and the best redzone target in the game. Gronk commands constant attention, and would have freed up Wes Welker, Hernandez, and Lloyd, had he been able to play. I'm not saying that the Pats' would have won if they had a healthy Gronk. But, it likely would have been a closer game. As for Wes Welker, I doubt that the Patriots would have won 10 games without his significant contributions. KEEP in mind also that the Pats played Sunday without their best pass-rusher, Chandler Jones, and by far their best CB...Aqib Talib. Y'all saw how Anquan Boldin ran wild in the second half, once Talib had departed. Also, don't discount Julian Edelman, who was blossoming into a star as both a WR and punt returner when he went down, late in the season. TO win a championship, a team has to be both good, AND lucky. The 2012 Patriots were good, but they were not lucky...injury-wise. FINALLY, let's give some credit to the opposition, the Ravens. Not every team that the Patriots play are the Washington Generals! Other teams have good players, and good coaches, too. Credit the Ravens for taking advantage of the Pats' loss of Talib, and for shutting the Pats down cold in the redzone. Credit them for playing hard, hitting even harder, and for playing well. The Pats will be back strong next year and, if their best players can stay healthy, they will be capable of beating anyone.
Here are the games stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=330120017.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.