It's now up to John Lackey and the Bruins to salvage what's left of 2013. And you thought Boston sports fans were spoiled.
In a sense, they are.
For instance, how great is this?
Last year, it was Gisele going after the Patriots' wide receivers for their inability to "catch the damn ball" after New England's loss to the Giants.
This time, we've got former Hooters' girl Anna Burns Welker, the wife of Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who wants her Facebook pals to check out Ray Lewis' backstory in the wake of New England's 28-13 loss in the AFC Championship Game.
Here's what she posted:
"Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids, 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay! What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"
Sore loser? Perhaps. But there might be a greater motive here.
First, Lewis actually pled guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against the two men accused of killing Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. The charges against Lewis were dropped and no one was convicted in the murder, which occurred in Atlanta after Super Bowl XXXIV. But enough of that.
This is a major PR move by Mrs. Welker. She's trying to earn back some of the good graces from the partisans in Patriot Nation. Many are still irate at her hubby for his second-straight championship-crushing drop, this one coming on a 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens' 34-yard line with the Patriots driving in the third quarter 13-7 Sunday. Could Mrs. Welker be sending a signal that her hubby would be happy with another franchise tag this year?
Patriots' fans should hope so.
It's hard to imagine Robert Kraft writing the Welkers a check for $11.4 million (the mandated cost if they were to franchise him again this year) after the outcome of Sunday's game. Nor is it conceivable that the Patriots would be able to out bid intra-conference rivals like the Jets (who are still way over the cap), the Colts or Bengals (who are way under the cap) if Wes becomes an unrestricted free aganet. Does Wes want to be here next season so much he's willing to take one of those vaunted Patriot Discounts to do so? That will be the most compelling question facing the Patriots this offseason.
Welker took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bernard Pollard Sunday that cost the Ravens 15 yards. But it might have rattled Welker for the rest of the day. But he also had 11 drops during the regular season, according to ESPN, long before Pollard's hit.
Maybe Mrs. Welker is just pissed that her hubby cost himself a potential $10 or $15 million in the free-agency market by that drop. Aside from not making the catch that set the Ravens off to their victorious march, Welker was spectacular Sunday. He caught eight of the 12 balls thrown to him for 117 yards and a touchdown. He remains the focal point of New England's offense, even when "Gonk" is healthy. Again, Welker is so important to New England that when he doesn't make a play, it might cost them a title.
As far as Welker's status, he was non-committal. “I’m really not worried about it at all,” Welker said. “This is a tough loss and I’m just trying to get over it at the moment. Like I said, I’m not worried about any of it.”
But this loss wasn't all on Welker.
The Patriots were outhit, outplayed, outsmarted and outhustled by the Ravens, who topped this off with zero turnovers. Once again, the Patriots' high-flying offense met a defense that wasn't afraid of anything and hit back. Virtually every loss this team has suffered in the past five seasons has followed that template ending in scores in the 20s or teens, including both Super Bowl defeats to the Giants, Sunday's game and the loss to the Jets in the playoffs two years ago.
Even on the key third-down passes that failed, the lingering results of the Ravens' non-stop pounding could be seen on the receiver who often just a step or two short. More numbers: the Patriots were 1 for 4 in the red zone scoring touchdowns, the ravens were 4 for 4. Yes, they missed "Gonk."
The Patriots blinked at every key opportunity - starting with the ridiculous fake fake-punt in the first quarter and ending with Tom Brady's "don't hit me dive" at the feet of Haloti Ngata in the fourth quarter. It's obvious Brady flinched there. Who can blame Brady for not wanted be crushed by the 340-pound Ngata? But there was also a chance he could have beaten Ngata to the first-down line before taking the hit since he was running away from the gigantic end.
By the way, it's no wonder why Mayor Menino botched the name of No. 75 the other day considering that neither Vince Willcott, Wilcock or Wilfork bothered to show up Sunday. Wilfork had zero solo tackles Sunday, which is only three fewer that he had in last year's Super Bowl. Please remember that when you're trying to line up big-game goats on this team.
The Patriots failed on key third downs when they had the ball and - during the Ravens' 12:59, 21-unanswered-points drive to victory - failed to stop the Ravens when they had to. Throw in a few key Brady interceptions and an earth-shattering hit on Stevan Ridley by Bernard Pollard that forced a fumble, and the Patriots were basically blown out of it in the the second half. The Harbaugh brothers' led teams outscored their opposition combined 35-0 on the road in the second half Sunday. They are worthy of being called the best family in football at this moment.
Unlike those gut-wrenching Super Bowl losses to the Giants that were decided on pivotal plays like David Tyree catching the ball off his head or Eli Manning finding Mario Manningham on desperation drive, this loss was built on a foundation of bad plays and soft play. The journey to defeat Sunday began with Welker's drop on with 10:11 left in the third quarter. After that incompletion, the Patriots were faced with a 4th-and-8 from the Ravens' 34. A 49-yard field goal attempt was out of the question.
Earlier in the game, the Patriots inexplicably tried and then untried a fake punt that had caught the Ravens clueless. The end result of that play was Baltimore using a first-half timeout. Whoopie! Going for it on 4th-and-7 might seem unreasonable, but some of us believed even at that time it would have been the right call. During this game, the Patriots punted from the Balitmore 34, 35 and 42-yard line. Two of those punts resulted in touchdown drives by the Ravens (the third resulted in a Baltimore punt). The Patriots played this game not to lose, as opposed to playing to win.
The Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI by hitting Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and the rest of the "Grestest Show on Turf" in the face from the first possession. It had nothing to do with whatever may have been attained from "SpyGate." The foundation of New England's Super Bowl winning teams - eight years and counting now - was the same type of defense that the Ravens employed so successfully on Sunday. No doubt, Brady was an essential ingredient, but these Super Bowl-championship teams were built to win around the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison as much as No. 12. Brady can't do this on his own. He never has. A healthy Gonk and another deep threat would also help get this team to Met Life Stadium in February of 2014 for Super Bowl XLVIII, not to mention better special teams play and more reliable kicker when it counts.
The Patriots make strides in correcting that problem in last year's draft and with the acquisition of Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay. The loss of Talib in the second quarter was crucial Sunday. Once he was gone, Joe Flacco, who played flawlessly if not brilliantly, was able to pick apart the Patriots with high balls thrown deep from the shotgun and perfect passes to tight end Dennis Pitta underneath. Without Talib around to handle Anquan Boldin, it was free money for Flacco and the Ravens downfield.
Of course, after the loss, Bill Belichick was shameless in defeat, refusing a contractually obligated interview with CBS. The rule is simple: if you talk when you win, you talk when you lose. Let Terrell Suggs ramble on like an idiot after the game. He won. He's earned that right. The essence of professionalism (sportsmanship no longer matters) is acting in a way that befits your position without letting too much emotion get in the way. Belichick's act of being straight-laced, somber and predictable each week is fun to watch. But he can't bail when they lose. Belichick told everyone he'd be back to kick around next season. Again, more good news.
The Patriots also need a few Bernard Pollards on their roster. This isn't a call for dirty play as much as it is a call for ruthless play. There's a difference and the Ravens carried it off for the most part Sunday. Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower are a nice start. Pollard ended the 2008 season with his dirty hit on Brady as a member of the Chiefs, tackled Wes Welker in 2010 as a member of the Texans after Welker twisted his knee (clean hit) and gonged heads with Stevan Ridley Sunday as a Raven (another clean hit), causing that crushing fumble at the start of the fourth quarter that squashed any momentum the Patriots may have regained in this game.
They also need Welker out of the slot. And having the attitude of his wife probably wouldn't hurt either.
The Bruins beat the Jets 2-1 Monday in a shootout.
That's a good start.
Pitchers and catchers report in 25 days.
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