Brady, Patriots overwhelmed by Ravens
FOXBOROUGH -- Disaster had always stayed foreign to these Patriots, some evil force that only other teams needed worry about. They might not win. They would never collapse and embarrass themselves. They would never let five minutes unravel their entire season.
And then today came, and the Baltimore Ravens swaggered into Gillette Stadium, and disaster struck. The Patriots allowed a touchdown on the first snap. Their crowd booed them. Tom Brady crumbled. In their first playoff game of the new decade, the Patriots may have lost hold of the final shreds of the dynastic mystique they created in the last one.
The Ravens ended the Patriots season with a 33-14 victory that will not be remembered for the final margin but for the stunned silence that pervaded Gillette by the end of the first quarter. The Ravens outscored the Patriots 24-0 in the opening period, overwhelming them with brute force on offense and defense. The final three quarters were little more than calisthenics.
"We didn't come to play, point blank," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "We never had a chance from the first play to the last play. We didn't even play like it was a playoff game. More like a preseason game. We got beat up today. For them to come in here and do what they did, they could basically have been playing out there with a JV football team and they probably would have given a better effort than we did."
The mauling Ravens defense made Brady their primary target, stripping him once and intercepting three of his passes. In his return to the postseason after spending 2008 sidelined by a knee injury, Brady lost in Foxborough for the first time since Nov. 12, 2006 and lost in the playoffs at home for the first time in nine games.
The Patriots had not lost at home in the postseason since Dec. 31, 1978, and you would also need to scour the annals to find such a thorough defeat. The Ravens held the Patriots to 218 yards while Ray Rice ran for 159 himself. Baltimore needed quarterback Joe Flacco to produce only 34 yards passing to score 33 points.
The effort underscored a trying season for the Patriots, who won the AFC East but endured more turmoil than in any recent season. They fought injuries, uncommon insubordination in the locker room, and won only one true road game.
"It's not like we were 2-14," Brady said. "We're not at that stage. There's things that show up over the course of the year that we didn't do very well. A lot of things that are why we've been successful -- mental toughness, and leadership, discipline, and commitment. All those things we displayed at times, and we didn't display at other times."
Their play today ensured they could immediately begin fixing the problems for next season. The question all week was how the Patriots would play without Wes Welker. The Ravens, not long after Welker used crutches to walk out for the coin toss, announced that the Patriots' problems ran much deeper than that.
On the very first snap of the game, Joe Flacco handed off to the dynamite-legged Rice. He squirmed behind right guard Marhsal Yanda, who collapsed linebacker Gary Guyton into a pile of bodies. Rice darted into the secondary, cut to the left, and only green turf lay ahead. He outran safety Brandon Meriweather to the pylon and the flexed his right bicep.
Things could not get worse for the Patriots, and then they did. On their third offensive play, Terrell Suggs wheeled around left tackle Matt Light and swatted at Brady's hand as he cocked to throw. The ball popped loose, and Suggs fell on it at the Patriots' 16. The crowd turned speechless.
The Ravens ran the ball five times, Le'Ron McClain plunging through a gaping hole from the 1 to finish off the drive. Four minutes and 31 seconds into the game, the Patriots trailed 14-0.
"We were flat," running back Kevin Faulk said.
Things could not get worse for the Patriots, and then they did. Both teams went three-and-out, and the Patriots took over at their own 14. Three plays into their possession, Brady scrambled to his right and fired a pass in the general direction of Sam Aiken. The only player close to the ball was Ravens safety Chris Carr, who caught it.
On their possession, the Ravens needed five plays before the ball was back at the 1-yard line. This time, Rice plowed in over left guard Ben Grubbs. The Ravens had taken a 21-0 lead.
"You can't explain it," linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. "Everything that could have went wrong for us and went right for them happened."
Things could not get worse for the Patriots, and then they did. Two plays into their ensuing drive, Brady threw a fade pattern to Aiken, one of the receivers charged with replacing Welker's invaluable contribution. Aiken tipped the ball, and Ed Reed, the safety Bill Belichick regards as the NFL's best, snared it. After a nifty lateral by Reed, the Ravens had the ball at the 16.
Billy Cundiff added a field goal to make the count an amazing 24-0. The Patriots had allowed 24 points in a quarter, more than any Patriots team ever had in the postseason.
"You definitely don't imagine that," linebacker Adalius Thomas said.
The Patriots recaptured a sliver of hope at the beginning of the second quarter. The Ravens forced a Patriots punt, and Chris Hanson skied a kick down the right sideline. Tom Zbikowski, looking to block, let the ball bounce off his back. It rolled away, and special teams ace Kyle Arrington corralled it on the sideline. Watching replays, it seemed Arrington never controlled the ball before falling out of bounds. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not challenge the play, and the Patriots maintained possession at the Baltimore 16.
On third and goal from the 6, Brady scrambled, pursued again by a ferocious pass rush. Running to his right, Brady zipped a pass to Edelman in the end zone. Edelman leaped up and emphatically spiked the ball. Welker gave owner Robert Kraft a high-five in the owner's box.
The temporary momentum could not overcome the hideous facts. At halftime, the Patriots had 61 total yards net. So did Kevin Faulk.
The Patriots injected more life into their season in third quarter, when Brady hit Edelman on another short touchdown pass, this time to the left. By reputation, the Patriots could not be counted out. At the end of the third quarter, Jets safety Kerry Rhodes sent a Tweet that read "New England is gonna make it tight."
Reputations don't score points or tackle running backs. The Ravens pounded home another touchdown on their first touchdown possession of the fourth quarter. The Patriots ran no-huddle offense to the other end of the field. (Randy Moss, walking back to the line, had to be urged by a teammate to hurry up.) But Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal, and the crowd's exodus commenced.
"I'm disappointed the way we finished the season," coach Bill Belichick said. "There really isn't too much to say. They did everything better than we did."
On the game's second to last play, Brady scrambled away from a pass rusher and threw the ball away so he wouldn't have to take another hit. It would be the last pass he threw this season. Brady stared off, into the offseason and a future where nothing for his team was certain anymore.
"It was a different team this year," Brady said afterward. "It was a different team."