Wrapping things up on the final Football Sunday of the Patriots' 2009 season ...
1) Missing Wes: It was pretty clear that Wes Welker's absence left the Patriots offense stuck in the mud. The swiftness with which Welker gets open was mostly certainly absent, with the quarterback holding the ball as a result, and the team failing to gain rhythm and consistency on offense. After the game, safety Ed Reed said that the Patriots were missing their "best player." Not sure that Welker's that, but he's close to the top, and a special talent a lot of people around here underestimated in the last few days.
2) Slacking at the Start: A scout told me this week that when the Ravens get a lead they "start playing faster." That's why the 83-yard touchdown was so valuable for Baltimore. They're very good playing from ahead, and from Play 1 from scrimmage, that's where the Ravens were at. It allowed the defense to go to attack mode. It permitted the offense to protect an injured Joe Flacco. It changed everything.
3) Protecting The Franchise: Terrell Suggs' strip-sack in the first quarter illuminated a protection problem that continued as the game went on. The absence of Welker, as I wrote above, was part of it. But if you look at Suggs' sack, it tells you what you need to know here. That was a three-man rush, and Brady took a five-step drop out of the shotgun. Suggs simply ran past Matt Light to Brady. And that set the tone.
4) K.O. blow: The end of the first half, in my mind, told you what you needed to know. Baltimore got the ball at its own 4 with 2:07 left. The Ravens weren't trying to score. They were trying to protect their 24-7 lead. Six running plays later, the Ravens had two first down and Flacco was taking a knee on first down to run the rest of the clock out. The Patriots knew what Baltimore was doing, and the Ravens simply lined up and beat them. A humbling moment, but moreso a shining example of who the physical team in this one was.
5) A look ahead: Vince Wilfork's a free agent, as are Benjamin Watson and Jarvis Green. Stephen Neal might retire. Welker's got a long rehab road to ahead of him. Brady's going into a contract year. There's simply a lot of intrigue here, and it promises to be an eventful offseason, one way or another.
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