Note: Through a content-sharing partnership with Sports Illustrated and SI.com, occasional articles and information from the magazine and its website will be used on Boston.com. Here is some Patriots-related commentary from Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column.
By Peter King
On the Patriots' loss to the Ravens, in his "What Caught My Eye" segment:
It wasn't that close. New England was woefully outmatched on both sides of the ball for the first time in a playoff game in the Belichick Era. I think there's trouble in Red Sox City, but the team is certainly salvageable. Tom Brady was a shadow of himself and played the worst big game of his career, inaccurate and seemingly not willing to run because of his myriad injuries. The mismanaged receiving corps (going back to Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis as the offseason solutions instead of keeping the redoubtable Jabar Gaffney) was too hurt to be a factor. But New England is too smart, with too many draft picks and too good a coach and quarterback, to be saying this is the end of an era. It's not.
Now, as for the Ravens, I was hugely impressed with their defensive game plan and the fact they could win without hip-hampered Joe Flacco being any sort of factor. They could do that because the defense played like the Ravens of old, with Ray Lewis (13 tackles), Jarret Johnson, Dwan Edwards, Domonique Foxworth, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs taking turns making big plays. "One of our emphases this week was the middle of their line,'' said Johnson, the hybrid end/linebacker who is vital to what the Ravens do. "Not so much we saw a weakness, but Tom does such a good job sliding out of the way, that we felt like if we could get him off his spot his accuracy would go way down. I thought [defensive coordinator] Greg Mattison had a great game, mixing up the calls, not being afraid to turn it loose against Brady. He can be a scary guy to turn it loose against. Greg did a good job of staying persistent, mixing up his blitzing. I think we shocked 'em early, kind of like a fighter who gets hit early and stunned.''
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On the Ravens' failure to challenge Kyle Arrington's recovery of a muffed punt. Replays showed that the Patriots didn't have control of the ball as he slid out of bounds:
A major gaffe by the Ravens. On the New England punt, the ball hit Baltimore's Tom Zbikowski in the back and was recovered by Patriot Kyle Arrington as he slid out of bounds. The rules for possession call for Arrington to maintain possession as he falls to the ground, and every replay showed the ball coming dislodged as Arrington slid.
I spoke with Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who told me the coaches upstairs are responsible for telling him whether to throw his challenge flag (most teams handle it this way) and they never saw the replay we saw at home. "Our coaches upstairs told me they saw the punt hit Zibby a couple of times on replay but they never saw enough to alert me to make a challenge,'' Harbaugh said. "I'm disappointed, but in the heat of battle, sometimes that happens.''
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On Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his admiration of Ted Williams:
I wrote last week about Drew Brees sitting in Week 17 and setting the NFL record for the most accurate passing season (70.62 percent, beating Ken Anderson's 70.55 percent in 1982), which was mindful to some of the 1941 baseball season. Ted Williams was batting .399955 (.400, because the average would have been rounded up) entering a doubleheader on the last day of the season, and his manager gave him the option of sitting, and Williams said he'd play, and he went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader and finished with a .406 average. It's the last time a player ever hit .400.
I was with Brees in New Orleans Thursday night and asked him about it, and a pained expression came over his face. He wears number 9 because he grew up idolizing Ted Williams. When he was drafted by the Chargers, he moved into his first house because it was on Ted Williams Way. I can tell you he's still conflicted about setting the record the way he did -- but understands he couldn't have done anything about it.
Turns out that on the day after Minnesota lost to Chicago in Week 16, clinching home-field advantage for the Saints, Sean Payton called Brees into his office and told him he wasn't going to play in the season's final game at Carolina. You know -- it's the whole thing about resting starters, avoiding injury, giving other guys a chance to play. Later that day, doing a media interview, Brees was told that, though he and Anderson were both at 70.6, if the figure were taken out to the next decimal place, Brees' number was better, and thus he was ahead of Anderson.
Brees didn't want to spill the beans about Payton's lineup plan, so he said nothing. But he said he got a terrible feeling right then.
"I immediate thought of Ted Williams going into the last day of the '41 season batting .399995, or whatever it was,'' Brees said, "and I thought, 'If I don't play, I'm letting Teddy down.' ''
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King rates the Patriots' 11th in this team rankings:
11. New England (10-7). Four turnovers yielded 20 Baltimore points. End of story.
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A couple of items from his '10 Things I Think I Think' segment: