The Ravens were so close to scoring the game-tying field goal and going into overtime against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. They were even closer to scoring a game-winning touchdown that would have sent them to the Super Bowl.
But that did not happen. Billy Cundiff was not even close to making the field goal that soared wide left. Lee Evans flat out dropped what should have been the game-winning touchdown.
Their teammates will probably say the right things and do their best to not blame Cundiff and Evans. But these two men have to know the truth. This was a very good game by the Ravens, but it was little mistakes like theirs that lost the game.
Joe Flacco has taken so much criticism for his performance this season, a lot of it unnecessary. He technically did better than Tom Brady yesterday, as Flacco threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns. His main mistake yesterday was a late interception. He can not be blamed for some of the terrible drops by his receivers today.
For allowing 23 points, the Ravens defense did a good job yesterday. Amazingly Brady did not throw a touchdown because both of the Patriots rushing touchdowns came on the ground. Brady had two interceptions and the defense recovered a fumbled kickoff to give the Ravens a 3-1 edge in the turnover battle.
Still this game will be remembered for missed opportunities. In the fourth quarter alone, the Ravens had three comeback attempts that all failed. In the end though this game just wasn't meant to be, and all that's left for Ravens' fans is to find a way to deal with this horrifying loss.
What I Liked
Dennis Pitta had a breakthrough game. He had five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. It seemed whenever Flacco was looking for someone, Pitta seemed to be one of his first reads.
Pitta has slowly become a reliable target in the passing game and he had been really heating up towards the end of the regular season. Although he started the season as the clear number two tight end to Ed Dickson, he has become a more important part of the offense—similar to how the Patriots use their two-tight end system. It's encouraging to see his improvement this season and he should be an exciting player next year.
Jimmy Smith had a highlight reel for the ages with his fourth quarter interception. Somehow he was able to grab the ball just prior to it hitting the ground. He then picked it up and ran nearly 30 yards back.
That was Smith's only notable play as he failed to record a tackle. Still it was a great play and it totally justified his selection in the first round of this draft. Smith should also be an exciting player next season, maybe even in a starting role.
What I Didn't Like
This was the biggest game of the season and a terrible time for Ray Rice to not play well. The Patriots' defense did have an excellent game plan, but still Rice majorly disappointed. Rice finished with only 67 rushing yards and 11 receiving yards, which for a player of his magnitude is really disappointing.
Rice will certainly get a ton of money since he is a free agent next season. There is no way the Ravens would let him go this season after he finished second in the league with rushing yards. He should be back and better than ever.
So much is going to be said about Billy Cundiff this offseason. It's a shame because for the most part he's a great kicker that doesn't deserve it. In fact, prior to today it could be argued that when healthy, Cundiff is one of the best kickers in the AFC.
Well that is over forever. Cundiff is now the Scott Norwood of his generation and sadly his career will forever be associated with this miss. It's early, but now I think there is no way he will ever be a Raven again or that he even kicks in the NFL again.
The other player that needs to be mentioned is Lee Evans. He will also receive a ton of blame for this loss, although some of it is undeserved. He had his best game of the season catching three catches for 39 yards.
All of his catches were excellent too. It's a shame it came down to the one catch that he didn't make. Much like T.J. Houshmandzadeh last season, Evans will have to wonder if the Ravens want him back after an agonizing playoff drop.
This is such a crippling way for the Ravens' season to end. There was so much promise for this team. With the things that were falling into place, this was their best chance to win a Super Bowl. Who knows if they will ever come close with John Harbaugh as coach and Flacco as quarterback.
This was a very good season, but for now it can only be viewed in the lenses of this loss. It's a shame, but that's how it is with the leagues' best teams. Anything less than a Super Bowl win is a bitter disappointment.