New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is the winningest active coach in the NFL. He has earned three Lombardi Trophies as the head coach of the New England Patriots plus two as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants.
The coach shuns the publicity and attention that the media seeks. Belichick makes Ty Cobb look like a “Cub Scout” when it comes to sending a reporter packing. The indefatigable press never give up. Every move he makes gets the “white-hot spot light treatment.”
Yet, the media missed his biggest tactical mistake ever during the 2009 AFC Wild Card Playoff between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots on January 10, 2010. The gaff was so minor that perhaps it went unnoticed.
I doubt if Red Sox manager John Farrell would have let this slip his attention. Baseball folk are keenly in tune with the setting sun and its effect on the game. The people who design baseball stadiums place the diamond in a position where the setting sun will never be in the batter’s eyes. (This is where the term “southpaw” comes from, since a left-hander’s pitching arm is facing south)
The NFL “game book” from January 10, 2010 reads, “NE (New England) wins the coin toss and elects to defer. BLT (Baltimore) elects to receive, and NE (New England) elects to defend the north goal.” The coach decided to take the field with the wind at his back…and unbeknownst to the coach and his team, the sun in their eyes.
By defending the north goal, the Patriots found themselves staring into a setting, January sun. The January sun sets just past 5:00 p.m. ET in Foxborough.
For all of you folks without a degree in astronomy, the January sun sets earlier and sits lower on the horizon than any other time throughout the year (hence the reason for the cold weather in January). As the world was turning, the low, setting sun managed to poke its nose into Gillette Stadium next to the lighthouse at the north end of the stadium.
The Patriots were playing their fourth game ever at Gillette Stadium with a 1:00 p.m. ET kickoff.
This would be the first time of the four previous games that the sun was shining bright and the Patriots would be facing the open end of Gillette Stadium.
Gillette Stadium has a unique design feature where the north end of the stadium has an open space to allow for access and egress. The area is to the right of the scoreboard. The 1:03 p.m. ET kickoff and the low January sun came through this open end at such an angle to make the Patriots look like the Three Stooges.
Let me give you an example. Think about driving your car, in the northeast, in the month of January. If you should happen to encounter a bright sun, do you recall the incantations you might go through to block it with your visor?
The Ravens would score 24 unanswered points as the Patriots turned over the ball three times in the first quarter..
The summary of the damages were ...
- Ray Rice had an 83 yard run from scrimmage on the first play. TD Ravens.
- Brady is sacked twice for -14 yards
- Brady fumbles ball at NE 17 leading to Ravens second TD
- Brady is intercepted twice, yielding a Ravens TD & FG
Knowing that the Patriots were reeling, the Ravens pooched a kickoff to the New England 30 yard line where the Patriots call a "fair catch" to insure they retain possession.
I believe that the Patriot players and coach were blinded by the light on this day.
If this were Fenway Park, I doubt if the Red Sox manager John Farrell would lobby for his team to bat with the sun setting in the hitter’s eyes.
This is why a setting sun on January 10, 2010 created such bombastic results for the home team Patriots.
The Ravens tied the NFL record for the second-most points gained in the first quarter. Despite the scoring spree, the teams would switch sides and the Ravens would have a turn at fighting the sun.
In the second quarter, the Patriots punt is fumbled by the Ravens at the NE 16. Brady completes his 15th consecutive playoff game TD pass. Ravens 24 - Patriots 7
Luckily for them, the world was still spinning on its axis and the sun would be moving toward the west, away from the north end of the stadium.
There would be plenty of time for the Patriots to make up a 17 point deficit. The Patriots had some remarkable streaks intact at the start of this game.
- Coach Belichick was undefeated as a coach playing in the first round of the playoffs.
- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had a record of eight wins and zero losses at home during the playoffs.
- The Pats were in the midst of an 11-game winning streak at home, dating back to 1978.
Surprisingly, the Ravens (9-7) were only slight underdogs to the team that won three Super Bowls from 2002 through 2005. That advantage faded as Baltimore charged to its early lead with an eight-degree wind chill.
Rookie QB Joe Flacco had some BAD numbers on this day ... 4 completions in 10 attempts for 34 passing yards and a big old Q.B. rating of "10".
The last time a Baltimore quarterback posted such meager numbers in a playoff game was Tom Matte, in the 1965 tiebreaker against the Green Bay Packers. Matte was the Colts emergency QB, not even listed on the depth chart.
At the end of day, Tom Brady's three picks helped him lay a 49.1 percent QB rating. Tom Matte's performance in 1965 beats both Flacco and Brady.
Despite the Patriots' effort, this game was lost in the first quarter. The ball possession and drive chart from the first quarter tells the story.
The first quarter just killed the Patriots ...
Coach Belichick laid one of his mind-numbing quotes on the press (via the Associated Press via ESPN), “All of us that participated in the game are accountable for our performance," he continued, "and I don't think anybody felt very good about it, players, coaches, anybody.”
The 2009 season is history. Bring on the AFC Championship Game this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET when the sun will not be a factor.
Thank you, Ray.