The New England Patriots were unable to repeat history on Sunday. Playing the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game for the second consecutive season, the Patriots were unable to secure a repeat trip to the Super Bowl, instead losing the game by 15 points.
The loss was a result of second-half failure on both sides of the ball. The offense failed to score any points in the second half while turning the ball over three consecutive possessions, while the defense gave up three consecutive touchdowns spanning between the third and fourth quarters.
The following slides break down the roster position-by-position in their final game of the season, and assess which players are most to blame for the Patriots coming up short.
Tom Brady did not play well on Sunday.
Tom Brady: D+
Tom Brady’s lack of execution is a big reason why the New England Patriots’ season came up short of making it to the Super Bowl. Brady made very few big downfield completions in this game, and the good plays he made were far outweighed by his mistakes.
Brady threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter, made a poor decision to throw back across his body with room to run on a failed 4th-and-4 fourth-quarter play, and missed behind his receivers on two crucial third-down attempts in the third quarter.
Brady also failed to call a timeout after a 1st-and-goal slide late in the second quarter, which cost the Patriots from having enough time to score a touchdown, rather having to settle for a field goal. All in all, Brady finished the day with 320 passing yards, but many of those came off of screen passes, and his mistakes played a big role in the Patriots losing this game.
Brady completed barely more than half of his passing attempts, with 29 completions on 54 passes.
Stevan Ridley had a tough day.
Stevan Ridley: C
There was nothing special about Stevan Ridley’s day running the football for the Patriots. He ran for 70 yards on 18 carries, but never had a run of more than nine yards, and a fumble on his final carry helped cost the Patriots this game.
On that carry, Ridley ran helmet-high into Bernard Pollard, and took a big shot which caused him to lose the football. It may not be fair to fault Ridley for this turnover, considering he suffered a head injury on the play that took him out of the game, but nonetheless, it was a bad ending to an unspectacular performance from their feature back.
Shane Vereen: C+
After having the best game of his career against the Houston Texans, Shane Vereen had a surprisingly small role against the Ravens. He wasn’t used much, but played decently well when he was.
The bulk of Vereen’s touches came in the fourth quarter after Ridley’s injury. He made a nice play on a low throw from Brady for a 9-yard reception, and also gained 13 yards off of a short pass. On the ground, he had one 7-yard carry and converted a 3rd-and-1 with a nice move up the middle, but finished with only four carries for 16 yards.
Danny Woodhead: C
Danny Woodhead returned from a thumb injury Sunday, but did not play much. He finished the game with only four touches for 23 yards.
Woodhead kept the Patriots’ half-ending drive alive by converting 4th-and-1 off a direct snap with a run up the middle. Aside from that, however, Woodhead made little impact.
Wes Welker was the Patriots' biggest offensive playmaker on Sunday.
Wes Welker: B+
Much like last year’s Super Bowl, the final game of Wes Welker’s season will be remembered most for the pass he didn’t catch. That said, he was easily the most productive player on the Patriots’ offense Sunday.
Welker was the only player on the Patriots’ offense with a play of more than 20 yards on Sunday, and he had three of them. He gained 36 yards on a deep seam from the left middle slot, caught a 24-yard pass between double coverage and also gained 24 yards off of a screen pass.
Welker did have a costly drop on a third-quarter 3rd-and-8 when a pass went right off his hands, but in his defense, the pass was thrown behind him which forced him to adjust. That does not excuse his drop, but given that he was the only source of big plays on Sunday and scored the game’s only touchdown, he is one of the last players who deserves to be blamed for Sunday’s loss.
Brandon Lloyd: C+
Brandon Lloyd had an up-and-down game on Sunday.
Lloyd was fairly productive, catching seven passes for 70 yards. Negatively, he dropped one pass off an 8-yard comeback, and also stumbled trying to catch a 3rd-and-8 pass which would have otherwise been accurate.
Lloyd made his share of downfield completions in this game, but in a game where the Patriots need big offensive plays, more was expected from him.
Deion Branch: C-
Deion Branch didn’t have a particularly productive day as the Patriots’ third receiver. He only caught two passes for 16 yards. 10 of those yards came on a short checkdown pass on the Patriots’ final offensive possession, when the Ravens were playing conservative defense with a commanding lead.
Aaron Hernandez: B+
Aaron Hernandez was the Patriots’ receptions leader on Sunday with nine, on which he gained 83 total yards.
Hernandez consistently caught passes that came his way, including a huge 17-yard catch-and-run on a 3rd-and-10 late in the first half that set up a field goal, and a 7-yard catch off an inside slant that set up the goal-to-go offense for the Patriots’ only touchdown of the game.
Michael Hoomanawanui: C
Blocking specialist Michael Hoomanawanui made a couple of strong lead blocks for the ground game on Sunday, but his play didn’t stand out as it usually does. He was not used at all as a pass receiver.
Daniel Fells: D
Third-string tight end Daniel Fells was not targeted at all as a pass receiver, and he did not have much success as a run blocker in the limited snaps that he played.
Ryan Wendell was a bright spot for the Patriots.
Nate Solder: C+
Left tackle Nate Solder wasn’t at his best on Sunday, even though the Patriots gave up zero sacks.
On multiple occasions, Solder was beaten by a Terrell Suggs pass-rush on which Suggs hit Tom Brady to force an incompletion. Solder also committed a costly third-quarter holding penalty that nullified a 3rd-and-2 conversion, and led to the Patriots being forced to punt from their own territory.
Sebastian Vollmer: A-
Paul Kruger was fantastic in the first two games of the Baltimore Ravens’ postseason, but right tackle Sebastian Vollmer kept him very much in check in pass protection on Sunday.
The Patriots did not run the ball to the right side often, but Vollmer’s ability to slow down pressure from Kruger played a big role in the Patriots allowing zero sacks in this game.
Logan Mankins: B+
Left guard Logan Mankins had another solid game on Sunday. He did a good job leading the run-blocking effort when the Patriots ran the ball to the left side, and he neutralized inside pressure on the left side of the line.
Ryan Wendell: A
Center Ryan Wendell may have been the best player on the Patriots’ offense in this game. He had a very good day in pass protection, and he did a very good job in run blocking.
Wendell opened up some good holes at the line of scrimmage for runs up the middle, but he also did a great job of getting to the second level and picking up blocks on linebackers and defensive backs to extend gains.
Dan Connolly: B-
Right guard Dan Connolly had to deal with very tough matchups in this game against Ravens defensive ends Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, and he held his own for the most part.
That said, he did start to allow greater pushes from his opponents in the fourth quarter, and on two occasions, that allowed McPhee to tip a pass at the line of scrimmage, one of which was intercepted. He had a solid day opening holes in the ground game, but did not overpower his opponents or make many blocks at the second level.
Rob Ninkovich did his part on Sunday.
Rob Ninkovich: A-
The Patriots’ pass-rush did not have a great day with Chandler Jones out of the lineup, but Rob Ninkovich did his part. Ninkovich beat Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie hit quarterback Joe Flacco three times, two of which were sacks and the other forcing an incompletion.
Ninkovich’s first sack ended the drive on a failed third-down conversion, and his forced incompletion did the same, coming two plays after his second sack.
Ninkovich finished the day with eight total tackles, but he did have two missed tackles in the third quarter.
Justin Francis: B
The Patriots did not bring enough pressure in Chandler Jones’ absence, but it would be unfair to fault his replacement in the starting lineup, Justin Francis. Francis helped force multiple incompletions with pressure, and also did a good job setting the edge in run defense.
Francis did have one bad missed tackle on a screen pass that ended up in a 15-yard gain, but had an otherwise solid game. He finished the game with five total tackles.
Vince Wilfork: C-
The biggest reason for the Patriots’ lack of pressure was that they got little to no pass-rush from the inside. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is typically a disruptive force on the Patriots’ defensive front, but he was not impactful on Sunday.
Wilfork had a tough matchup going against one of the NFL’s best offensive lineman in Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda, and Yanda definitely won the matchup. Wilfork was unable to penetrate into the backfield throughout the game.
Wilfork finished the game with only one tackle.
Brandon Deaderick: C-
Kelechi Osemele isn’t quite Marshal Yanda, but the Ravens left guard won his battle too. Like Wilfork, Deaderick was unable to generate any significant interior pass-rush pressure, and he wasn’t particularly stout in run defense either.
A combined tackle with Wilfork was Deaderick’s only credited stop of the game.
Kyle Love: N/A
Kyle Love actually got the start over Deaderick at defensive tackle in this game, but left the game in the first series with a knee injury. He did not return to the game.
Jermaine Cunningham: C
Jermaine Cunningham played some in this game on pass-rushing downs spelling Deaderick/Wilfork at defensive tackle. Like the starting defensive tackles, he didn’t make much of an impact.
Trevor Scott: D
Trevor Scott has had a fairly good season as a situational pass-rusher, but when he was in the game Sunday, he was completely ineffective. He did not bring any significant any pressure against Flacco, and continued to be weak against the run.
Brandon Spikes led the Patriots in tackles.
Brandon Spikes: A-
Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was the most productive player on the Patriots’ defense on Sunday. He led the way with 11 tackles, including a 2-yard tackle for loss, and he blitzed to force an incompletion with a hit on quarterback Joe Flacco.
On the negative end, Spikes was beaten in coverage for a 22-yard receiving gain by Dennis Pitta. For the most part, however, Spikes was very good and made a lot of plays on defense in this contest.
Jerod Mayo: B
Outside linebacker Jerod Mayo had a fairly strong day. He made eight total tackles in the game, including getting in on that tackle for loss with Spikes, and hit Flacco to force an incompletion off a blitz.
Per usual, however, Mayo struggled to cover passes in the flats, and took multiple bad angles. He also missed a tackle in the backfield on a 2-yard second-quarter touchdown run by Ray Rice.
Dont’a Hightower: B-
Outside linebacker Dont’a Hightower did not play a lot of repetitions as the Patriots spent most of the game in nickel coverage, but had an up-and-down day when he was on the field.
In terms of tackling, Hightower made three stops, including an outstanding 4-yard tackle for loss when he read a screen pass perfectly and blew it up in the backfield. On the contrary, he was one of two players to miss a tackle on Ray Rice’s 2-yard touchdown run.
Good coverage from Hightower helped force an incompletion on an end zone fade throw one play prior to that touchdown. He was, however, beaten in coverage on at least one occasion.
Marquice Cole did not rise to the occasion.
Aqib Talib: Incomplete
Starting cornerback Aqib Talib’s game got off to a great start. Perfect coverage against Anquan Boldin forced one incompletion on the second series, and on the very next play, he broke up a pass intended for Boldin on a crossing route.
Unfortunately for Talib, he aggravated a lingering hamstring injury on that play, and did not return to the game. Talib’s exit from the game tested the Patriots’ depth at cornerback, which hurt them significantly the rest of the game.
Alfonzo Dennard: B
For the most part, Alfonzo Dennard had a very good game. Faced with the tough task of covering Torrey Smith for most of the game, Dennard played him physically, and did not leave him open often.
Dennard was beaten on a 23-yard reception by Smith on a deep post, and he got lucky when what would have been a 22-yard touchdown fell incomplete after Tandon Doss beat Dennard on a double move. He was also called for pass interference against Doss earlier in the third quarter.
Considering Talib was out opposite him, Dennard held his own in this contest.
Kyle Arrington: B
Kyle Arrington took a lot of flak this season—much of which was well-deserved for blown coverages—but put in a very tough position of having to take over Talib’s spot in the starting lineup on Sunday, he held his own.
Arrington was beaten twice on deep posts by Smith for 25- and 16-yard receptions, but he has played far worse games than he did on Sunday. For the most part, his coverage against Smith and Boldin was solid, and he also made a pass deflection in the slot.
Arrington also made on the day’s best special teams play when he tracked down Jacoby Jones and took him down after a 9-yard kickoff return.
Marquice Cole: D-
With Arrington playing on the outside, Marquice Cole took over as the slot cornerback, and he looked to be exactly what he was: a special-teams player forced into the lineup at cornerback.
Cole had a terrible game in coverage. His worst play actually came on the outside, where he completely misplayed a high lob throw to Anquan Boldin and gave up a 26-yard reception. He was also beaten consistently in the slot, including on a 11-yard touchdown by Boldin.
If the Patriots are going to become a more consistent team in pass defense, they are going to have to improve their cornerback depth to where they are not forced to turn to a player like Cole when an injury hits.
Devin McCourty: B-
In a game where the Patriots certainly could have used Devin McCourty’s help at cornerback, he didn’t have a great day at free safety.
McCourty did not give much safety help in deep pass coverage, and most of his eight tackles came in clean-up duty on the back end.
As a kickoff returner, McCourty was decent but unspectacular, gaining 89 total yards on four returns.
Steve Gregory: D
Strong safety Steve Gregory finished the game with two tackles. He had at least that many missed tackles in the game, and was also beaten in coverage on a number of occasions.
The Patriots did not get the coverage help they needed from Gregory in this game. With both of his tackles coming downfield, he didn’t make an impact as an in-the-box safety either.
Stephen Gostkowski: B
Stephen Gostkowski made both of his field goal attempts in this game, from 31 and 25 yards out. None of his three kickoffs made it to the end zone, but in his defense, two of those three kickoffs went into what were heavy winds in Foxborough on Sunday.
Zoltan Mesko: A
Zoltan Mesko was outstanding for the Patriots down the stretch, and that continued in his final game of the season. Four of his five punts were downed inside the 13-yard line, and his other punt from well in the Patriots’ own territory went 51 yards.
Bill Belichick: D+
It wasn’t a good day for either of the Patriots’ legendary figures on Sunday. The Patriots were dominated on both sides of the ball in the second half, and part of that blame has to fall on Bill Belichick for not making the proper halftime adjustments.
Belichick also made a huge mistake at the end of the first half when he failed to call a timeout from the sideline after a 1st-and-goal slide by Tom Brady, instead allowing the clock to tick down to only four seconds remaining before finally stopping the clock. That forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal, rather than have an opportunity at a touchdown.
Belichick and special teams coordinator Scott O’Brien did make one very smart call when they put quarterback Ryan Mallett in the game as an up-back on their first punt of the day. When they audibled for Mallett to go under center as the quarterback, it forced the Ravens to burn a timeout early.
Belichick’s grade for this game, however, ultimately rests upon his clock mismanagement and his team being completely outplayed in the second half.
Josh McDaniels: B+
Yes, the Patriots’ offense lost them this game, but that shouldn’t be blamed on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels put together one of his best game plans of the season, consistently keeping the Patriots in their effective no-huddle offense while adding in many creative wrinkles including a direct snap 4th-down run, an end-around to Aaron Hernandez and some creative quick screen packages.
The offense’s demise was a result of inexecution from the players on the field, largely from quarterback Tom Brady. It was not a result of McDaniels’ playcalling.
Matt Patricia: C
When a player goes down, it is a coach’s responsibility to make their unit work with the personnel they have.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was unable to do that Sunday, as injuries to defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Aqib Talib significantly weakened their pass defense. While the personnel in place didn’t play particularly well, Patricia was unable to put together packages that would offset the losses to the key players, and he therefore takes some blame for the Patriots’ defensive letdowns between the third and fourth quarters.