Five minutes into the New England Patriots' 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, Pats cornerback Aqib Talib broke up a pass and grabbed at his hamstring. He disappeared into the tunnel, and with him, so did the Patriots’ hopes of going to the Super Bowl.
The game might have gone on, but the game was over.
As much as the loss of Rob Gronkowski might have challenged New England’s ability to put points on the board, the loss of its midseason acquisition somehow turned an otherwise effective defensive unit into Swiss cheese.
It took the Ravens more than a quarter to figure out that their path to the Super Bowl went through abandoning their running game and switching their attack to the air. But once it was clear that the best that the Patriots could put out there were guys as skilled as the immortal Marquice Cole, it was all over.
It didn’t help, by the way, that the Patriots couldn’t convert very often when they got in the red zone.
It didn’t help that Wes Welker and Shane Vereen dropped easy passes that would have gone for key first downs.
It didn’t help that Aaron Hernandez stayed in bounds near the end of the half, costing the Pats a timeout that they sorely could have used.
And it didn’t help that with only one timeout remaining and the clock winding down to the half, Tom Brady’s otherwise impeccable time management skills deserted him.
But even if the Pats' offense had been more consistent and error-free, the bottom line is that the Ravens were moving the ball at will through the air. You got the feeling that if New England had been able to score, Joe Flacco was just going to come right back and complete passes to almost anybody in purple.
So, it’s over. Wait till...next...year...
And with the future already in mind, I offer a message to the coach and the front office: Pick the best available DB in the first round. Pick the best available with your next draft choice, and with your next, and your next.
Oh yes, one final message: Re-sign Talib, and take good care of his hamstrings.