5 Biggest Reasons for Patriots' Loss in AFC Championship Game
The one, of course, came in Foxboro on Sunday night, when New England blew a 13-7 halftime lead to the Baltimore Ravens, eventually losing the AFC Championship Game by a score of 28-13. The loss afforded the Ravens redemption for last year's game, when kicker Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.
The Patriots looked good early, drawing first blood with Stephen Gostkowski, responding immediately after the Ravens scored their first touchdown and even looking like they had solved the secondary woes that have plagued them for years.
Then halftime happened.
Patriots fans can be upset about the way this game ended. They can belittle Ray Lewis for his past, dismiss Terrell Suggs for the way he talks about the Patriots (per ESPN) or hate Bernard Pollard for delivering yet another injury to a New England player—Stevan Ridley this time—with a questionable hit, but the truth is Baltimore capitalized on New England's mistakes, which were plentiful.
Here are the five biggest reasons you won't see the Patriots play two weeks from now:
Wes Welker's Hands
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This is the reason why Wes Welker isn't getting the long-term deal he wants: his hands have become a concern in big playoff games. Welker actually committed two big drops on Sunday—the first on a 3rd-and-2 on the opening drive of the game and the second early in the third quarter just before the Ravens took the lead for good.
That second drop ended the last meaningful drive the Patriots had all game.
From there, the Ravens drove down the field to score their second touchdown to take a 14-13 lead and it seemed like the life just got sucked out of New England on both sides of the ball.
Poor Clock Management
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You knew that running the no-huddle offense would bite the Patriots at some point this season, and it just so happened to be at the end of the first half. At the Ravens' 10-yard line, Tom Brady scrambled for three yards (in what may be forever known as "the cleat play") with about 20 seconds left, then tried to get the offense in position to run another play and hopefully catch Baltimore's defense off guard.
Of course, that didn't happen.
Failing to set up properly, New England waited to take a timeout until there were only four seconds left and could only muster a field goal. Had the Pats simply taken the timeout earlier and set up, they could have had that extra play, and failing that, then kicked the field goal.
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This is perhaps the entire story of the game. When the Ravens drove into the Patriots' red zone, four times in all, they scored four touchdowns. When the Patriots drove into the Ravens' red zone, also four times, they scored a single touchdown.
Granted, the Patriots added two field goals and only failed to score once—from the 19-yard line on an incomplete pass in the middle of the fourth quarter—but the statistic stands.
That's where a guy like Rob Gronkowski really would have helped, whether as a run-blocker, short-yardage receiver or even a decoy to help draw defenders.
For all of the weapons we hear about Tom Brady having, he only targeted six receivers all game. Joe Flacco targeted nine.
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Perhaps the Patriots brass would be wise to adhere to the phrase "defense wins championships" once again, as it did during the early 2000s when the defense outplayed the offense on the way to three Super Bowl championships.
When Aqib Talib went down (per ESPN) early with what looked like a hamstring pull, his absence hamstrung the entire secondary, which couldn't match up with Baltimore's receivers once Joe Flacco began placing the ball properly.
On the front line, the Patriots may have sacked Flacco twice to none for the Ravens, but Brady got hit seven times to Flacco's five. CBS' Jim Nantz and Phil Simms acknowledged more than once that they hadn't been calling Vince Wilfork's name at all.
In the end, the oft-maligned Baltimore quarterback came out of New England with a 106.2 passer rating and a Super Bowl berth, so clearly he had a comfortable enough day in the pocket.
The Ray Lewis Narrative
If you've watched sports at all over the past few years, you've probably come to learn that it's not the team with the best record that usually wins—it's the team that creates the best narrative for itself.
Boston fans have enjoyed that with the 2004 Red Sox (coming back to beat the Yankees after falling down 3-0 in the ALCS), the 2008 Celtics (Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett all winning their first championships together) and the 2011 Bruins (Tim Thomas' ascent from Finnish league goaltender to two-time Vezina Trophy winner and playoff MVP).
Such was the case with the Ravens.
Yes, it's huge that Tom Brady is now the most prolific passer in NFL playoff history, surpassing Brett Favre in career postseason passing yards tonight. But Lewis' retirement trumped that. We knew it was going to trump it weeks ago. And maybe, just maybe, the animated "Ray Lewis Retirement Party" countdown billboard was a little misinformed.
The solution: have Brady claim he's going to retire next year. Then have him unretire after the win. If nothing else, we've learned in the past week that no good narratives in sports are believable anyway.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.