What we learned in the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Ravens

Stevan Ridley and the Patriots offense couldn't find a groove in the second half against the Ravens.

What we learned in the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Ravens in the AFC Championship game Sunday:

Get ready for two weeks of Harbaugh-mania and Ray Lewis sermons.

Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the second half as the Baltimore Ravens stormed to their first Super Bowl in 12 years with a 28-13 win over the New England Patriots, avenging a loss in the same game on the same field one year ago.

Baltimore will meet San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in a matchup that pits brothers John and Jim Harbaugh against one another on the sidelines. It also keeps alive, much to the chagrin of many who have tired of his inspirational act, the phenomenal career of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who announced he would retire after the playoffs.

Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards, the bulk of his damage coming after New England had established a 13-7 halftime lead. Unlike last year’s AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadiium, when the Ravens dropped a potential game-winning touchdown with seconds to go before missing a 32-yard field goal that would’ve forced overtime, they took control long before crunch time.

Dennis Pitta caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Flacco midway through the third to cap an 87-yard drive and give Baltimore a lead it would not lose. Two touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin in the first three-plus minutes of the fourth made it 28-13 with 11:19 to go.

A fumble by Stevan Ridley on a jarring hit by Bernard Pollard led to the first Boldin score. The Patriots had a chance to get within one score midway through the fourth but Tom Brady threw an interception on a tipped pass in Baltimore territory. Brady also threw a second pick with 66 seconds left as the Ravens coasted to a surprisingly dominant win against a New England team that had been 67-0 when leading at halftime with Brady under center.

The Pats had plenty of chances early. They controlled field position throughout the first half but were forced to kick a field goal on their first scoring drive and had numerous possessions stall out in Ravens territory.
Ray Rice gave Baltimore a 7-3 advantage with a 2-yard run early in the second, but Brady answered by engineering an 11-play drive that was capped by a short touchdown pass to Wes Welker. Stephen Gostkowski’s 25-yard field goal on the final play of the first half gave New England its 13-7 advantage, but only after Brady mismanaged the clock and lost an opportunity at a shot at the end zone.

Then came the second half, and it was all Ravens, who scored touchdowns on all four trips to the red zone, compared to the Patriots’ 1-for-4 showing.

Brady was 29-for-54 for 320 yards, a touchdown and two picks in a lackluster performance that dropped him to 7-7 in his last 14 playoff games. Welker had 117 yards receiving in what could be his final game in a Patriots uniform.

The Curse of Pollard
The Patriots went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Baltimore 19-yard line with just under nine minutes to go, but Brady’s pass fluttered to the ground in the shallow part of the end zone. One offensive series later, Brady was picked off by Dannell Ellerbe after a tipped ball and the Patriots quickly realized that this was not their year to reunite with Lombardi.

The Ravens scored 21 unanswered points in the second half. With 12:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, Pats running back Ridley was popped in the head by Baltimore’s Bernard Pollard. A woozy Ridley coughed up the football, which was recovered by Baltimore. The Ravens then marched right down the field as Flacco found Anquan Boldin in the end zone for an 11-yard TD strike. 
Boldin also had a three-yard touchdown reception to open up the fourth quarter to put the Ravens up by eight points, 21-13.

Burning out Baltimore
The Patriots ran 17 plays, 13 on one series, before they got their first three points on the board. While the ratio of points to snaps was not necessarily in line with the top offense in the league, the mix of runs and short passes was by design. Why not keep a Ravens defense that had played 87 snaps each of the last two weeks on the field as much as possible? There’s got to be a breaking point for everyone, and the Pats were inching towards Baltimore’s throughout the first half.

Red zone efficiency
After Wes Welker’s short touchdown catch late in the first half, the Patriots had scored on 33 consecutive drives in the red zone, 25 of them being touchdowns. And when you think back to several of those scores (Welker’s TD catch, Vereen’s last week against Houston, Hernandez’s all-alone TD grab vs. the Texans back in December), those on the receiving end were incredibly wide open. Some quality calls and phenomenal execution near the goal line for Brady and company of late.

Ta-ta, Talib

After making a nice defensive play on Boldin to force a punt on Baltimore’s second possession, Aqib Talib grabbed his right hamstring and hopped toward the sideline. With him went the Patriots’ best chance to limit the Ravens’ vaunted deep game. Without him, Kyle Arrington took over at cornerback and Flacco immediately went on the attack. Flacco threw six times on a 90-yard drive that included a 25-yard completion to Torrey Smith, who was defended by Arrington. Flacco was 1-for-5 for 17 yards before that drive. He was 5-for-5 for 64 yards on it, all against an incomplete Pats secondary. 

Clock management
The Patriots’ inability to maximize their plays near the end of a half or game has popped up from time to time this season. They blew their opportunity to take a shot at the end zone by screwing up the final possession of the first half. After Brady scrambled for a few yards to the left side with a little over 10 seconds left, he and the Pats chose to line up instead of using their last timeout. By the time everyone was settled, the clock was at four seconds and Brady was forced to use the TO to ensure that Gostkowski got on the field and some points went on the board. A simple timeout would’ve given them one shot at the end zone, and if that failed, Gostkowski could trot on and do his thing anyway. Potentially pissing away four points right there, not ideal in a dogfight such as this one.


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