Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do….
In the end, the Ne England Patriots cannot blame this loss on utterly horrific officiating. Not when their run defense got lit up by Ray Rice and their secondary got torched by Joe Flacco, the result of an inability to apply meaningful quarterback pressure throughout the game. And not when, instead of running the ball at the end of the game, the Patriots went to the air and provided the Ravens with additional timeouts, nor when Josh McDaniels outguessed himself instead of placing his trust in the game plan that placed the Patriots comfortably in front of the Ravens midway through the fourth quarter. No, these things were on the Patriots, not on the officials.
But the officials sure didn’t help.
There were no fewer than four phantom calls*** on the Patriots, all of which led to Ravens points; the worst of which was a defensive holding call on linebacker Brandon Spikes when it was clear that Spikes was the one being held. That call led not only to Ravens points, but also to the best line of the night, when Spikes let the officials know after the game (in most unflattering terms) that Foot Locker was calling and it was time to get back to work.
(*** Update: Here is a great analysis of all the penalties called in the game. This doesn’t get into the ones not called, much to the relief of Michael Oher.)
Other than Ed Reed’s two vicious head shots (as noted by a reader… since when does Reed turn dirty?), the worst behavior of the night however belonged to Patriots Head Coach, who physically grabbed one of the officials after the game, seemingly to get an explanation as to why the winning field goal (which clearly went over the crossbar and was good)*** was not reviewed. In truth it was not a reviewable play. Of course, Belichick could have been grabbing the official to demand an explanation about a thousand different things, but he made the mistake of making physical contact. While Belichick stated after the game that he didn’t expect to be fined, the fact is that he should be, and he should be fined heavily.
(*** Update: According to former NFL Vice President for Officiating Mike Pereira,”The entire ball must pass inside the outside edge of the upright… A FG that goes over the top of an upright is not reviewable because you cannot determine when exactly the ball is directly over the pole” Judging by that interpretation, and this photo (or the video here), the Patriots may well be right that the field goal was in fact wide right. Pereira guessed that it was good, and I would say that replay would not have been able to establish otherwise. In any event, the announcers got the rule wrong.)
While I can appreciate Belichick’s frustration, he acted no better than John Fox on Monday night, or than the Ravens did in their post-game interviews after they fell to the Eagles last week. It’s not the officials fault that they suck; they just do. It is the fault of the NFL that the replacement officials are on the field to begin with, and the fault goes specifically to Commissioner Roger Goodell. But in his post-game interview, Belicjhick got far more conciliatory and wouldn’t go there, at least not as strongly as he did on the field.
“It’s our job to just go out there and control what we can control,” said Belichick following the game. That’s what we’re going to try to work on. You can’t control anything else. You’d have to talk to those guys. Go talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Go talk to the league about the way they called it. I don’t know, but we’ve got to go out and control it the best we can.”
That’s a wise statement from a head coach following a loss (are you listening, John Harbaugh?), but a coach who can keep that cool under media scrutiny, and who is as accomplished as Belichick, should have kept his head on the field as well. Frankly, I will be shocked if he isn’t fined at least $50,000 for the incident.
Back to the game… yes, there was a game last night… the Patriots will look back on this as a wasted opportunity. They dominated the first quarter to get out to an early 13-0 lead. The Ravens struck back in the second quarter to grab a 14-13 lead, only to have the Patriots drive to field right before the half to take a 20-14 lead into the half. And the third quarter and the first half of the fourth belonged to the Patriots, who struck back after an early Ravens touchdown to stake a 9 point lead, possess the ball, and seemed to be driving home the final nail in the coffin after John Harbaugh got called for Unsportsmanlike Conduct when he went on the field to intimidate an official. No John… no one (not even you) believes that you were calling a time out. The Patriots had the game locked up, and then could not convert first downs to put the game on ice. Coupled with red zone opportunities in which the Patriots were forced by the Ravens defense to settle for field goals, and you had a recipe for Joe Flacco to carve up the Patriots secondary and score 10 points in the closing minutes and pull out the one point win.
And it never should have happened. Josh McDaniels devised a game plan that took advantage of the Patriots strengths, and had an aging Ravens defense looking every bit of old and tired. And then McDaniels, for the second straight week, got in his own way and infused unneeded trickery, too much Woodhead instead of Ridley, and too many tight formations without Aaron Hernandez***. Maybe McDaniels thought he was back in Denver with the likes of Kyle Orton. Whatever it was, McDaniels’ play-calling helped the Patriots miss opportunities, and the Ravens were more than capable of taking advantage. Joe Flacco may not be the best quarterback in football, but he was good enough on this night to out-duel Brady and win the game when the Patriots failed to cash in.
(*** Update: A great raised on Patriots Life: why did the Patriots never go for two? They were up by “two scores”, meaning nine points. A two-point conversion would have given the Patriots a 10 point lead and the field goal would have only tied the game. Had the conversion failed, it would have made no difference in the outcome. Bad coaching call?)
With respect to the defense, elder statesman Vince Wilfork summed it up:”We really couldn’t get off the field,” Wilfork said after the game. “Offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry. We can’t do that.”
How the game broke down:
When the Patriots ran:
The Patriots did not run the ball effectively, as Ridley and Danny Woodhead combined for just 71 yards on 28 carries. Edelman had a huge loss on an ill-conceived end-around. Advantage: Ravens
When the Patriots passed:
This is where the game was “won” by the Patriots, as Brady went 28 – 41 for 338 yards, but only one touchdown. Wes Welker had 8 catches for 142 yards, while the acrobatic Brandon Lloyd caught 9 passes for 108 yards. Julian Edelman was effective until he was injured just before halftime, catching four passes, including a touchdown strike. Rob Gronkowski only caught two passes on the night. Advantage: Patriots
When the Ravens ran:
Ray Rice ran for 101 yards on 20 carries and was hard to bring down most of the night. His effectiveness, coupled with the lack of a Patriots pass rush, had the Patriots’ defense off balance. Advantage: Ravens
When the Ravens passed:
Flacco overcame a rough start to throw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, slicing through the Patriots’ secondary after the first quarter. Wide receiver Torrey Smith caught 6 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns on the same day that his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident. The Patriots’ secondary did a decent job in coverage, but Flacco had way too much time to throw and the receivers eventually got open. Advantage: Ravens
Both teams had good nights here, with no major gaffes. The Patriots were able to pin the Ravens deep a couple of times, but the Ravens’ offense responded. Advantage: Even
Game Log –
Patriots open in hurry up. After a quick first down to Brandon Lloyd, a botched snap and a sack defuse Patriot series. Solid punt return has Ravens set up near midfield.
Ravens open with Ray Rice carrying twice, then quick pass to Boldin comes up short. Ravens punt and Patriots start at their own 10.
Brady to Edelman for a quick 8. Woodhead for only one, then squeezes out first down on next carry. Brady to Welker for big 59 yard gain to the Ravens 20. Ridley for no gain. Ridley for one, and the Ravens defensive players getting frisky after end of play. Referees need to keep control. Edelman has TD in hands but Reed makes big play to force field goal attempt. Patriots connect to take early 3-0 lead.
First play is a Flacco pass picked off by Steve Gregory.
Brandon Boldin takes third down carry into the end zone. Patriots up 10-0.
Three plays and the Ravens again come up a yard short as Patriots secondary not giving Flacco receivers to throw to.
Patriots start backed up at own 8 after penalty on punt return. After an incompletion, Ridley runs for four. Brady converts to Lloyd. Two plays later, a nice catch by Lloyd for another first down. Timeout by Ravens. Personal foul after cheap head shot on Brady scramble. Patriots stalled by two awful officiating calls on Gronk and Edelman, settle for field goal and 13-0 lead.
Incomplete pass and short Rice run close the quarter.
Quick incomplete pass should have ended drive but PI call extends drive.Rice run for first down called back by Boldin hold. Passes to Pierce nets first down. Pierce again for 7! Then first down to Leach. Short run by Rice and incomplete bring up third down. Boldin comes up a yard short. Officials botch and give a measurement to the Ravens when the ball is a yard short. Then officials reverse call and grants first down. Two Rice runs for a first down before Flacco hits Torrey Smith for a touchdown pass. Patriots 13-7.
Gronk and Edelman net Patriots first down, then Brady to Edelman for another. Woodhead into Ravens territory, then Edelman for huge loss on end around. Patriots punt and force fair catch inside the Ravens’ 10 yard line.
Flacco squeezes out first down on short scramble under pressure. Then a big pass play to Jacoby Jones to Patriots’ 36 yard line. Rice carries to 26 for another first down. A few plays later, Flacco to Pitta for a touchdown due to pathetic tackling attempts by Gregory and McCourty. Ravens 14 Patriots 13.
On second play, pass to Gronk for first down. Then defensive holding call for 5 yards. Patriots able to squeeze out a first down before a defensive contact penalty against the Ravens. Then Deion Branch gets his first grab for a first down. Then Welker for a grab to get it inside the 10 with 13 seconds left. Incomplete pass on the next play before a touchdown strike to Edelman. Patriots go into locker room up 20-14. Brady has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 35 straight games.
Rice out of the gate for a 15 yard gain. Then a bad defensive holding call against Kyle Arrington; phantom call. Two short gains to bring up 3rd and 2 which is converted by Torrey Smith. A few plays later, 32 yard reception to Smith for first and goal. rice runs it in on the next play. Ravens 21 Patriots 20.
Quick first down strike to Lloyd. Then Ridley for about four followed by an incomplete to Winslow before a first down completion to Welker. Woodhead to midfield for three and then for one. First down pass to Lloyd. Then a personal foul against Pollard to get the Patriots to the 21. Woodhead for 3. Another first down to Lloyd. First and goal. Woodhead to the 5. Woodhead in for the score. Patriots 27 Ravens 21.
Two plays in Flacco hits Smith for 37 yards. Holding call against the Ravens wipes out a fist down. Patriots struggling to pressure Flacco. Long incomplete brings up Ravens punt.
First pass is a first down strike to Winslow. Ridley loses a yard. Brandon Lloyd for 10 to bring up third and one. Ridley converts. Lloyd for another ten. Defensive holding for five yards. Pass to Welker beings up third and three. Pass to Branch… results in 15 yards with blow to the head by Ed Reed. Ridley carries it to the 4.
Welker gets it to the two, but Patriots forced to settle for field goal. Patriots lead 30-21.
Pitta for four yards, then Rice for a first down. McCourty drops a pick on the next play and then a 24 yard gain to Boldin. Two Rice runs bring up a third down on the Patriots 35. Rice stopped short on third down, and Ravens get stuffed by Chung on fourth down. Bad coaching call by John Harbaugh, given that the Ravens could have gotten the game to a one score difference.
Quick strike to Lloyd for first down. Two plays later, another first down to Welker. On third and long, Brady is incomplete to Woodhead, forcing a punt.
Backed up snide own ten, quick strike to Rice brings the ball to the 20. Holding on next play brings it back to the 10. Rice runs to the 15. Defensive holding on McCourty bails the Ravens out; another phantom call. Flacco to Jones for 21 yards, then Smith to the Patriots 42. Flacco hits Rice on a short pass and he brings it to the Patriots 10 yard line. Flacco sacked,Pena wiped out by defensive holding. Flacco hits Smith in he end zone for a touchdown. Patriots 30 Ravens 28.
On second play, big first down catch and run by Welker. Three plays later, interception wiped out by illegal contact and automatic first down. Unsportsmanlike conduct against John Harbaugh nets 15 and another first down.Ridley for one yard and a Baltimore time-out. Patriots then take their first time-out. The crowd is pissed, but they have little room to complain; the Ravens have benefited from phantom calls all night long. Brady sacked to bring up third down. Ravens calls second time-out. Brady passes incomplete to bring up fourth down at 2:01.
Flacco to Jones for 24 yards. Pitta for short gain. Big pass to Pitta to get it to Patriots 35. Nothing for Rice inside, then an incomplete pass. Jones draws a PI call inside the 10 against McCourty… Very clear call on Devin. Ravens kick field goal to win the game, 31-30.
FINAL SCORE: Baltimore 31 New England 30
Key Moment: Phantom defensive holding call against Patriots’ linebacker Brandon Spikes, which negated a Patriots sack of Joe Flacco by Chandler Jones and Kyle Love, and gave the Ravens a first and goal instead of a 3rd and 22 while the Ravens were still down by 9.
What should have been the key moment: John Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down despite needing to get within one score with 10:56 to go in the game. The Patriots stopped Bernard Pierce for a one yard loss, and seemingly had complete control of the game.
Game Ball: Torrey Smith, who played extremely well despite a heavy heart from losing his brother in the early morning hours prior to the game. It was a brave and gutsy performance by Smith and my heart goes out to him, despite Ray Lewis’ incomprehensible post-game comments that somehow compared the two events.