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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ravens Batter Patriots 28-13, Head To New Orleans To Face 49ers In Super Bowl 47

These bitter defeats in the playoffs never get easy to accept, especially when the Patriots have made it a habit in the last eight years. There will be no trip to New Orleans to face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47 since the Baltimore Ravens (13-6, 6-4 away) came to Gillette Stadium tonight and beat down the Patriots (13-5, 7-3 home) 28-13 in the 2013 AFC Championship Game.

I'm not one to make excuses and there isn't a whole lot to say when your team leads 13-7 at home at halftime and then proceeds to get outscored 21-0 in the second half. The Ravens were tougher than the Patriots, their defense made way more plays and once they started working out of the shotgun in the second half, New England had no chance to stop them.

Aqib Talib hobbled off in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and Stevan Ridley (18 carries, 70 yards) got knocked out in the fourth quarter by Bernard Pollard (enough with that guy). Losing their top cornerback and best running back clearly hurt the Pats but their issues went far behind them and Rob Gronkowski's absence.

There were many signs that it wasn't their night: they squandered a chance for a touchdown at the end of the first half and settled for a field goal. Wes Welker (8 catches, 117 yards, TD) dropped a key third down pass early in the third quarter. Most of all, Joe Flacco (21 of 36, 240 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) was better than Tom Brady (29 of 54, 320 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs).

Brady's numbers look worse than he really was since one interception was tipped and the other was in garbage time but the point is that Baltimore didn't make any mistakes (0 turnovers) while New England had three (Ridley fumbled when Pollard concussed him). It is easy to blame the Pats defense and they certainly didn't cover themselves in glory giving up 21 points in the second half but New England is built around its offense and you'll never win with one touchdown and 13 points in a playoff game.

Nobody on the Ravens put up monster numbers but they all contributed to their first trip to the Super Bowl since 2000. Bernard Pierce had 52 yards rushing, Ray Rice had 70 total yards while Torrey Smith (4 catches, 69 yards), Anquan Boldin (5 catches, 60 yards, 2 TDs) and Dennis Pitta (5 catches, 55 yards, TD) each made plays for Flacco.

Baltimore has certainly earned it, beating Indianapolis Wild Card weekend then going on the road to knock off the top two seeds in the AFC: Denver and New England. Aaron Hernandez (9 catches, 83 yards) and Brandon Lloyd (7 catches, 70 yards) were fine but the Patriots lack a big play threat like Smith or even Boldin to some degree.

Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal was the only score of the first quarter. Ray Rice got Baltimore on the board with a 2-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Welker answered with New England's only touchdown of the game: a 1-yard touchdown catch. Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal was the disappointing last play of the first half as the Pats went into the locker room with a shaky 13-7 lead. They had outplayed Baltimore but had little to show for it.

One play after getting crushed by Jerod Mayo (but holding onto a catch), Pitta's 5-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter gave the Ravens a 14-13 advantage that they would never relinquish. Boldin's 3-yard touchdown catch was the first play of the fourth quarter then he put it away on the ensuing drive after Ridley's fumble with an 11-yard touchdown catch. 21 unanswered points by Baltimore, unreal.

Every season that goes by without a Super Bowl title, you realize more and more how quickly Brady and Bill Belichick's window is closing. It's a tough reality that many don't want to face but that's how it is. The Pats have lost in all four different rounds of the playoffs in the past four postseasons. They've been so close, particularly in two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, but at low points like this you have to wonder if they'll get to the top again with this regime.

Questions about the NFL Draft, free agents (for the love of God please sign Welker) and other matters will have to wait for another day. For now, it's time to sign off on another uneven season for the Patriots. They were great at times, mostly in the regular season but once again they shriveled up as a team in the big moment. That has become more than a pattern since they beat the Eagles in Super Bowl 39.

UPDATE 1/21: Today the Patriots signed five players from the practice squad to future contracts: FB James Develin, WR Jeremy Ebert, WR Andre Holmes, DL Tracy Robertson and LB Jeff Tarpinian.

UPDATE 1/22: The Pats have reportedly signed former USC defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who played in the CFL last season. He got a three-year deal with $655,000 guaranteed and base salaries of $405,000 in 2013, $495,000 in 2014 and $585,000 in 2015.

UPDATE 1/23: Brady was fined $10,000 by the NFL today for kicking Ed Reed when he slid during a run.

UPDATE 1/26: Apparently the Pats can't get enough of guys from the CFL. At least this time, it's a guy that is from Brockton and played football at Northeastern (which doesn't have a program anymore). Defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Vega had 12 sacks over the last two seasons with Winnipeg and he worked out with New England in December.

UPDATE 1/31: The Pats re-signed linebacker Dane Fletcher to a one-year deal (terms weren't disclosed). He missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL in the first preseason game in August.

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