FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the New England Patriots' 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game:
What it means: A major disappointment for the Patriots, who were playing at home with a chance to advance to the Super Bowl. There is no sugarcoating it. They didn’t play the type of game they needed to play, and this is something that will sting them for a while. The Ravens deserved to win.
Missed early opportunities cost Patriots: The Patriots controlled the first half of the game, holding an edge of 18:12 to 11:48 in time of possession, running 45 plays to the Ravens’ 27. But the Ravens came through in the critical situations (third down and red zone) or, depending on one’s viewpoint, the Patriots crumbled. The Patriots led 13-7 at the half, but the gap could have been much wider (their end-of-half management was poor). The Ravens controlled the second half, holding the Patriots scoreless in the final 30 minutes.
Welker drop a turning point: In terms of a turning point in the game, a Wes Welker dropped pass early in the third quarter was when the Patriots’ fortunes turned in the wrong direction. The Patriots led 13-7 and had advanced to the Ravens’ 34, facing a third-and-8 when Welker couldn’t corral a pass close to the first-down marker. The Ravens scored a touchdown on their next possession and never trailed again. A holding penalty on left tackle Nate Solder on the Patriots’ next drive, which wiped out a first-down conversion on third-and-2, was another mistake that hurt the Patriots.
Brady doesn’t deliver his "A" game: Quarterback Tom Brady couldn’t develop his usual rhythm, with one of the worst sequences coming at the end of the second quarter when the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal due to clock mismanagement (coach Bill Belichick also had a hand in that). Two of Brady’s trademarks -- accuracy and decision-making -- weren’t on display. Credit to the Ravens' defense, but after watching the high-powered Patriots offense all season, few saw a struggle like this coming.
Pollard knocks out another Patriots player: Safety Bernard Pollard struck again, knocking running back Stevan Ridley out of the game in the fourth quarter with a hit to the helmet that jarred Ridley, who lay prone on the ground after losing the football to the Ravens. Patriots followers need no reminder that Pollard was involved in plays that resulted in Brady’s torn ACL in 2008 while with the Chiefs, Welker’s torn ACL in 2009 while with the Texans, Rob Gronkowski’s ankle injury in 2011 and now Ridley.
Injuries add up for Patriots on D: Starting left cornerback Aqib Talib, who has been a major difference-maker for the Patriots since his debut Nov. 18, left the game after two series with a thigh injury and didn’t return. In addition, starting right defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) played only in the goal-line defense, as he was replaced by rookie free agent Justin Francis. Also, defensive lineman Kyle Love left with a knee injury after the first drive and didn’t return.
What’s next: The Patriots now turn their attention to the NFL draft. They have picks in the first, second and third rounds and two selections in the seventh round. Their fourth-round pick went to the Buccaneers for Talib, and the fifth- and sixth-rounders were part of past deals for receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Also, the future of Welker now moves to the forefront as he is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and Talib are two other notable free agents.