At Ravens Roost in Ellicott City, roars of support and stunned silence

Quoth not these Ravens fans, for their team's defeat has left them at a loss for words.

For four quarters, from the comfort of bars and living rooms, they rooted for Baltimore to beat the New England Patriots, a win that would bring them back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years.

At the Diamondback Tavern in downtown Ellicott City, more than 50 packed into a pair of rooms, fueled by a mixture of hope and alcohol. They ended the game full of one, emptied of another, after the Ravens lost in a heartbreaker, 23-20, when kicker Billy Cundiff missed a short field goal in the game's final minute.

For three years this restaurant has been home to Ravens Roost 88, one of many organizations that provides a gathering place each week with plenty of fans, food and flat-screen televisions. They had gathered Sunday afternoon for the AFC championship game, adorned in their favorite players' jerseys, booing when the Patriots took the field, roaring with nearly every favorable play from the Ravens.

They gasped at dropped passes, pleaded for flags, applauded at defensive stops and exploded with excitement during moments seemingly major and minor.

"That's the nature of football," said Chuck Bagley, a 52-year-old Ellicott City resident. "Every play can change the game just like that." He stopped mid-thought as the Patriots completed a pass. "Oh, come on!" he yelled, then returned to his thought.

"Your heart gets so into the game that every play seems like the linchpin," he said. "It makes it tough to be a fan. The highs and lows come so frequently. But that's also what makes it so much fun."

The highs and lows in this game were exactly as described. The game was close throughout, and the closer the game stayed, the louder the cheers.

The tight action had Robert Parks worried.

"I see inconsistencies and missed opportunities," said the 36-year-old, originally from Ellicott City but now living in Baltimore.

Melissa Clark, meanwhile said she was optimistic. As a Ravens fan, she had to be, she explained. But she left open the possibility of a loss, pondering how it would feel. "If anything, we made it this far," said the 27-year-old Ellicott City resident. "I can't be upset or disappointed."

The game was halfway done but far from over.

The Patriots scored first in the third quarter, widening their halftime lead to 16-10. In the tavern, on a third down and with the team in danger of losing its momentum, Ravens fans exhorted their team to make both a comeback and a statement.

"Come on guys, this is a huge play," said Carrie Diefes, 48, of Woodbine. And she would be right — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw 29 yards to Torrey Smith for the touchdown. Baltimore had its first lead of the game, 17-16. They soon forced the Patriots to fumble and were able to add a field goal, extending the lead to 20-16.

Parks, the skeptic, said he felt a little better, though not too much. The lead, he said, was not enough.

"Four points? No," he said. "They should have at least 10 more points on the board."

The Patriots battled back, marching down the field, a nervous quiet settling over the tavern. Their star quarterback, Tom Brady, dove into the end zone, putting his team back ahead, 23-20, and putting the Ravens fans back on edge.

"It's OK," Clark said, speaking perhaps to herself. There was still about 12 minutes left, she said.

The Ravens would turn over the ball, then get it back again. The rooms went from gloomy to glorious, then back to nervous when Baltimore failed to score.

"It's getting late," Bagley said. "I don't like that we're behind. There's still time. A turnover now for the Ravens [defense] and we're in good shape."

The turnover came, Bernard Pollard tipping a pass headed for the end zone, and Jimmy Smith then making a shoestring catch to get the interception. This was the defensive play they needed. They still needed a big play on offense. They didn't get it at first, but they got the ball back once more, one last chance.

A little later, with time running out, the Ravens pushed down the field. What could've been a game-winning touchdown pass ended up being incomplete, a Patriots defender knocking the ball from the hands of the Baltimore receiver.

The Ravens lined up for a field goal, going for the three points that would tie the game and send it into overtime. He was 32 yards away. It should've been an easy kick. It wasn't.

The kick veered wide left. The air went out of the tavern.

"He missed it?" said Mary Hughes, Clark's mother, 49, of Ellicott City. "He missed it. Oh, my God. Oh, my God."

"I'm speechless," Bagley said.

The fans paid their tabs and trudged, crestfallen, toward the exits. For this season, at least, it was time to leave their roost.

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