By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
11:29 PM EST, December 22, 2013
As the New England Patriots were turning the game into a rout with two late defensive touchdowns, wide receiver Torrey Smith sat on an otherwise empty bench, surveying a scene that no Raven could fathom.
M&T Bank Stadium was just about empty by then, and the signs of resignation were everywhere.
In a game they knew they had to win to control their playoff future, the Ravens hadn't just been beaten by the Patriots. They had been routed, overwhelmed and embarrassed, a 41-7 blowout qualifying as their most lopsided home loss in team history and worst defeat under coach John Harbaugh.
“[Stuff] happens,” said Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, summing up the sentiment from the home locker room. Rarely has it happened to the Ravens at home, and in a game of this magnitude. Their four-game winning streak and two-year reign atop the AFC North over, the Ravens (8-7) need help to make their sixth straight playoff appearance.
With the Miami Dolphins losing and the San Diego Chargers winning Sunday, there is a three-way tie for the AFC's final wild-card spot. Under their most straightforward path to the postseason, the Ravens need to go on the road and beat the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and they also need either the Dolphins to lose at home to the New York Jets or the Chargers to fall at home to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Ravens hold individual tiebreakers over both the Dolphins and Chargers, but in a three-way tie, they would lose out to the Dolphins on the first criterion used in such a stalemate, conference record.
“We are what we are because we earned it,” said Smith, who was held to three catches for 69 yards and didn't make his first reception until late in the third quarter. “There's no secret to it. It's on us to go out there and take care of business next week. It's not really a great feeling that you know you need help.”
After a day in which nearly everything that could possibly go wrong did, there was nothing the Ravens could do but accept that.
From quarterback Joe Flacco hobbling around on his sprained left knee and throwing two interceptions, to the Ravens defense failing to stop the run or make Patriots quarterback Tom Brady uncomfortable, to normally automatic kicker Justin Tucker missing what had seemed to become a chip shot, they had nothing to feel good about.
Their only saving grace was that they were not eliminated from postseason contention on a day they looked nothing like a playoff team.
“It's disappointing,” said Flacco, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 260 yards and no touchdowns and never looked completely comfortable in a bulky knee brace he later said did not affect him. “We're used to going out there and playing well when we need to when [the] playoffs are on the line. We came out today hungry and ready to go get ourselves in to the playoffs or make that next step toward it, and we didn't do it.”
The Ravens trailed the banged-up Patriots 17-0 at halftime and didn't score until there was a little more than nine minutes to play. After Flacco scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to cut the Patriots' lead to 20-7, the Ravens watched New England score three touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 5 seconds.
“They beat us,” said Ravens running back Ray Rice, who had an animated conversation with Harbaugh on the sideline after he was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 4 late in the third quarter. “They came in here, they outplayed us. It's simple. We made some mistakes. They came out here, they had a game plan and they executed at a high level.”
On offense, the Ravens didn't cross midfield or get a catch from a wide receiver until the third quarter, and they went 0-for-3 on fourth-down plays. They rushed for 121 yards against the NFL's 31st-ranked rush defense, but a chunk of those yards came from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor after he relieved Flacco for the final two minutes.
In that short time, Taylor contributed to the offensive futility, fumbling a snap that Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and throwing an interception that safety Tavon Wilson returned 74 yards for a score.
On defense, the Ravens allowed 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns by LeGarrette Blount, sacked Brady only twice and forced no turnovers. Brady was only 14-for-26 for 172yards and a score, a 4-yard connection with running back Shane Vereen late in the first quarter, but he didn't need to do much more than manage the game.
Asked what went wrong, Suggs said: “I don't know. You will have to look at the tape. Actually, you could burn the tape. It's not even worth looking at.”
On special teams, Tucker missed a 37-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter, his first miss in 34 tries. As a team, the Ravens committed nine penalties for 83 yards, including a pass-interference call on cornerback Jimmy Smith in the end zone that preceded Blount's 1-yard touchdown run on the Patriots' second drive.
“It's not rocket science there,” Harbaugh said. “We got down quick, a couple bam-bam plays, and we were in a hole. We tried to dig our way out of it and just couldn't do it against a good team that was playing well.”
Before the 4:25 p.m. kickoff, the Patriots had clinched their fifth straight AFC East title by virtue of Miami's loss to the Buffalo Bills. But they showed no letup against the team that beat them at Gillette Stadium in January's AFC championship game, even after the outcome was no longer in doubt.
They also enjoyed every bit of the rout over a team that sees itself as a rival. In the first half, wide receiver Matthew Slater mimicked Ravens safety James Ihedigbo's gravedigger celebration after he made a special teams tackle in the first half. Blount then imitated former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' “Squirrel” dance after his 7-yard touchdown gave the Patriots a 27-7 lead and sent fans scurrying to the exits.
“We lost. There's nothing else to say,” Ihedigbo said. “You got to show up and play your best football when your best football is needed, and we didn't do that as a team today.”
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