3. Haloti Ngata got pushed around so much on Sunday, I almost hope we find out on Monday that he's been playing through injuries the second half of the year. I think his effort was still decent, but in terms of impact plays, he's pretty much been M.I.A. for about six weeks. I really thought at the beginning of the year that Ngata, shown here in December, was going to be in a neck-and-neck race all season for Defensive Player of the Year with Terrell Suggs. He absolutely tormented Pittsburgh in the season opener, and he looked so quick and strong, it was actually a little scary to imagine offenses trying find ways to shut him down. The Ravens' decision to sign Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract seemed like a total no-brainer. But watching Vince Wilfork bulldoze his way into the Ravens' backfield time and time again on Sunday made you realize: Why hasn't Ngata been doing that lately? What's going on here? Why isn't he collapsing the pocket with what defensive coaches refer to as "A-gap pressure" and why hasn't he been knifing through creases to blow up plays and wreak havoc? He hasn't been on the official injury report since the week of the Chargers game, when he was listed as questionable with a back injury. But he clearly didn't have the same power in his legs to bull rush people the way he did at the beginning of the year. Suggs picked a bad time to fall into a slump as well, especially when you consider how badly the Ravens needed him down the stretch. He had just one sack the final five games of the year. It's hard to put too much blame on any member of the Ravens defense because they hammered the Patriots all afternoon. They "rattled" Brady, to be perfectly honest, or at least as much as he can be rattled. How many pundits did you see predict the Patriots would hang 35 points (or more) on Baltimore's defense? A ton, but it simply didn't happen. Still, the weekly obsession over the play of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed allowed the team's two most talented (and highest paid) defenders, Ngata and Suggs, to fly under the radar. They needed to play a lot better down the stretch.
Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd Fox