Describing whether he thought the Hail Mary pass had a chance, Boller said, "I sure hoped it did."

The Ravens took a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, when Boller found Daniel Wilcox in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.

But Boller's biggest mistake came on the Ravens' next drive, when a hasty deep throw was intercepted near the goal line. The Patriots converted the Ravens' first turnover into a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, cutting the Ravens' lead to 24-20 with 8:41 remaining in the game.

Before the Patriots' game-winning drive, the Ravens' offense had a chance to help out their defense.

With less than four minutes remaining, the Ravens chose to throw a short pass instead of running on third-and-two, and McGahee was stopped short of the first down. McGahee averaged 4.6 yards a carry, gaining 138 yards on 30 carries.

McGahee said he wasn't surprised by the call.

"That's how the game is. You try to catch them off guard," McGahee said. "They did a great job of defending it."

Playing an excellent first half, the Ravens started to convince a national television crowd that they could hang with the NFL's best team.

It started on the opening drive, when the Patriots were held to a field goal after having first-and-goal at the 1-yard line

Boller later hit a 53-yard pass to Devard Darling and ended the drive with a 4-yard touchdown throw to Derrick Mason.

A 29-yard field goal by Matt Stover on the Ravens' next series extended the lead to 10-3, which was the second-largest deficit of the season for New England.

Beyond the opportunity to deliver a major upset, this was an emotional game for several Ravens because they were playing on the day of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor's funeral.

During the moment of silence before the game, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis had tears in his eyes, which had Taylor's No. 21 underneath them.

Lewis, Reed and McGahee - all former University of Miami players like Taylor - huddled up before kickoff with their heads touching.

"This is about family," Lewis told them. "Give them everything you've got."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com