The Ravens were on the brink of a historic upset.
Instead, they had to deal with one of the most heartbreaking defeats in their history.
Hurting themselves in the fourth quarter with questionable decision-making, the Ravens fell short in a painful 27-24 loss to the unbeaten New England Patriots last night at a blustery M&T Bank Stadium.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady capitalized on the Ravens' mistakes, throwing an 8-yard touchdown to Jabar Gaffney with 44 seconds remaining.
The 13-play, 73-yard drive was Brady's 21st game-winning one in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most in NFL history.
The Ravens helped the Patriots with some troubling moves. They failed to run on third-and-two late in the fourth quarter, they called a timeout that nullified a fourth-down play - on which they had stopped the Patriots - , and linebacker Bart Scott was called for two unsportsmanlike penalties in the final minute.
"We hung in there the whole game," Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller said. "I'm so proud of our guys. We just came up a little short in the end."
The Patriots took another step in their march to a perfect season, improving to 12-0.
The Ravens (4-8), who entered the game as 19-point underdogs, lost for a franchise-worst sixth straight game despite putting together their best performance of the season.
Leading 24-20 with 1:48 left in the game, the Ravens appeared to have made a game-winning stop, stuffing Brady on a fourth-down sneak. But the Ravens had called timeout just before the snap, which gave New England another chance to continue the drive.
"We didn't feel like we were in the right configuration," coach Brian Billick said. "We kind of knew what they were going to do and felt like we needed a better call, I guess."
Asked who called the timeout, a terse Billick responded, "We called the timeout. If he had gotten the first, you'd be screaming why didn't you call a timeout. Let's make sure we don't have revisionist history here, OK?"
Television replays showed defensive coordinator Rex Ryan signaling for a timeout.
Immediately after Brady's game-winning touchdown, Scott put a dent in the Ravens' comeback chances. After being penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, he picked up the flag and threw it into the stands, drawing another 15-yard penalty.
Cornerback Samari Rolle said an official repeatedly called him "boy," which set off Scott at the end of the game. Scott declined to comment before leaving the locker room.
"You got to be smarter than that," Billick said. "You can't be a dumb football player."
After the penalties, the Patriots kicked off from the Ravens' 35-yard line for a touchback, eliminating any chance for a Ravens' runback.
On the game's final play, Boller heaved a 52-yard pass in the air that was caught by a leaping Clayton, who was stopped at the Patriots' 3-yard line by a mob of Patriots.
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
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."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun