Ravens missed a chance to prove they belong with the top-notch teams

The Ravens said they were treating the matchup with the New England Patriots as a playoff game, and they got a look at what a top-notch playoff team with an elite quarterback looks like.

The Patriots embarrassed the Ravens in front of a packed M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday and snapped their four-game winning streak. In those games, the Ravens had luck, miracle comebacks and a never-say-die attitude.

On Sunday night, they just got destroyed, 41-7, by the Patriots.

Playoffs?

The Ravens still have a shot at the No. 6 seed in the AFC, but have to beat the Bengals in Cincinnati next week and hope either the Miami Dolphins or the San Diego Chargers lose.

A lot of false hope is now gone. There was a belief that the Ravens had turned the corner and were ready to stay on a roll into the postseason. But the Patriots, the closest thing to a one-man team in the NFL, exposed the same weaknesses that have been there all season.

There can be no excuses, certainly no whining about quarterback Joe Flacco's injured knee and limited mobility. Just because his knee wasn't working didn't mean his brain had to go out as well. A strained knee doesn't force you to throw into double coverage constantly. A bad knee doesn't cause you to miss wide open receivers on critical fourth down situations.

New England quarterback Tom Brady and Flacco are in similar situations. They both are highly-paid, franchise caliber quarterbacks who were called upon to carry their teams this season. The problem is that Flacco can't, and Brady can, which is why he is having one of his best seasons despite having Smurf-like receivers.

As for Flacco, he continues to struggle having thrown a career-high 19 interceptions.

But the Ravens problems aren't just about Flacco. The Ravens allowed four sacks Sunday and Flacco was hit seven other times. The Ravens seemed to have improved their pass protection in a win against the Detroit Lions on Monday night, but they couldn't control New England.

The Patriots came into the game with the No. 31 run defense in the league, but the Ravens could muster only 71 yards on 21 carries from top running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. New England used two running backs in Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount who combined for 130 yards on 31 carries.

That's a productive running game. That's also the difference between the Patriots and the Ravens, a top-notch playoff contender and one that's barely surviving.

Like the Ravens, New England has a patched up offensive line but Brady was sacked only twice. They picked up the Ravens' blitzes most of the game, and Brady always seemed comfortable in the pocket even when pressured.

But it wasn't just about the players, but about the coaches. A week after being upset by the Miami Dolphins last week, New England was expected to come to Baltimore and play with great intensity. The Ravens, though, never matched it.

Instead, New England jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and it appeared that the Ravens had left their A-game in Detroit. There can only be one finger pointed in that situation and that's at head coach John Harbaugh.

How could a team playing at home and trying to secure a playoff bid come out so flat?

All season long Harbaugh has made some questionable decisions on the field and he committed another one Sunday by opting to go for a field goal on a fourth-and-5 at the New England 19 with 14:19 left in the game and trailing, 20-0.

Justin Tucker missed the 37-yard attempt but why go for three points instead of trying to get a first down or a touchdown? That was basically waving a white flag and surrendering.

"I can't recall the situation," said Harbaugh, recalling other opportunities. "I thought you were going to ask me why I went for it three other times, kill me on that one. You threw me a curve ball. It just shows you how hard those decisions are."

The Ravens have been able to overcome some of those poor decisions playing against quarterbacks like Geno Smith or Matthew Stafford.

But against Brady and New England head coach Bill Belichick, they make you pay for them. They punish teams that commit nine penalties for 83 yards. They find the same holes in a secondary that continues to give up passes over the middle. They beat teams that can't convert short yardage situations.

And they make plays and not drop passes like Dennis Pitta, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith. The Patriots showed a killer instinct in the fourth period and the Ravens simply got killed.

There isn't much the Ravens can take from this game.

"Actually, you could burn the tape," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It's not even worth looking at. They played a good game. They won the game."

The Patriots looked like serious contenders as opposed to the Ravens, who looked like pretenders.

Mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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