FOXBOROUGH, Mass. ——Lee Evans sat on a chair facing his locker under Gillette Stadium, alternating between fingering a piece of black athletic tape and dabbing at his eyes with a towel.
Then as the number of reporters waiting to interview swelled, the wide receiver slowly stood up from the chair, turned around, and unhesitatingly shouldered the blame for not holding on to what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown pass in the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC championship game.
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Gillette Stadium, 1 Patriot Pl, Foxboro, MA 02035-1374, USA
The scene was eerily reminiscent of T.J. Houshmandzadeh's mea culpa after he dropped a pass that would have given the team a first down on fourth-and-18 in last year's 31-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC divisional round.
Much like Evans did, Houshmandzadeh blamed himself for not making a play when one was needed. The only difference is that Evans' gaffe prevented the Ravens from making their first trip to the Super Bowl in 11 years.
"Honestly, the most disappointing part of all this is that I feel personally that I let everybody down," Evans said, his voice brimming with emotion. "This is the greatest team that I've been on, and I feel like I let everybody down. Yeah, it's on my shoulders. I think [inside linebacker] Ray [Lewis] gave a good message coming in here. It's hard to sit here and accept how and why things happened, but it's the reality of it. It's as tough as it gets."
Evans, who was acquired in the preseason from the Buffalo Bills, endured his least productive season as a pro, but appeared to be the hero after quarterback Joe Flacco lofted a pass toward Evans in the right side of the end zone on second-and-1 from the Patriots' 14-yard line.
But as Evans tried to secure the ball with his left arm against his abdomen, rookie cornerback Sterling Moore swiped at the ball and was able to dislodge it from Evans' grasp.
"It wasn't in my mind to slap the ball out," Moore said. "It was just a split-second decision, and I'm glad it worked out. We do that drill every day in practice, but it was the first time I had to use it in a game, and I just took what I learned from practice into the game."
Many of Evans' teammates on the field and the sideline thought Evans had taken enough steps in the end zone before the strip for it to be considered a touchdown.
"I thought it was a touchdown," right tackle Michael Oher said. "It looked like a touchdown. I thought you had to get two feet down or something like that. I don't know what else you've got to do to score. But it looked like a touchdown to me."
Because the play occurred in the final two minutes of regulation, only the officials can call for a video review, which did not happen — or surprise Evans.
"Obviously, they didn't feel like it was close enough to being reviewed," he said matter-of-factly.
Coach John Harbaugh felt otherwise.
"I thought it would be looked at," he said. "I thought they would at least look at it. I'm surprised they didn't look at it. Obviously in that situation, I thought they would look at it. But they didn't. I have not talked to anybody, didn't get a chance to. So I don't know what the explanation is on that."
In the locker room, several of Evans' teammates refused to direct any blame at the wide receiver.
"Stuff like that happens," Flacco said. "You move on to the next play and try to do the same thing during the next play."
Added Lewis: "[T]hat is the irony of sports. It's a game of inches. I've been a part of a lot of those same games where the inches didn't go somebody else's way."