Falling just short

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens nearly stopped the NFL's most dominant juggernaut last night at M&T; Bank Stadium -- nearly but not quite.

On the brink of the season's biggest upset, the Ravens lost to the New England Patriots, 27-24, before a frozen and frustrated crowd of 71,382, when Tom Brady hit Jabar Gaffney on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.

The game ended with Kyle Boller's desperation heave into 35 mph winds being gobbled in by wide receiver Mark Clayton, who was tackled at the Patriots' 2-yard line. It extended the franchise record losing streak to six games for the Ravens (4-8).

For the second straight week, the Patriots escaped with a narrow victory, which kept them unbeaten at 12-0. New England is trying to become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to finish unbeaten.

"We hung in there the whole game; I'm just so proud of our guys," Boller said. "We ran the ball unbelievably. We made plays on the outside. We just came up a little short in the end."

Running back Willis McGahee had his finest game since coming to the Ravens in the off-season, rushing for 138 yards on 30 carries and scoring a touchdown that helped give Baltimore a 17-10 lead in the third quarter.

The Ravens still led, 24-17, on a drive led by McGahee and finished on a 1-yard pass from Boller to tight end Daniel Wilcox, early in the fourth quarter. But as they have done when pressed, the Patriots came back and scored the last 10 points to win.

The final two minutes seemed interminable for the Ravens, who appeared to have Brady and the Patriots stopped on a number of fourth-down plays. But penalties on both sides -- and an ill-advised timeout by the Ravens -- kept giving the Patriots chances.

The most costly decision came right after the Ravens looked as if they had stopped Brady on a fourth-and-1. But someone on the Ravens' sideline called timeout.

Asked who called for time, Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "We did. If he'd have gotten the first [down], it would've been you screaming, 'Why didn't you call timeout?' Let's make sure we don't have a revisionist history."

The loss left many Ravens thinking they were cheated, if not by the officials then by the football gods who are rooting for the Patriots to keep chasing history. McGahee seemed particularly perturbed.

"It felt like we played our hearts out tonight," said McGahee, playing only days after the shooting death of his former college teammate, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. "We had some bogus calls, but it is what it is."

The Ravens hurt themselves, as they have all season, with sloppy plays and penalties. After intercepting Brady late in the first half, safety Ed Reed fumbled away a chance for the Ravens to take the lead going into halftime.

The Ravens committed 13 penalties for 100 yards, one of the most costly coming after linebacker Bart Scott was called twice for unsportsmanlike conduct late in the game, the second time for throwing an official's yellow weighted flag into the stands.

"You have to be smarter than that," Billick said. "You can't be a dumb football player."

Despite the loss, Ravens fans seemed proud of their team's effort against seemingly insurmountable odds. The Ravens had come into the game as 18 1/2 -point underdogs, the biggest odds against the team at home since it came to Baltimore in 1996.

"I think the Ravens played hard," said David Watson of Perry Hall.

Said his friend, Marcus Makowski, "They played like I thought they would all season. It was definitely better."

But against the NFL's most dominant juggernaut, it was not enough.


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