To the threshold

The Baltimore Sun

It was sometime in the second quarter when I started to like the points.

Pardon the Hunter S. Thompson riff, but when you consider the fear and loathing that has attended Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots during their march toward an undefeated season, well, I just couldn't help myself.

The Ravens were 19-point underdogs when last night's game began, down from 20 because of the whistling wind that figured to let some of the air out of Tom Brady's high-powered offense. The way things have been going around here, coming in under the point spread figured to be some kind of moral victory, though it certainly didn't feel that way after a real victory came apart in the final minute at M&T; Bank Stadium.

What were we supposed to think when the Ravens prefaced last night's game with the announcement that veteran quarterback Steve McNair would undergo shoulder surgery and miss the rest of the season? It seemed apparent at the outset that the only way this was going to be close was if the Ravens trucked in that quicksand they called turf from last Monday night's slog-a-thon between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field.

That was before the Ravens' defense found its heart and running back Willis McGahee found every soft spot in the Patriots' suddenly suspect run defense.

That was the game plan: Take advantage of the wind chill, which figured to blunt Brady's aerial attack, and grind it out on the ground to keep him off the field as much as possible.

Maybe someone should have told Kyle Boller that he was supposed to play the role of the chopped liver in this fancy picnic. He showed up thinking it was his party and proceeded to match Brady throw for throw and drive for drive throughout the first three quarters, perhaps figuring that if Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley could do it, anybody could.

He did that long enough to throw a real fright into the New Englanders who came down to brave our version of New England weather. He also made like Feeley and threw a disastrous interception late in the game to prevent the Ravens from capitalizing on an opportunity to go up by two scores.

How delicious a victory would have been for local fans, who have endured the indignity of watching their Boston and New York counterparts take over Oriole Park and celebrate the superiority of their baseball teams. How uplifting it would have been to see the Ravens play - and win - like the team they were expected to be before they were ravaged by injuries and sunk by turnovers.

Just flip all that over and you might get a sense for how frustrating it had to be for those same fans to watch the Ravens step to the threshold of an unimaginable victory and then be pushed back so many times it became dark humor.

It could have been different if Ed Reed had protected the football after an interception near the end of the first half. Instead of giving his team a chance to score, he tried too hard to keep the play alive and fumbled the ball away.

It could have been different if Boller had not thrown that Feeley-like fourth-quarter interception when the Ravens needed just a handful of yards to get into field goal range leading by seven points.

There's no point in trying to describe how it could have been different at the end, except to say that Tom Brady made enough last-gasp plays and the Ravens made enough last-gasp mistakes to explain - even in a game too close for comfort - why the Patriots might well go undefeated and the Ravens are 4-8.

If you want to boil the loss down to one devastating down, the Ravens had Brady stacked up on a fourth-down quarterback keeper that would have pretty much ended it, only to give him another chance when somebody called a timeout a split second before the snap. That somebody was a Raven.

If that wasn't strange enough, they stopped the Patriots a second time on that down, only to see Brady saved by another whistle because one of his linemen jumped ahead of the snap. Finally, he converted, and you know the rest.

It should have been different, but not this season.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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