• FoxSports.com's Greg Couch believes the Ravens squandered the final opportunity to win a Super Bowl for aging defenders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
Joe Flacco should be a star quarterback now. The defense of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed should be in the Super Bowl, but they're not going. Not now. Not in the future. This was the last chance for a legendary combo.
• Chris Burke of SI.com grades the Ravens' performance in the loss, including lots of praise for the secondary.
Ed Reed made a couple of real nice plays in pass coverage, highlighted by a huge break-up of a third-down play late to get Baltimore the ball back. Bernard Pollard may have been the best Ravens player on Sunday, aside from Flacco. He led the team with 10 tackles (including one that nearly broke Rob Gronkowski's ankle) and turned in a dazzling tip on a Brady deep ball that led to an interception by Jimmy Smith. Lardarius Webb had a ridiculous pick of his own, reading a pass to Julian Edelman and making a leaping grab. Grade: A-
• ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes the historical significance of Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the final minute of Sunday's loss to the Patriots.
Cundiff's 32-yard missed field goal was the third-shortest in the final 30 seconds of regulation or at any point in overtime of a postseason game in which the kick could tie the game, or give his team the lead, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• James Walker of ESPN.com shares Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski's comments about Cundiff's miss.
Most people won't understand how a kicker can miss a chip shot to end the game. But Gostkowski said it's not as easy as it looks.
"I definitely have an appreciation for every [kicker] in the league," Gostkowski said after the game. "I know how hard it is. I know that if one little thing goes wrong you can easily miss the kick. Everybody is different and has a different mentality. I try to treat every kick the same, but it's impossible to replicate that kind of situation."
• Slate.com's Stefan Fatsis talks about why Cundiff appeared to be rushed before his failed attempt.
Cundiff told me he initially thought he was at fault, that he had looked at the scoreboard too early, before the down number had been changed. In fact, the Gillette Stadium scoreboard was off by a down. On Monday, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs told ESPN that Ravens players thought the team had made a first down after receiver Anquan Boldin fumbled out of bounds on first-and-10 from the Patriots' 23-yard line. Instead, the ball was marked where Boldin had lost it, a yard short of a first down. On second and third downs--which the scoreboard said were first and second -- the Ravens threw unsuccessfully into the end zone. Ravens P.R. director Kevin Byrne told me--and Cundiff later learned -- that team officials watched the All-22 video of the game on Monday and confirmed the scoreboard malfunction.
The Ravens, of course, could have made all this confusion moot by calling a timeout. Instead, coach John Harbaugh decided to let Cundiff run on the field and kick.
But back to the scoreboard. Was the error on the Gillette Stadium board an honest mistake made by a confused Patriots employee? Or were there darker forces at work here -- a little Belichickian Machiavellianism to confuse the opposition with a Super Bowl berth on the line? Cundiff blames no one but himself for the miss. But he's relieved to know he wasn't seeing things on the stadium scoreboard.
• Yahoo Sports' Shutdown Corner blog lists Championship Sunday's least valuable players. Not surprisingly, Cundiff is included. But, somewhat surprisingly, so is Joe Flacco.
It's not because of his play -- Flacco, even in a losing effort, was close to making the list of MVPs on Sunday. I'm worried about the guy's mental state. Not because he's got a bad attitude, or because he's doing something harmful to the team or anything of that nature, but after the game, he got all touchy again about what people think of him and how much credit he gets.
He pretty clearly does care, or he wouldn't keep bringing it up. The fact is that he plays in Baltimore, a city whose football heart is owned by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. He may never be the show in Baltimore. And if that is what he wants, then focusing on what he needs to prove to people instead of focusing on how well he can play isn't going to help him get there.
• In his critique of officials' calls from Sunday's games, Mike Pereira of FoxSports.com explains why the pass to Lee Evans in the end zone wasn't a catch.
It was clearly not a catch as the ball was coming out before Evans' second foot was on the ground. Besides that, even if both of Evans' feet were on the ground, you have to maintain control long enough to perform an act common to the game of football. A lot of my Twitter followers questioned why the call wasn't reviewed, but there was no need to review it because on this play, it wasn't close to being a catch.
Sometimes, slow motion distorts the real view. Look at this play again in real time, and you'll see the ball is out immediately when the second foot touches the ground. That's not a catch, folks.
• However, Josh Levin of Slate.com isn't sure the explanation that it was an incomplete pass is that easy.
On CBS' replay, with the players' movements slowed down to a comprehensible speed, the order of operations became clearer. In super slo-mo, you can see Evans cradle the ball, land on his right foot, and get the ball raked away as his left foot touches the ground. According to the NFL rule, "If a player controls the ball while in the end zone, both feet, or any part of his body other than his hands, must be completely on the ground before losing control, or the pass is incomplete." If you apply that definition, the replay revealed that Evans kind of caught the ball for maybe a touchdown … and maybe he kind of didn't.
• In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, SI.com's Peter King also questions the non-review on the play to Evans in the final minute.
I thought so. Mike Pereira on FOX and a league statement both had Burns acting properly, but my question is: What's the rush? That's a season-altering play right there, the difference between making the Super Bowl or going home for the winter. I've watched it 10 or 12 times now and it looks very close -- though it certainly would have been difficult to overturn even if you thought it appeared that Evans had two feet down and exhibited clear possession. I just thought the gravity of the situation should have mandated a review. God knows the game is stopped for elbows hitting the ground and 12 inches of real estate on poor spots. "I'm surprised they didn't look at it," said John Harbaugh. As am I. Now, for the many of you wanting to crucify Evans for the play: I don't. Should he have lock-gripped the ball to prevent stripping? Yes, of course. But New England cornerback Sterling Moore has a job to do there too, and that job is to chop down on the hands of Evans as soon as the ball is in his grasp. Evans didn't have time to secure it well enough -- though it's obviously going to be a play that will tear at him for years. Evans went to Baltimore after a career of frustration in Buffalo, just hoping he could get to a Super Bowl. He had that Super Bowl trip in his hands, and he had it stripped away.
• On FoxSports.com, former Ravens coach Brian Billick says Cundiff shouldn't be the only person taking the blame for the Ravens' loss.
I thought it would take a perfect day from Brady for the Patriots to stand a chance, but it was quite the opposite. It was the defense that kept them in this game with consistent pressure on Joe Flacco and making plays when they absolutely needed them. Lee Evans will get a ton of criticism in Baltimore for the dropped touchdown, but I see it differently. Evans made a great play on the ball and initially caught it in his hands, without a bobble, but the Patriots defender made an excellent play by chopping his arm right between the hands of Evans, just as he is coached to do. I struggle to call that a drop.
So I felt bad for Cundiff. Maybe you did, too. Or maybe you were one of the fans who laughed about it on social media and began taunting Cundiff, like fourth-graders mocking a kid who suffers an embarrassment on the playground. (Other noble souls actually sent death threats to Cundiff or to Kyle Williams of the 49ers. We have a new definition for "pathetic.")
• In a separate post on ESPN.com, Hensley talks about Flacco's future in Charm City.
Flacco isn't going to the Super Bowl, but the Ravens quarterback did enough to prove he can take a team there.
He was composed in the pocket. He rolled away from pressure, making plays by throwing on the run and scrambling for first downs. Flacco hardly looked like a "rattled" quarterback, which is how teammate Ed Reed described him in last week's playoff game.
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[Compiled by Dean Jones Jr.]