I stood watching Tom Brady stare blankly in his locker after last year's Super Bowl loss, thinking he knows he might never get so close to a title again. There are no guarantees in the NFL, even for legends of the game. Sunday was a great reminder.
This was the best New England Patriots team since 2007. These Patriots were more complete than the squads of the last few years because of their running game and an improved defense. In the AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it was the offense that let the team down.
The Patriots pride themselves on playing smarter than the competition and doing the little things well. On Sunday, they were inefficient and mistake-prone, struggled at situational football and were a bit passive. They didn't score a point after halftime. Here's where it all broke down:
Mistakes: Perhaps the biggest play of the second half was Wes Welker's drive-killing drop early in the third quarter. The Patriots would have been in field-goal range, ready to go up two scores, if not for the drop. Instead, the Patriots punted, and the Ravens took the lead and never gave it up. Nate Solder's holding penalty wiped out another first down and killed the next Patriots drive. They turned over the ball three times in the fourth quarter (with one of the plays in garbage time.)
Situational football: Driving late in the first half, the Patriots blew an opportunity for a touchdown. Aaron Hernandez failed to go out of bounds, burning a timeout. Tom Brady ran on the next play, then didn't immediately take a timeout, which would have at least given New England a chance to throw into the end zone. This is the type of situation you just don't see Brady and Bill Belichick botch too often, but they mismanaged this one. (A similar situation happened in Seattle earlier in the season.)
Red-zone play: The Ravens went 4 for 4 in the red zone. The Patriots went 1 for 4 and had another drive inside the 25-yard line stall. It doesn't take a genius to know this was the biggest difference in the game.
Passive play: The Patriots punted three times in Ravens territory. That's very rare for a Belichick-coached team. The Ravens' first two touchdown drives came after passive punts. Wind was a big factor in not attempting field goals, but we're surprised the Patriots didn't just go for it on fourth down.@greggrosenthal.