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Monday, January 11, 2010

Ray Rice and the Ravens ruin my first Patriots playoff game

I knew the Patriots were not Super Bowl contenders this year but in my worst nightmares, I couldn't have envisioned the beatdown thrown on them yesterday by the Ravens 33-14 at Gillette Stadium in a Wild-Card game.

Baltimore set an NFL playoff record with 24 points in the first quarter which the Patriots could never recover from. Wes Welker, the Patriots' heart and soul sat in owner Robert Kraft's luxury box during the game while Brady might as well have taken a seat alongside his injured teammate since he was utterly useless.

Brady finished his up and down 2009 campaign 23 of 42 for 154 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Until next season starts, we'll be left to wonder if Brady and the Patriots will ever regain their dominance of the last decade anytime soon.

This wasn't all Tom's fault though since aside from ageless Kevin Faulk (89 total yards) and rookie wide receiver Julian Edelman (6 catches, 44 yards, 2 touchdowns), nobody for New England came to play (and I hate to fall back on that stupid cliche but it couldn't be more fitting for yesterday's explosive-diarrhea performance from the home team).

Ray Rice (22 carries, 159 yards) took the first play from scrimmage 83 yards for a touchdown and the Ravens (still led by everybody's favorite murderer Ray Lewis) had no trouble from there. Joe Flacco, who is still completely average, only had to attempt 10 passes on the day, completing four. The running game (234 yards) and defense (four turnovers) were that dominant.

Terrell Suggs forced a fumble by Brady on New England's third play and the Ravens used the short field to take a 14-0 lead on Le'Ron McLain's 1-yard run.

After both teams punted, Brady threw an interception to Chris Carr, who returned it three yards to the Patriots' 25. The Ravens once again cashed in on the short field and Rice had an easy 1-yard TD run for the 21-0 Baltimore lead.

Just two plays later, Brady was picked off again, this time by Ed Reed who returned it 25 yards before lateraling it to teammate Dewan Landry for another 25 yards. New England's defense held the Ravens to a field goal even though they started in the red zone (at the 9) but it didn't matter at that point.

Gillette Stadium was stunned as there was zero chance of the Patriots mounting a comeback without Welker.

After a muffed punt, Edelman provided a little hope early in the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown catch but Randy Moss (5 catches, 48 yards) didn't provide the deep threat and big plays that his team needed to win a playoff game. I can't completely dump on Moss (since the rest of New England will over the next six months) but he couldn't have been more of a fraud at the key points in this season.

Billy Cundiff's 23-yard field goal made it 27-7 Baltimore early in the third quarter before Edelman closed it to 27-14 on a 1-yard touchdown catch. All that did was ensure that his jersey will be a hot-seller in the offseason.

Willis McGahee closed it out with a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and now Baltimore is off to play at Indy on Saturday night in the divisional round.

This brutal loss will leave a lasting impression on the 2009 Patriots season. They only had one true road win and it was against the Bills so that barely counts. At various points, their defense and offense both sputtered badly and coach Bill Belichick lost some of his genius mystique by making some head-scratching calls (most famously vs. the Colts).

New England needs to spend some money in the offseason (first and foremost by bringing Vince Willfork back) and draft well so that they can rejoin the NFL's elite. Now, they're just a team that's good enough to win a bad division and go one-and-done in the playoffs. The dynasty is over folks, get over it.

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