In a game for the ages, the Baltimore Ravens had the best New England team in the last seven years on the ropes and pulling out all stops to beat them. When was the last time you saw the Patriot’s head coach on his knees in the third quarter exhorting his defense to start playing better after being shredded by Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett?
Were any of us thinking AFC Championship three weeks ago? Mostly, we thought that additional “at-bats” would be great for this group. They lost to the Patriots Saturday—but in the long-term the Ravens will be back for more shots at the Lombardi than the New Englanders.
Bilbo Belichick and his elfin creatures devised a game plan replete with trickery and magic. They knew they couldn’t win a physical battle with the Ravens and they had to plunge deeply into their pouch of deceptions to find the right elixirs to defeat us.
The Ravens scored on the 5th play of the game and jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led by two touchdowns in the 3rd quarter–but they couldn’t put New England away. The Patriots execute with precision from behind and force their opponents into a prolonged two-minute drill that lasts for quarters at a time. It may even be tougher to contain them with a lead—unless you can get ahead by 3 or 4 touchdowns.
When the pressure finally got to him in the first half, Tom Brady threw hissy fits and pumped his fists. But when it counted, late in the 4th, he effortlessly directed his team down the field like a point guard beating a press. Against a makeshift Ravens secondary that played as well as it could, Brady had just enough time to pass for the game-winning touchdown.
Down two scores early in the third and the game slipping away, the Pats resorted to chicanery. They played the “invisible receiver” trick, chortling all the way as John Harbaugh asked for time to identify who was eligible to catch the ball but the referees didn’t seem to know what was happening either so they hit Harbaugh with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and moved the dwarves closer to the end zone. Ah, the NFL—at times, a confederacy of incompetence.
The Patriots saved their best play for a critical moment when they needed it the most.
Down 28-21, their hobbit receivers took over. Former Kent State quarterback, Julian Edelman took what looked like a bubble screen from Brady and stepped back to throw. Danny Amendola had gotten behind Rashan Melvin and he raced into the end zone to tie the score.
The Ravens could have folded and almost did but their resiliency saw them execute two drives in the 4th to win the game. With the score tied 28-28, Joe Flacco found Owen Daniels in the back of the end zone but the ball glanced off the tight end’s fingertips and the Ravens settled for three.
Brady took over from there.
Still, the Ravens clawed back, and moved the ball into New England territory. They converted a harrowing 4th and 3 and looked like they were headed for the game winning touchdown.
Most of what the Ravens offense ran Saturday worked and as you watched this game, mesmerized by the stellar play from both teams, you couldn’t help but wonder what Gary Kubiak might do. What about another pass to Justin Forsett or pass to Smith, Sr. in the corner of the end zone?
With 1:46 remaining, the Ravens called the same play that beat New England in week three of the 2012 season. Flacco dropped back to pass and lofted a ball toward the left corner of the end zone. Torrey Smith had a few steps on the defender but Joe didn’t see the help coming. Duron Harmon tracked the ball and intervened, making the interception.
Still, it came down to the last play, a Hail Mary with time running out.
The Ravens had a tremendous season. Coach Harbaugh should receive “Coach of the Year” honors in navigating this team through the travails of the last six months to have them within a touchdown catch of the AFC Championship.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Dean Bartoli Smith is the author of NEVER EASY, NEVER PRETTY: A Fan. A City. A Championship Season (Temple University Press, 2013) and a contributor to the 2nd Edition of Ted Patterson’s FOOTBALL IN BALTIMORE (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
He attended Loyola High School and graduated from Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois. He majored in English at the University of Virginia and received an MFA in Poetry from Columbia University. He is director of Project MUSE at The Johns Hopkins University, a leading provider of digital humanities and social science content for the scholarly community.
His poetry has appeared in Poetry East, Open City, Beltway, The Pearl, The Charlotte Review, Gulf Stream, and upstreet among others. His book of poems, American Boy, won the 2000 Washington Writer’s Prize and was also awarded the Maryland Prize for Literature in 2001 for the best book published by a Maryland writer over the past three years.
He writes sports for Press Box and Baltimore Brew.