1. Wes Welker – The savage Patriots fan base, which like with all Boston teams, has a way of kicking athletes in the groin on the way out of town, will pummel Welker for his crucial third-down drop in the third quarter. I choose to focus on the positive for the now free-agent. Welker fought double-teams all night, took a ferocious pounding and still managed to catch eight passes for 117 yards and a TD. Bill Belichick had the 31-year-old Welker returning punts, too, and he delivered a 14.0 yard average on four returns. I will be livid if this football team has the guts to let him walk. He is their heart and soul.
2. Aaron Hernandez – Professional night from the hybrid Hernandez, who caught a team-high 9 for 83 yards. Showed guts as the Ravens were laying the wood out there. Never backs down. Still, can he stay healthy?
3. Brandon Lloyd – Again, made plays when called upon. There was no shame in his seven-catch, 70-yard effort.
1. Tom Brady – What a disappointment! He moped. He moped early. He moped late. And he whined, never kick-starting himself or the offense. The good-bad playoff Brady fell to 7-7 in his last 14 playoff starts. The NFL’s all-time winningest QB, by percentage, can’t climb over .500 in the playoffs after 2004. The Sanchez-ian 62.3 passing rating wasn’t his worst ever, but it might as well could have been. Our leader failed miserably.
2. Vince Wilfork – He should have stayed as quiet as he was on the field. Instead, post-game he made the mistake of heading to the podium after being totally eviscerated by Matt Birk in a 0-tackle performance.
“We’re probably one of the most consistent NFL teams that has a chance to win,” said Vince.
“We definitely know what it takes, and I think we have a great football team,” he added.
“It’s football. You win some. You lose some,” he concluded.
3. Jerod Mayo – The third of the Patriots’ big three leaders couldn’t have found the point of attack last night without a compass. If Ray Lewis has lost a step, Mayo certainly didn’t find it. Vonta Leach for 5 yards, Mayo with the tackle. Bernard Pierce for five more, Mayo on the stop. Pierce for 8, Mayo again. Complete to Dennis Pitta for five, Mayo; to Pitta for six more, Mayo. Pardon me Jerod, but if they keep getting 5, 6 or 8 yards before you locate the football, isn’t the offense going to score? Yep, often.
4. Devin McCourty – We’ll let the captain of the secondary take the heat for the group that allowed the immortal Joe Flacco to complete 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards and three TDs. This first-round bust plays 25 yards off the line and still finds a way to be late to the football down the field. He was last seen being shrugged off by Anquan Boldin on the latter’s first of two TDs.
5. Nate Solder – His hold on the quick third-down pass to Danny Woodhead for a first was just as big as Welker’s drop.
6. Daniel Fells/Michael Hoomanawanui – Seriously, these are the best two tight ends this team can produce with Rob Gronkowski out? No, folks, Aaron Hernandez is a slot receiver, not a tight end.
7. Brandon Spikes – Other than being flogged in pass coverage, he was in on two plays, one tackle for a loss and one offsides flag. That’s not exactly impact.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B) … You can count the mistakes on one hand, and none was bigger than Nate Solder’s hold in the third that nullified a third-down conversion to Danny Woodhead. Tom Brady had plenty of time all day. And the holes were there in the running game, especially inside thanks to Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly.
Running backs (C-) … Fumble boy Ridley put his head down and paid for it with a probable concussion and a fumble, one of two huge second-half turnovers. Shane Vereen followed up his best game with as tentative an effort as you’ll ever see. And Danny Woodhead is what he is, and that is a non-factor against physical defenses.
Receivers (B+) … Wes Welker had a huge third quarter drop and an early one on a deep ball, too. Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez simply cemented themselves as complimentary pieces, not prime-time performers. They were both, “OK.” All three should be commended, but this is a position of absolute need. This team needs an Anquan Boldin or better. Welker’s price goes up as this team’s lack of playmakers is an issue.
Tight ends (F) … Nothing at all from Daniel Fells or Michael Hoomawanui.
Quarterback (D) … I waited for the final numbers to be posted before this grade, because I was thoroughly afraid that I missed some wild barrage of pass rushers on Tom Brady. There was none. The fact is Brady laid another playoff egg. He was listless, walked around like he was a beaten man and sulked too darn much, too early. He is now 7-7 in his last 14 playoff games.
Line (D-) … Realizing that Kyle Love was lost early, I just thought the front four got manhandled by the Ravens. Vince Wilfork, such an impact vs. these guys a year ago and coming off an All-Pro sort of season, vanished into the Foxboro night with no tackles and one assist. The rest of the schmoes up front – guys by the name of Francis, Scott, Cunningham, Deaderick – simply were overwhelmed in the biggest game of their lives. We give the free pass to the rookie, Chandler Jones, who played sparingly due to injury. Rob Ninkovich had four solos and two of the least impactful sacks ever.
Linebackers (F) … Dont’a Hightower was last seen whiffing at the edge as Ray Rice tiptoed into the end zone. Of course, that was after an unblocked Jerod Mayo let Rice slip away and bounce to the outside. Hightower was weak on the edge for as long as Belichick stayed with him. It was basic stuff, too. He let blockers get to his outside shoulder too easily, that’s the first rule of setting the edge.
Secondary (F) … You guys, you fans all told me this group was improving. You used the words “Pro Bowl” talking about Devin McCourty at safety. And you said Steve Gregory was the most improved guy back there. The bottom line is when the brittle Aqib Talib left in the first half, this secondary imploded. He’s Aqib Talib, not Ronnie Lott or Deion Sanders or even Ty Law. I tweeted it, and I will say it again. The Pats played most of the game without a legitimate starting, championship defensive back. The names have changed, but Arrington, Cole, Dennard and McCourty are simply the 2012 version of Wheatley, Wilhite, Butler and Chung. Against real teams or QBs, they turtle up into a ball and get savagely pummeled.
Why Belichick is better
Not sure he is after today, but the fact that he had his defensive backs convinced that Aqib Talib was the second coming, giving them such confidence, has to be worth something.
Of course, when Talib got hurt at just the wrong time yesterday, they panicked little dateless 17-year-olds a week before the prom.
When I see Aaron Hernandez turn inside in the final 30 seconds of the first half to fight for 2 yards, instead of stepping out of bounds, I wonder who is coaching these guys.
The clock butchery at the end of the first half was near embarrassing for this veteran team, though.
And for the life of me, I have to wonder if at age 31, you should be risking Wes Welker in the punt return game, since the only option if he gets hurt is Kamar Aiken, who has as many career NFL catches as you and I do combined.
Ray Lewis may have been quoting the Bible when he talked about ‘No weapon,” or maybe he was just sizing up the Pats’ offense without Rob Gronkowski.
On defense, the Ravens did exactly what they did to the Broncos last week, compressing the field with no fear of Tom Brady throwing the deep ball.
Their safeties were both often 12 yards off the ball, roughly a third of the depth Devin McCourty takes pre-snap.
This season turned out like the 2005 and 2006 teams did, which had the Pats yearning for receiving threats.
The team needs a Julio Jones, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin or the like. There is no fear.
And don’t fall on the Gronk’s hurt crutch either. He’s been hurt two straight years. One more and it becomes a habitual thing.
THE TURNING POINT: Conservatives take over Bay State
Up 3-0 already with the Baltimore defense reeling, Tom Brady misses Brandon Lloyd on a third-and-2 play from the Baltimore 45, and the Pats elect to punt on fourth-and-2.
The same Bill Belichick known for an egregious 4th-and-2 just a couple years back on his own 28, punts today.
Energized by the lack of the knockout blow, the Ravens march 90 yards and take a 7-3 lead. It was all the confidence this offense needed, and they went on to shred the Pats defense.
Belichick had to go there. He failed us.
Five thoughts as I sit a tad stunned at the loss
1. The Super Bowl runner-up struggles continue. Miami remains the only runner-up to ever get back to the big game and win.
2. The Pats’ quit way too early.
3. The Pats absorbed a physical spanking that they will feel for weeks. Don’t expect Tom Brady or Wes Welker at the Pro Bowl. Just a hunch, but I wouldn’t think they’ll be playing.
4. Bernard Pollard remains a New England nemesis after the kill shots he landed last night.
5. I really wanted a week in New Orleans.